School grammar, round two

« previous post | next post »

There were many interesting comments on my recent post "Putting grammar back in grammar schools: A modest proposal". I wasn't able to participate in the discussion, due to competition from travel, holiday activities, fall semester grading, conference deadline, a wedding, …, so today I'll take up one or two of the points that were raised.

First, let me say that Dick Hudson has kindly agreed to write a guest post about grammar teaching in the UK, and educational linguistics in general, expanding on his comment. In what follows, I'll make a few observations of my own about the motivations for putting grammar — and linguistic analysis in general — into the school curriculum; about ways and means for moving towards this goal in the U.S.; and about what skills and concepts I had in mind.

Motivations and justifications were explicitly not the focus of my earlier post, whose goal was simply to point out the existence and possible relevance of a prestigious, widely accepted, well documented, and durable standard for grammatical description. My earlier post also didn't say anything about how to package these ideas for presentation to students at different levels — the existing technical literature is no more suitable for grammar-school usage than recent issues of Cell or Physical Review Letters would be as reading material in  elementary-school science classrooms. And the way that I introduced the topic left me open to the misunderstanding that the main issue is terminology for parts of speech, rather than analysis of the structure and meaning of sentences.

Quite a few commenters asked whether grammar instruction would "be sufficient to produce high school graduates capable of composing a cogent paragraph made up of more or less grammatical sentences". The relevance of grammar instruction to second-language teaching and learning also came up. These are interesting and relevant questions, but I feel that it would be a mistake to make them the center of the discussion. We don't put chemistry into the school curriculum because it will make students better cooks, or even because it might make them better doctors, much less because we need a relatively small number of professional chemists. We believe (I hope) that a basic understanding of atoms and molecules is knowledge that every citizen of the modern world should have.

I feel that the arguments for grammar in the school curriculum — and for linguistic analysis more broadly — ought to be similar. A basic understanding of how language works should be part of what every educated person knows. And there are many professions where a more-than-basic understanding is worthwhile, just as pharmacists and farmers need quite a bit of advanced practical chemistry to do their jobs well.

Lane asked some pointed and relevant questions:

How does this idea get transmitted to the decision-makers that matter? English teachers are mostly English majors. They learn the analysis of literature, and virtually nothing about the analysis of grammar. (If they were educated after 1970 or so, they also learn a lot of theory that has much less to do with the analysis of grammar than what's going on at Computer Science does.)

Every English graduate should understand the English language, especially given how many will become not only teachers but editors, proofreaders, and other language-types. They all need at least one chunky course in English syntax. But my understanding is that this is optional, and not popular, among English department requirements.

Doesn't the MLA conference bring together linguists and literature department teachers? Why not present this there? It would need a thoroughgoing demolition of the traditional and broken grammatical categories for starters, and a softly-softly introduction to concepts like "determiner" in the second half.

I'd love to see something like this happen. But it would take decades to train the old bad habits out of the system…

I think he's right to assume that change probably needs to percolate downwards from the university level, and to observe that the lack of analytic training of any sort in most English departments is a problem.

Others may have ideas about how to fix this. But at least in the U.S., my suggestion would be to turn away from English departments, and pursue a plan based on an alliance of linguists with people in computer science, psychology, statistics, medicine, law, sociology, business, etc., who increasingly see linguistic analysis (e.g. in the form of "text mining" or "text analytics") as an interesting object of study in itself, and as a means to enable research on other (applied or fundamental) topics. This alliance — which eventually might even include some people from Digital Humanities — is a plausible basis for college-level courses in "grammar" as practical text analysis.

Such courses would NOT be focused on parsing algorithms or other NLP techniques as such, but rather on the nature of the information that NLP algorithms are meant to compute. Compare standard statistics courses, which (at an elementary level) introduce concepts like significance tests without explaining what statistics programs really do to calculate them, or  (at a more advanced level) discuss generalized linear models  or mixed-effects regression without going into detail about the numerical optimization techniques used to estimate their parameters.

This path does depend on an argument about the practical value of grammatical analysis (broadly construed). But it's an argument that's already been won. And the academic customers for this general style of analysis are numerous and diverse enough, in principle, to motivate and support a modern version of the old-fashioned idea that grammar (and logic and rhetoric :-)) should be for everyone.



