Michael Rosen Schools Toby Young on Grammar

Poet, children's author and veteran educator of decades Michael Rosen explains to amateur Free Schools enthusiast Toby Young what grammar actually is.


  1. I saw this and I thought I'd take a look, as apparently Toby Young got very cross.
  2. It all started when Michael Rosen decided to defend the indefensible and say that sometimes it might sort of be ok to say a word. Not a racial epithet or a swear word or a stream of misogynistic and homophobic abuse. Much worse:
  3. Toby Young then comes in with a fairly revealing objection:
  4. Immediately you see two things: firstly, that Young is characterising the issue of innit as a matter of correct and incorrect, secondly that he's understood the whole thing entirely as some kind of vague straw-liberal idea of "kids' self-esteem" that I'm not sure has ever been anybody's real opinion.

    This comes down to the old prescriptivist/descriptivist split. Whereas Rosen, the descriptivist, looks at usage of language and tries to see how it works and calls the base structures of it 'grammar', Young, the prescriptivist, sees 'grammar' as a set of rules to be followed, ideally out of a book.
  5. NM Gwynne, incidentally, has a history of working with Toby Young to hide a reactionary agenda for education policy behind nebulous waffle about "grammar". So this is basically just a plug for his friend's book.

    When other commenters join in, this objection to 'innit' reveals itself as much less to do with some objective 'correct' grammar than with personal preference:
  6. Michael Rosen's approach is much more studied. Unlike Young, who doesn't seem bothered with doing so, he looks at the actual structure and usage of the word in question and compares it to other similar words in English and grammatical structures in other languages:
  7. Other twitters pile in, and we see that the 'innit' structure is pretty common in other languages (see also Spanish '¿no?', German 'nicht wahr?', Hindi 'haina', Czech 'nebo ne?' English 'right?')
  8. We also see how this language snobbery is not just a class, but a race issue:
  9. Rosen also touches on the issues of the process of standardisation:
  10. He then also has to explain to Young and his hangers on that the actual topic at hand, grammar, actually involves more than just doing language right - i.e. the morphological and syntactic structures of language such as tenses, topicalisation, subject/object markers and so on: