Do you speak Canadian?

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Jun 5 15:13:09 UTC 2008

Do you speak Canadian? <>

June 4, 2008 @ 7:11 pm· Filed by Arnold
Zwicky<>under Language
and the media <>

Flash! From the *Toronto Star* on 2
"Language test spells trouble for newcomers", in which Lesley Ciarula Taylor
(the *Star*'s immigration reporter) tells us that all immigrants to Canada
would soon be required to take a specific "rigorous language test", the
International English Language Testing System (IELTS <>)
exam, widely used in Britain and Australia and already used in Canada for
foreign students seeking to go to Canadian universities.

This much is accurate. But the story leads off with an especially tricky
grammar question:

Think you speak English? Try this test.

Find the grammatical (or syntactic) error in this sentence: The standard of
living has increased.

Stumped? Soon, that will count against you if you're hoping to immigrate to
Canada. The rigorous language test that will be a requirement is vital to be
fair to the influx of newcomers or vastly discriminatory and fatally flawed,
depending on whom you talk to.

The correct answer is: The standard of living has risen.

And that, as it turns out, is just wrong. I wasted considerable time trying
to find this sample question on the IELTS site, until I realized that there
weren't any grammar questions at all on the exam. Then, illumination from
Brett (Professor of English for Academic Purposes at Humber College) on his
*English, Jack* blog <> the same day, under
the heading

Language tests for immigrants & Honesty tests for newspapers

Yes, more reportorial mischief.

(Hat tip to Randy Elzinga.)

Brett asked about the standard-of-living question on a mailing list, and
Lynda Taylor of University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations replied that

IELTS does not have (and has never had) a distinct section testing explicit
grammatical knowledge …

The grammar question example given in the Toronto Star article does not come
from an IELTS test paper nor does it come from the IELTS Official Practice
Materials. Instead, it seems to have been taken from another source entirely
- probably one of the many test preparation coursebooks produced by
publishers around the world.

(The offending test preparation book has not yet been identified.)

Meanwhile, the Star did a follow-up mocking
story<>on the 3rd
("Daring to ask the fluff questions", by Vinay Menon), and people
(mostly Canadians) began to complain angrily, in a variety of forums, among
them Digg <> ("Do you know
English?"), The Impudent
You Pass Canadian Immigration Test?"), and the *Star*'s own letters
page<>("Test must be from
another planet"). Yahoo! Answers introduced the
"Why is the first sentence wrong and the second correct?", which of
course invited respondents to accept the premise of the question and try to
justify *rise* over *increase*, and some (but not all) of them did.
Commenters on other sites almost all said that there was nothing wrong with
*increase*. (I'll get to actual usage in a moment.)

And there were objections to the once-size-fits-all policy, and to the use
of a British-made test.

Then on the 4th, Lesley Ciarula Taylor reappeared, with the
story<>"Ottawa drops
English exam" (subhead: "Move on immigrant test follows Star
story"). The immigration section of the Canadian Bar Association had
objected strongly to the change in policy, and the government relented.
Taylor goes on:

… the status quo remains and prospective immigrants can produce their own
documents to prove how well they speak English, or take the IELTS test [or a
French equivalent].

What about the syntax of the *increase*/*rise* sentences? A prohibition
against *increase* is news to me; I can't find it in any advice manual, and
don't recall anyone having mentioned it to me. The *increase* version sounds
fine to me (as it does to so many baffled Canadians), as does the
*rise*version. You can google up plenty of examples of
*increase* in combination with *standard of living* in serious writing,
including some from British sources (like the *Daily Telegraph a*nd the *
Guardian*). One of *NOAD*2's definitions for *rise* in fact glosses it in
terms of *increase* — 'in number, size, amount, or quality'.

But another of the uses of *rise* is in the sense 'improve', as in *NOAD*2's
example *living standards have risen* (though this sense isn't easy to
distinguish from the 'increase in quality' subsense). This use is remarkably
restricted; all sorts of things that can be said to have improved — health,
fitness, eyesight, disposition — cannot be said to have risen. That is, it's
easy to find collocations of *rise* 'improve' with *standard*(*s*), but not
with other nouns. My hypothesis is then that it's not so much that *standard
* (*of living* or whatever) requires *rise*, but that *rise* 'improve'
requires *standard*. Maybe someone got the relationship backwards.

Otherwise, both *rise* and *increase* can be used to mean 'increase',
qualitatively or quantitatively. There might be some preference to use *rise
* for qualitative increase and *increase* for quantitative increase, but the
usages can overlap, as in these two different descriptions of the same study
reporting a quantitative increase:

Her results, which were based on California statistics, showed that in the
first year after divorce, the male standard of living increased 42%, …

… in the year following divorce, women and children underwent a 73% drop in
their standard of living, while men's standard of living rose by 42%.

The two versions are semantically equivalent, but differ slightly in tone: *
increased* is simply literal, while *rose* has vestige of a metaphor left in
it. So some writers might prefer *rose* as a bit more vivid — but that
doesn't make *increased* syntactically unacceptable.

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