  1. Ralph Hickok said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 9:29 am

    I wonder how effective the teaching of grammar can be. When I was 5 years old, I knew it was "wrong" when other kids said "him and me" did something or "he don't" or "you was," although I didn't know the grammar behind it. I had simply absorbed the correct way from listening to my parents.

    When I graduated from high school, the kids who had been saying "him and me" and "he don't" and "you was" in kindergarten were still using those forms because that was what they heard in their out-of-school surroundings.

  2. mollymooly said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 9:39 am

    Can anyone offer comparative data for L1/native-speaker education in languages other than English:-

    * To what extent do university majors take L1 grammar courses alongside L1 literature courses?

    * How up-to-date is the L1 grammar taught in their grade-schools / high-schools / universities?

  3. Lisa said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 9:46 am

    I think the answer to Lane's [fair] question about how to make this case with "the decision-makers that matter" lies in the proposed idea itself. It also, I hope, addresses Ralph's point about a memorization system that really hasn't worked for most people. A system that is more descriptive than prescriptive would go a long way toward conveying understanding between proponents of this idea and how they speak and decision-makers and how they speak. [Believe it or not, although I'm sure most readers here do, there is a lot of translation that has to happen in the workaday world between same-language speaking parties – jargon conversion, in a sense.] I do think it a mistake to exclude the English departments from this discussion. Few professionals are more frustrated with the current state of English teaching at the university level than the professors themselves, and I think many would like to be active in rectifying that. English departments and students have a reputation for being all about the literature. I received my degree in English and cannot quote Byron or Yeats to save my life: It wasn't my focus. My focus was on the mechanics of writing. I did not go into teaching, either, which would have required far more Education classes than was my interest. I have untold universes full of what I don't know still left to learn. I wish I'd had more of a background such as you've proposed.

  4. Michael Newman said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 10:28 am

    In answer to Mollymooly's question, the Spanish universities I'm familiar with, they have almost equal amounts of lit and ling, and the ling is indeed up-to-date (i.e., in the hands of linguists).

    In the US, the turn to no grammar of course reflects the priorities and philosophy of many (although not all) English department postsecondary faculty. There is a similar problem in World Language education, where literature and increasingly cultural studies faculty control Foreign Language departments. As many of us know, there is invariably tension—sometimes more and sometimes less—between those groups and linguists.

    You might think that the move to accredit teacher education would be a way into obligating teacher education programs to include more linguistics. Unfortunately, if you did think that you'd be wrong. The teacher education accreditation process is all about producing mostly smoke-and-mirrors facsimiles of rigor, perhaps rigorishness on the model of truthiness.

    The TESOL standards for teacher education specify grammatical knowledge, but only at what they call the "developing" level for teacher candidates. Then, for higher levels of "meeting" or "exceeding" standards, they move to ability to teach grammar as if this were a more advanced version of understanding grammar. When I got into a verbal altercation with one of the standards writers, it came out that she felt that linguists controlled too much ESL teacher education, and were imposing useless linguistics on pre-service teachers.

    She has a point, a small point but a point. There are linguists out there who disdain education but use teacher ed as a way of increasing FTEs. That's no better than what the cultural studies people do with English Language Arts and World Language Education.

  5. Ben Hemmens said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 11:14 am

    Maybe the English departments in the English-speaking countries could learn from the English departments in non-English-speaking countries. My wife works in an Anglistik institute in Austria, and it has several subdivisions: not only literature, but also linguistics, education/specialist didactics (a lot of their students are doing integrated English and education degrees, on their way to being second-level teachers), and advanced language competence in English (which includes a lot of grammar and syntax, necessarily emphasizing the contrasts to German). My impression is that this structure is normal for English departments in the German-speaking countries – i.e. they do much more than just literature.

    Also, as other commenters have already observed, once you have decided on the standard set of concepts that should be the basis of your curriculum and it comes to developing actual didactic approaches, you could do worse than cast an eye over what the ESL heads have been doing. Many native speakers would benefit from a run-through of something like Scott Thornbury's Natural Grammar. And I know one book written for a non-native audience which could just as well serve as a catalog of things that native speakers should learn to handle consciously: Siepmann, Gallagher, Hannay & Mackenzie's "Writing in English: A Guide for Advanced Learners".

