English Grammar Day 2023

Date: Friday 23 June, 2023

Location: Christopher Ingold Auditorium, UCL Chemistry Department, Gordon Street. Map Directions Book Online

A day of talks and discussion on aspects of English grammar

Are you sat down or sitting down while reading this? Have you got or do you have a preference for one form over the other? English has a number of ways of expressing the same concept, and with approximately 400 million mother-tongue speakers and an estimated 1400 million non-native speakers it has become a diverse, flexible language that continues to adapt, evolve – and provoke strong reactions. You only need to search for #grammar on Twitter to see what we mean!

Recent developments in the National Curriculum for England have placed grammar in schools at centre stage once more, and divided opinion among politicians, teachers, linguists and journalists, as well as the wider public, on how and whether it should be taught. How have teachers implemented changes to their teaching and learning programmes to adapt to the new syllabuses, assessment criteria and tests? What resources are available for students, teachers and the general public to learn more about English grammar, and how reliable are they? What is or should be the role of English grammar teaching in schools today and why is this so controversial? What do teachers, professionals, academics and the general public feel is the cultural and educational significance of knowledge about the language?

Join us at UCL for a day of talks and discussion, and feel free to ask our panel of experts to explore any aspect of English grammar from ain’t to innit.

Presented by University College London, the British Library and the University of Oxford.


09:50-10:00 Welcome & Introduction
10:00-10:30 Sylvia Shaw, Lost in Transcription? The representation of parliamentary speech in writing
10:30-11:00 Julia Snell, Does correcting children’s spoken grammar improve their writing?
11:00-11:45 Coffee/tea*
11:45-12:15 Steven Dryden, They, Them, We, Us
12:15-12:45 Guyanne Wilson, Caribbean Englishes in the Standard English debate
12:45-14:00 Lunch break*
14:00-14:30 Joanna Gavins, Using linguistics to help tackle plastics pollution
14:30-15:00 Susie Dent, Word imperfect
15:00-15:45 Coffee/tea*
15:45-17:00 ‘Any Questions’-style panel discussion, chaired by John Mullan, UCL
Submit your questions during the first coffee break!
17:00 Close

*Coffee and tea is included but lunch is not provided. UCL has numerous food outlets within a short walking distance.

Event details

Christopher Ingold Auditorium

Chemistry Building
University College London
Gordon Street
London WC1H 0AJ

Show Map

For directions see below

Book Online

When: Friday 23 June 2023, 09:30-17:00

How to find the venue

  • The Christopher Ingold Auditorium is in the UCL Chemistry Building on Gordon Street, opposite the Bloomsbury Theatre.
  • The nearest tube stations are Euston and Euston Square. Alternatives are Warren Street, Goodge Street or Russell Square.
  • From Euston, cross the Euston Road at the West end of the Euston concourse, and turn up Gordon Street.
  • From Euston Square, turn into Gower Place, and turn right at the next junction, and you will be on Gordon Street.
  • The UCL Chemistry (Christopher Ingold) Building will be on your left before Gordon Square.
  • When you enter the building the Auditorium is on the ground floor on your right after the turnstiles.


Susie Dent Word Imperfect

In this talk I’ll primarily be looking at the way in which language evolves through mistakes, and how the golden age of English, which many believe existed in the past, is, in fact, illusory. Where there is no formal linguistic government telling us which words we can and can’t use, many English speakers look to the dictionary for linguistic law. But modern lexicography works very differently, and moves to reflect usages which many will regard as incorrect. I’ll be looking at this tension between expectation and reality, and also uncovering some of the mistakes and mishearings of the past (and future) which determine the way we speak.

Steven Dryden (British Library) They, Them, We, Us

Using case studies from cataloguing and exhibition making with British Library collections, Steven Dryden presents a brief history of pronouns, gender and sexual minorities, archive/library catalogues and explores an intersectional future through information science.

Joanna Gavins (Sheffield) Using linguistics to help tackle plastics pollution

'Many Happy Returns' is a research project at the University of Sheffield being undertaken by a multidisciplinary team of scientists, engineers, social scientists, and humanities researchers. The project aims to enable the development of reusable packaging systems and reduce single-use plastics. Linguistics sits at the heart of the project and we are examining millions of words of linguistic data, gathered from social media, manufacturers’ and retailers’ language, government information, and focus group discussions. Our aim is to understand how people talk about their interactions with plastics and how we can reframe the language we use to encourage reuse. This talk will look at some of the grammatical patterns we have uncovered in our data and what they might reveal about how we conceptualise plastics.

Sylvia Shaw (Westminster) Lost in Transcription? The representation of parliamentary speech in writing

This talk investigates the representation of parliamentary speech in writing for the Hansard, or Official Report of parliament. The ‘verbatim’ report actually makes systematic grammatical and lexical transformations to the original speech of politicians in order to record it in a way that reflects the authority of parliament and allows people to read it with ease. Here I consider exactly how politicians’ speech is altered for the written record, identifying two main concerns with the process. First, that of accuracy and whether changes and omissions can alter the meaning or nuances of what was originally expressed in speech. Second, whether the process of standardisation also eradicates important aspects of individuals’ identities by altering grammatical and lexical variation in their speech.

Julia Snell (Leeds) Does correcting children’s spoken grammar improve their writing?

