Flash! From the Toronto Star on 2 June: "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 Reynolds (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 Observer ("Could You Pass Canadian Immigration Test?"), and the Star's own letters page ("Test must be from another planet"). Yahoo! Answers introduced the increase/rise question as: "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 and the Guardian). One of NOAD2'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 NOAD2'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%, … (link)
… 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%. (link)
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.