  6. E W Gilman said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 11:30 am

    I have never taught school. But after working with English usage for several years I reached the opinion that we'd all be better off if there were no grammar taught in grammar school. What utility for a grade school student is knowing what a verb or an adjective is They know how to speak the language, presumably they have learned how to read and write. Postpone the parsing and parts of speech to high school when the students should be somewhat more mature. Stick to the basics in grammar school. (Now you know that I am no pedagogue,)

  7. J. W. Brewer said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 11:31 am

    I don't know how much English is taught at the K-12 level in the U.S. public schools by standard-issue English majors. Elementary school teachers (who are typically not specialized by subject matter) tend to have majored in "elementary education" or something like that. At the secondary school level, there is probably more variation, but I believe that at many universities the "English" track for students in the School of Ed is not just the standard BA-in-English program with a few additional how-to-be-a-teacher classes piled on, but a thing unto itself. Here's the "Adolescence Education – English" curriculum at SUNY-Oneonta, which is one of the larger producers of newly-certified public-school teachers in New York state. It actually requires two "LING" courses (In addition to "Language and Society," students are free to choose either "Traditional English Grammar" or "English Grammar: Modern Approaches" – I haven't poked around the website further to learn much more about those classes or their substantive content, but can confirm that apparently no LING classes are required for the regular English major outside the teacher-prep curriculum.) I don't know how common this nominal-exposure-to-linguistics-courses is for such programs, but it may compare favorably to, e.g., the requirements imposed by the University of Pennsylvania for its M.S.Ed. with specialty in secondary-school English instruction program . . .

  8. Ralph Hickok said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 11:37 am

    Lane is quoted as saying, "English teachers are mostly English majors."

    If this is a reference to teaching in the United States, I don't believe it's true. Most teachers here are education majors. Certainly on the grade school level, which may be the most important for instilling the essentials of grammar, there are few, if any, English majors teaching.

  9. J. W. Brewer said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 11:37 am

    Separately: I cannot say that their popularity is uniformly distributed across the U.S. child population by region, ethnicity, social class, etc., but my fourth-grader is currently fascinated with Mad-libs, which do require the user (or the user's interlocutors) to know and distinguish the various parts of speech on some version of the traditional account. Indeed, her enjoyment of Mad-libs led her over the weekend to ask me to clarify/restate the adjective/adverb distinction for her. I decided to give her a few practical examples (of the adding -ly variety), rather than start with "well, I'd need to double-check but I expect that Pullum and Huddleston have demonstrated that the traditional account of the adverb is conceptually incoherent and fails to account for the data . . ."

  10. Tim Leonard said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 11:45 am

    Please, *please*, make it a core teaching of the curriculum that linguistics is a SCIENCE based on EVIDENCE and that neither descriptive nor prescriptive grammar is about authoritative rules. Until students learn (because teachers believe) that evidence trumps authority, public discussion of language will continue to be dominated by peevers and linguistics will continue to be misconceived and unappreciated.

  11. Janet Randall said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

    DIgital Humanities, at least at Northeastern University, where I teach, is connected to the English Department. So if grammar were introduced through DH, English Departments might be willing to buy in, in ways that they have not been. In answer to Lane's query, a quick look at the MLA website reveals no mention of grammar or linguistics. There have been efforts through the NCTE, however, by linguists like Ann Lobeck and Kristin Denham, who had leadership positions in an MLA subsection ATEG (Assembly for the Teaching of English Grammar), but the resistance is strong and its journal, which WAS called Syntax in the Schools, last edited under that name by Lobeck and Denham in 2005, is now called the Journal of ATEG and seems to have no linguists involved.

  12. mollymooly said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 1:05 pm

    FWIW, in Ireland most primary-school teachers have a primary degree in Education, whereas most second-level teachers in most** subjects have a primary degree in the subject* and a postgrad diploma in Education.

    *many teachers teach multiple subjects, in which case they may have lesser qualification in some. AFAIK there is no prescribed minimum subject-matter experience.