To what extent does children’s spoken dialect grammar influence their writing? Does correcting pupils’ speech improve their command of written standard English? What consequences might overt correction of spoken grammar have for pupil participation and learning? I’ll addresses these questions by drawing upon a broad range of research data and investigations – primary school children’s writing, video recorded literacy lessons, Ofsted inspection reports, government language policy, and interviews with teachers and pupils – to demonstrate that despite the attention it receives in educational policy and discourse, spoken dialect grammar is not a major issue in relation to developing children’s writing.

Guyanne Wilson (UCL) Caribbean Englishes in the Standard English debate

In the Caribbean, local varieties of English are spoken alongside English-lexicon Creoles. Where in the past the presence of Creole features in Standard English was highly stigmatised, there is increasing evidence for creolisms, i.e. Creole linguistic structures adopted into English (Mair 2002), in English use. This paper considers creolisms in Jamaican and Trinidad and Tobagonian English, focussing on copula forms with predicative and progressive constructions, verbal agreement, and modal variation. The data comprise six text-types of the International Corpus of English, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago components: parliamentary debates, legal cross-examinations, legal presentations, academic writing, news reports and editorials. The results show that, even in formal contexts, creolisms are present in both spoken and written language. The status of these forms – are they Creole or not? – has implications for current understandings of how Standard English varies within the Caribbean region and compared to other Standard Englishes.

About the speakers

Susie Dent

Susie Dent is a writer and broadcaster on language. She recently celebrated 30 years as the resident word expert on Channel Four's Countdown, and also appears on the show's comedy sister 8 out of 10 Cats does Countdown. Susie comments regularly on TV and radio on words in the news. She has contributed to discussions on Radio 4's Woman's Hour, 15 x 15, Word of Mouth, Saturday Live, More or Less, Today, and on Radio 5 Live's Breakfast and Drive programmes, and has been a regular panellist on R4's Wordaholics. She has made guest appearances on many TV programmes including BBC Breakfast, Newsnight, This Morning, Test the Nation, Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, Not Going Out (in a swimsuit), and The One Show. Susie answers notes and queries about words and phrases in weekly columns in the Radio Times and The Week Junior. She has written for the Independent on Sunday, the Telegraph, and the Times, and is the author of several books, including her latest, Dent’s Modern Tribes. She is a spokesperson for Oxford University Press, and has been a judge on the Costa Book Awards and on the Academy Excellence Awards. Susie regularly delivers key-note speeches to both small companies and major corporations on language and communication.

Steven Dryden

Steven Dryden (they/he) has worked in the British Library Sound Archive since 2011. Steven co-curated Gay UK: Love, Law, and Liberty at the British Library in 2017, led a week of seminars and public lectures, BGLTQ UK, at Harvard University during 2018, and in 2019 presented the paper Transhistorical: National Collections and Gender Non-conformity at the Archives, Libraries and Museums (ALMS) conference Queering Memory at Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt, Berlin.’ In 2022/23 Steven curated Proud Words, four cases and 25 objects in British Library Treasures, exploring the evolution of LGBTQ+ language and print culture during the 1970s and 1980s.

Joanna Gavins

Professor Joanna Gavins is Chair in English Language and Literature at the University of Sheffield, where she teaches courses in cognitive linguistics and stylistics. She is the author of several books on language and cognition, including Text World Theory: An Introduction (2007), Reading the Absurd (2013), and Poetry in the Mind: The Cognition of Contemporary Poetic Style (2020). She is currently working on the 'Many Happy Returns' project at the University of Sheffield, investigating the language of plastics use and reuse. She is also writing a book on the language of the Scottish poet, artist and gardener, Ian Hamilton Finlay.

Sylvia Shaw

Sylvia Shaw is a Senior Lecturer in English Language and Linguistics at the University of Westminster. She is a sociolinguist who conducts research in the field of language and gender, and is particularly interested in language, gender and politics. Her work has included research projects in the House of Commons and an ESRC funded project investigating gender, language and participation in the devolved political institutions of the UK. She has published research on mediatised political discourse (particularly televised political debates and political interviews), including analyses of the language of political leaders in the 2015 UK General Election. She has also published a monograph, 'Women, Language and Politics', for Cambridge University Press (2020).

Julia Snell

Julia Snell is Professor of Sociolinguistics at the University of Leeds. Her research explores the role of language in education. She has published on children’s language variation and class identities, language policing, educational inequalities, dialogic pedagogy, and teacher professional development. She is co-author (with Adam Lefstein) of Better than Best Practice: Developing Teaching and Learning through Dialogue. Julia’s current Leverhulme funded research – ‘Spoken Language, Standards and Inequality in Schools’ – investigates how teachers’ perceptions of pupils’ social background, language, and abilities influence classroom interaction and pedagogy.

Guyanne Wilson

Guyanne Wilson is lecturer in English Language and Linguistics at University College London. Prior to this, she worked at several universities in Germany, where she completed her PhD and attained her Venia Legendi in English Philology, and where she contributed to the compilation of the Trinidad and Tobago and Ugandan components of the International Corpus of English. Her main research interests are grammatical variation in World Englishes, Caribbean Englishes on the internet, research methods in New Englishes, and language attitudes and ideologies.

More information will be published shortly.

This page last modified 20 September, 2022 by Survey Web Administrator.