Reporter 444, 6 December 1999

Teaching titles back to front, we learn

Thomas Davidson
Linguistics and phonetics

I was recently surprised to find out from the minutes of our faculty teaching and learning committee that "teaching and learning board has been re-named learning and teaching board to reflect greater emphasis on learning and ... a similar change would cascade down through faculty and school committees."

Why was I surprised? Because it is well established that in English the information which is intended to be read or heard as more salient is normally placed at or near the end of the sentence or phrase.

There is a standard account of this principle of ‘end-focus’ in R Quirk et al. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (London, Longman 1985): "it is common to process the information in a message so as to achieve a linear presentation from low to high information value... We shall refer to this as the principle of END-FOCUS." (p.1357)

There is much more to be said on this quite complex area of the language. The significant intonation movement in speaking the phrase falls on the second noun and not the first. It is clear that there is nothing actually ungrammatical about the order ‘learning and teaching’. However, it is generally agreed that ‘given’ information - what the reader or listener can safely be assumed to take for granted - comes early while the ‘new’ information comes at the end. In a phrase which contains a co-ordination it is, I admit, less likely that the first word of the pair will be treated as unimportant, but there is no doubt that second position is more prominent.

I would argue, therefore, that the recent change of title has had the reverse effect from that which was intended.

(Not a) view from the trenches

Andrew Baczkowski

What an unfortunate phrase ‘front-line teaching staff’ in the latest issue of the Reporter! If it is supposed to be an analogy for having infantry in the trenches with officers in the rear, then this is a distortion of the truth of what happens in a conflict.

Some other phrase is surely required to describe staff given an excessive amount of teaching and unimportant administrative tasks, having to react to increasing numbers of dictats from the hierarchy above, with seemingly fewer opportunities to contribute a personal opinion, lacking facilities for 'continuing professional development' in the form of research time, funding for attendance at research conferences or to take study leave, and with little chance of promotion as a result.

The word that comes to my mind is ‘dogsbody’. As part of the festive fun, do your readers have any better suggestions?

But your Euros are all ours anyway...

Jim Walsh
Emeritus Registrar

The departments which have attracted research money detailed in your report "Euros, new X-rays and uranium...etc" [Reporter 443] are to be warmly congratulated. I wonder, however, what the Euro has to do with it?

Since Britain is a net contributor to the EU we are simply getting our own money back, channelled through another agency.

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