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English Grammar Day 2014

Grammar Land

When: Fri 4 Jul 2014, 09.30-17.00 [includes coffee]

Where: Conference Centre, British Library

Price: £10, (£8 Over 60s) and £7

Sold out for 04 Jul 2014, 09.30-17.00

Join us at the British Library for a day of lectures and debate on the state of grammar - both in schools and beyond - with public participation welcomed in an Any Questions session in the afternoon. Participants and speakers include leading authorities on language use Debbie Cameron, David Crystal, Dick Hudson, Debra Myhill and John Mullan.

Disputes over language usage and correctness have been going strong ever since the 18th century. Jonathan Swift’s Proposal for Correcting, Improving, & Ascertaining the English Tongue (1712) deplored the dangers of unregulated language, linking jargon and slang with declining morals and poor social behaviour. ‘Corruption’ in language use has always seemed to mirror the health of the nation, and Swift’s concerns echo in today’s disputes about the decline in literacy and reading, abbreviations and altered spellings in texts and tweets, and changes in the use and meaning of words. In particular, grammar teaching in schools has lately taken centre stage and divided opinion among politicians, teachers, linguists, and journalists, as well as the wider public.

In 2014 teachers are now implementing many changes in the National Curriculum that they and others are unsure of. Do the government’s new grammar tests pass muster with linguists? Should schools be discouraging the allegedly ubiquitous use of forms such as ‘like’ and ‘innit’, or do those words serve some useful purpose? Whither the apostrophe? Are we allowed to use ‘they / their/ them’ as the singular impersonal pronoun in sentences such as ‘Every individual has their own view’, and if not, why not? How do teachers reconcile their own pragmatic views on what works in the classroom with the directives from the Department for Education?

Presented by University College London and the University of Oxford in association with the British Library

Supported by the UCL Faculty Institute of Graduate Studies and the Henry Sweet Society for the History of Linguistic Ideas



09:30-10:00: Registration

10:00-10:15: Introductory words

10:15-10:45: Dick Hudson, UCL: Grammar schools and school grammars

10:45-11:15: Jonnie Robinson, British Library: If it ain’t broke don’t fix it: exploring vernacular grammar

11:15-11:45: Coffee (available for ticket holders in the conference foyer)

11:45-12:15: Bas Aarts, UCL: Introducing Englicious: a web-based platform for teaching English grammar

12:15-12:45: Debra Myhill, University of Exeter: Grammar, creativity and language play

12:45-14:00: Lunch break*

14:00-14:30: Lindsey Thomas, Buckinghamshire Learning Trust: The Buckinghamshire Grammar Project

14:30-15:00: David Crystal: New directions in grammar teaching

15:00-15:30: Break

15:30-16.45: Any Questions-style panel discussion chaired by John Mullan, with Debbie Cameron, David Crystal, Dick Hudson, Debra Myhill and Lindsey Thomas

16:45-17:00: Closing remarks

*Lunch is not provided: the British Library has an espresso bar, café and restaurant and there are numerous outlets within a short walking distance of the Library and at St Pancras Station

Twitter: #EnglishGrammarDay

Please fill out our Grammar Day questionnaire! Copies will be distributed on the day, or go to our link at


English Grammar Day speakers


Bas Aarts (speaker and co-organizer)

‘Introducing Englicious: a web-based platform for teaching English Grammar’

In this presentation Englicious will be launched. Englicious is a brand new website with original and innovative English language teaching resources closely tailored to the New 2014 UK National Curriculum. The site focuses on the teaching of spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPaG), but includes a host of additional materials for teaching other areas of the English language.


Bas Aarts is Professor of English Linguistics at University College London. His most recent books include Oxford Modern English Grammar, and the Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar.


Charlotte Brewer (co-organizer)

Charlotte Brewer is Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University and a fellow of Hertford College, Oxford. She has published widely on dictionaries and the Oxford English Dictionary.


Debbie Cameron (panellist)

Debbie Cameron is Professor of Language and Communication at Oxford University and lectures and broadcasts widely. Her most recent books include The Myth of Mars and Venus: Do Men and Women Really Speak Different Languages? (Oxford University Press, 2007) and On Language and Sexual Politics (Routledge, 2006).


David Crystal (speaker and panellist)

‘New directions in grammar teaching’

Grammar teaching works best in the classroom when it is integrated with other aspects of language, especially semantics and pragmatics. The talk provides an illustration.


David Crystal is one of the world’s best known linguists, lecturers and broadcasters. He is author of over 120 books and reference works on language, including (with Hilary Crystal) Wordsmiths and Warriors: The English-Language Tourist's Guide to Britain (Oxford University Press, 2013)


Dick Hudson (speaker and panellist)

‘Grammar schools and school grammars’
The status of grammar in the English school curriculum has fluctuated over the centuries from queen of the subjects to an outcast non-subject. What happened in history, and why? Things are changing fast now, so it’s time to prepare for a new era by addressing the basic question(s): Why, how and when should who teach what grammar to whom? Once these basic parameters are fixed, there will be interesting challenges not only for schools but also for universities and policy-makers. 


Dick Hudson is Emeritus Professor of Linguistics at University College London and author of many grammars and works on language. 


John Mullan (Chair of ‘Any Questions’ panel)

John Mullan is Professor of English at University College London. He regularly appears on radio and television and writes for the Guardian.


Debra Myhill (speaker and panellist)

‘Grammar, Creativity and Language play’

This presentation will outline the creativity possible in the relationship between grammar and writing; and grammar and reading, and drawing on research from the Centre for Research in Writing at the University of Exeter, will illustrate how grammar can support authorial ownership of writing and a playful, experimental facility with language.


Debra Myhill is Director of the Centre for Research in Writing and Subject Leader for Secondary English at the University of Exeter, where she holds a chair. Her research is designed to inform better teaching of language and literacy, in particular writing.


Jonnie Robinson (speaker)

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it: exploring vernacular grammar’

Jonnie Robinson considers the notion of variation in English grammar, focusing particularly on regional and non-standard varieties in the UK. He will present examples of variation drawn from the Library’s sound recordings and demonstrate resources for exploring English grammar as a teacher, researcher or learner.

Jonnie Robinson is Curator of Sociolinguistics at the British Library. A former teacher, he is responsible for the Library’s extensive collection of sound recordings of vernacular speech and undertakes research in British English accents and dialects.

Lindsey Thomas (speaker and panellist)

‘The Buckinghamshire Grammar Project’

Research tells us that the traditional (decontextualized) approaches to the teaching of grammar, while they may help children to answer questions in grammar tests, have little demonstrative impact on the development of their writing as a whole. A group of schools in Buckinghamshire, supported by the Buckinghamshire Learning Trust, set out to learn more about how they could effectively develop their learners’ understanding of language and thereby improve their outcomes in writing. Following training to support their own subject expertise, teachers spent a term experimenting with strategies for teaching grammar in the context of a range of teaching approaches, including shared reading, storytelling, event experiences and writing journals. Working with children from Reception classes to Year 10, the project has shown that, when taught in context, focused on ‘real’ language and closely linked to the children’s needs, the teaching of grammar can not only improve the quality of their writing, but also their levels of engagement.


Lindsey Thomas is School Improvement Consultant of English and Literacy at Buckinghamshire Learning Trust, where she works extensively with teachers and children.