Monday, June 30, 2008

2 marks for swearing!

Fuck off
The only two words on the candidate’s English paper were ‘Fuck Off”. AQAs Chief Examiner, who awarded the marks, felt that the student had expressed meaning and feeling – 2 marks. Apparently, another mark would have been awarded if there had been an exclamation mark!

Actually, one could also argue that the student was bold, succinct and to the point. On a deeper level it shows courage, and a disregard for the conventions of language within examinations, the drudgery of the A+ essay with all of its dull conventions and playing for marks. It’s stunningly subversive and liguistically legitimate - Shakespeare and many more brilliant writers did it all the time. (Tongue in metaphorical cheek.)

Why do we swear?
For more linguistic depth on the subject of swearing, read Chapter 7 of Steven Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought, where he explains why swearing is a natural form in all languages, along with reasons for the existence of swear words. He argues that swear words tend to be sexual or scatological as, in our evolutionary past, these things signified danger and disease. The blaspheming brain is particularly sensitive to the conotations of swear words ad patiets who lose their ability to use articulate language can sometimes still swear. Tourette Syndrome is evidence that swearing is a coherent neurobiological pheomenon. Blasphemy ad profanity is the other rich source for swear words.


Anonymous said...

All the topics you are covering are very relevant to me in the work I do. When I was reading about the language post I realised how I was under tremendous pressure. My daughter who is going to be six goes to a nice school. She had her report card where it was mentioned that she needs to be spoken to in English at home. Donald, my take has been that first, the child should understand and speak the mother tongue, which is Hindi in her case. I was deliberately not exposing her to English as she was not too keen. When I went back from work that day, she was in tears. It seems my son who is twelve had been teasing her about being stupid as she could not speak English. My mother-in-law too underlined the fact that I was not speaking to the child in English. I was overcome with self-doubt and gradually forced myself to converse with her in the second language. The pressures can be so compelling. My own belief that through play and gradual natural inclusion she would learn spontaneously were forced back. This is when I had applied the same method for son and after a while he picked up the language so well that he is grammatically perfect and writes novels in English(his teachers told me they are very alert while they write on the board as he points out the mistakes). That proves that my approach was not wrong. There was no push on my part as somewhere I had read that the neurons link as the child leans a language and mastering one language at a time reduces confusion. Knowing that natural and informal learning was the way, I was still forced to speed up her understanding of the language. Yesterday she brought to me a phonetics chart and said see here A if for some object which had long 'aa' voice. I myself am unaware of this method so I hid that chart.Small things but applies universally. It is my mistake to expose her to content that I do not know how to explain. I will however make it a point to say 'Let's do this' instead of finish doing the work.How much I am earning from your knowledge and experience. I wish I could share this with a million other mothers who are confused about little things as when we face the problems though now reading your blogs they apper to have simple solutions, they appear like Mount Everest at the first sight. Thanks and regards.

Rob said...

It's not stunningly subversive. It's a pathetically immature gesture by someone who can't be arsed. And it should have got zero.

Donald Clark said...

Arsed! Rob - wash your mouth out with soap immediately. My tongue has only just been removed from my cheek.

Rob said...

Mouth still bubbling from the soap - yes, I know where your tongue was (oo-er, missus) but I do think there's a bigger issue than a cheap laugh here. I've met this Buckroyd in a previous life, and I always thought he was a great one for grade inflation. The problem with this case is that Buckroyd's tongue isn't in his cheek - the man's clearly had an irony by-pass. It's a nice demonstration of where we are in education when a senior examiner can present this in all seriousness as worthy of marks. In my day, the boy would have been horse-whipped - and it never did mean any harm...etc etc.

Anonymous said...

Next we will get marks for getting where the tongue was! And full marks for that, just next best to swearing eh!

I read this today wanted to share- A woman killed her ailing husband bu hitting him with a hammer before hanging herself. Reason-he was suffering with brain cancer, she did not have money or help for the hospitalisation. Her daughters did not help her. She drank repellant and hanged herself. The man is seriously injoured and fighting for life. What an irony. Today just a thought came to me-what we will gather, if we question the women who have commited murders and are going through life imprisonment. Some of them are in jails with children. Most of them commited the crime pushed by hunger, violence or self-protection. I read three blogs regularly, Karyn Romies',Jonathan shewartz's and yours. All are awesome.

Richard Edwards said...

Even epithets and expletives can have propositional content. See for example the American case of Cohen v. California (1971) (The appellant wore a jacket in a courthouse with the words 'fu*k the draft' on the back. His conviction was quashed on First Amendment grounds) Now what if the student had written 'I know what Gordon Ramsay would say if he were sat here - "f*uck me!"'?

Second, I was always taught to try and award candidates some marks, however few, for putting something on exams papers, even if it was unrelated. Marking is not an exact science. I think that is all the examiner was saying here. But of course that doesn't sell papers. Barbarians at the gates of suburban middle England do.

Your post also reminded me of the story about Brian Johnstone, the cricket commentator. When asked to write an essay at school about the lifecycle of coal he simply wrote 'smoke'. And was awarded 7/10.

Rob said...

Rohan says "I was always taught to try and award candidates some marks, however few, for putting something on exams papers, even if it was unrelated." Why? if the purpose of the exam is to test some skill, or work out if the candidate has acquired some knowledge, what's the point of awarding marks if they don't do that, but choose to tell the examiner to fuck off instead?

Anonymous said...

Steven Pinkerte about spoke about "The Stuff of Thought" in Edinburgh last month. I wasn't overly convinced - something in his presentation, I think.

Here's what I thought about it...

Donald Clark said...

Pinker's live talks are a bit over-scripted. I saw him at Imperial College and he was poor, simply read from a written paper.

He is, however, a seriously talented academic, with a Professorship at MIT and now a chair at Harvard.

His books are a lot better than his talks:

1. The Language Instinct (1994)
2. How the Mind Works (1999
3. Words and Rules (2000)
4. The Blank Slate (2002)
5. The Stuff of Thought (2007)

1/3/5 are for those with a deep interest in liguistics.

For those interested in learning 2/4 are superb. In demolishing outdated psychological theory and providing evolutionary hypothesis he provides real grounds for chaging current practice a public policy.