Pedants beware. After Professor of Linguistics Willem Hollman wrote a piece for The Conversation last month about teaching grammar to eight-year-olds, he was invited to debate – on national radio – the merits of standard English against an author and private tutor described by presenter Nick Robinson as a “stickler for the right sort of grammar”. A lively exchange ensued and, like many educational linguists, Hollman argued that standard English should not be presented, within the national curriculum, as the only correct form.

In a follow-up article Hollman now takes the sword to five pedantic myths about standard English, from the belief that it is the only variety with clear rules to the misguided idea that you need it to think straight.

Elsewhere, a medical science historian recounts the life of James McCune Smith – the first African American physician known to have been published in a British medical journal and an indomitable abolitionist. And a zoologist’s notebooks – and new intel on hippos’ jaws – are saved from the skip to reveal why male hippos have bigger tusks than the females.

Dale Berning Sawa

Acting commissioning editor, Cities and Young People

Teaching grammar and validating each child’s dialect are not mutually exclusive positions for a teacher to take. Marc Hill / Alamy Stock Photo

Five things people get wrong about standard English

Willem Hollmann, Lancaster University

Standard English is but one of a myriad ways of speaking the English language. No child should be penalised for speaking another

Engraving of James McCune Smith by Patrick H. Reason. New York Historical Society

James McCune Smith: new discovery reveals how first African American doctor fought for women’s rights in Glasgow

Matthew Daniel Eddy, Durham University

James McCune Smith was the first African American to receive a medical doctorate from a university. He dedicated his life to fighting injustice.

Courtship behaviour of a male and female hippopotamus in Amboseli National Park, Kenya, showing the larger head and tusk sizes of the adult male on left. Graeme Shannon

We used 60-year-old notebooks to find out why male hippos have bigger tusks than females

Graeme Shannon, Bangor University; Line Cordes, Bangor University

Data collected from thousands of hippos helped show that while males are only slightly bigger than females, they have much larger tusks.

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