    ** things outside the arts/science/humanities are exceptions (PE, woodwork, home econ, …)

  13. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 2:57 pm

    My problem with the suggestion of teaching grammar informed by linguistics is that I don't see enough of a consensus among linguists. I just re-skimmed Round 1, and I saw no support at all for MYL's proposal of using the Penn Treebank, unless you count a complaint that it's not currently widely available. A couple of people suggested the CGEL as a basis, but as I recall, the CGEL has some controversial features.

    In chemistry, there's been a consensus about some features of atoms and molecules for almost 200 years. In syntax, is there even any hope for a consensus in the coming century on matters that can be taught in grade school? Am I, as a non-linguist, missing areas of agreement?

    I'd like to make a modest proposal (and I don't mean that satirically). Two recent LLog posts are about matters that seem to be of wide interest: dialectology, and evasiveness about agency—I take it that the misuse of "passive" suggests that people, at least in the chattering classes, are more interested in evasiveness about agency than in syntax. If linguists want to make inroads into the grade-school curriculum, maybe they should start by trying to introduce and influence teaching on those subjects.

  14. Rosie Redfield said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 3:08 pm

    I think the motivation is untenable. We have the ability to teach far more than any one person has the ability to learn, and utility is a far better criterion than the idealistic "knowledge that every citizen of the modern world should have."

    Our K-12 chemistry curriculum should indeed place more emphasis on its everyday relevance to cooking (and global warming and many other issues we face every day) than on training future physicians and chemists. And if we teach grammar it should be because our students will need this understanding in their daily lives. Otherwise it just becomes one more useless skill they sensibly forget as soon as the exam is over.

  15. the other Mark P said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 4:08 pm

    I agree with Rosie. If more grammar comes in, what are taking out?

    We can't teach everything, and we shouldn't try.

    (Chemistry is barely taught in NZ as a compulsory subject. It is part of General Science, but only a very cursory pass over atoms, molecules and compounds as a technical subject. The rest that is taught — again not much — is that of practical relevance, mainly acids and bases.

    At Year 12 (sixth form for UK, Year 11 for Australia and US) it becomes optional and is taken only by academic students.

    There is no need as part of the general knowledge of most people to get beyond bases cancel acids, that pH is a measure of acidity and that chemical compounds cannot be separated by physical means.)

  16. Mar Rojo said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 5:10 pm

  17. Mar Rojo said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 5:28 pm

    I agree.

  18. Deborah Cameron said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 5:38 pm

    I'd just like to say that I'm a linguist, and in my 30 year career I've mostly taught in English departments (on both sides of the Atlantic, BTW), excepting four years which I spent in an education institution teaching teachers. Grammatical analysis of English has always been one of the things I've taught. I have problems with the way some of my fellow-linguists habitually talk about English departments and what goes on in them. I totally support the idea that grammar should be taught in schools, but to make that happen I think you need the English departments to be allies rather than the adversaries some contributors to this discussion seem to see them as. Though I follow the argument for making alliances with computer science, psychology, etc., if you make grammar into a science you will not reach the people who become and who mainly educate English teachers, writers, editors, journalists and so on.

  19. Rod Johnson said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 6:06 pm

    A basic understanding of how language works should be part of what every educated person knows.

    I don't disagree, of course, but I also don't think this self-evident. In fact, the question of "what every educated person [should] know" seems exceedingly unclear—I'm not sure whether it's possible to usefully discuss the question in our current predicament.

    For that matter, the claim that "linguistics is a SCIENCE based on EVIDENCE" seems highly disputable—at least the aspects of linguistics at issue here. Both of the major purported kinds of evidence (corpora and introspective grammaticality judgments) have serious epistemological shoring-up to do to convincingly serve as foundations of a science, not to mention the fault lines they represent within the field. I believe Mark is suggesting something more modest and practical than trying to put intuit a on a footing comparable to chemistry.

  20. Rod Johnson said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 6:08 pm

    For "intuit" above please read "linguistics." Stupid autocorrect.

  21. Deirdre said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 6:29 pm

    I think we are in the realms of the ‘perfect being the enemy of the good’. I grew up in the UK in a system where English Literature and Language were two different subjects leading to two different exams. (Still true but, as I understand it, you can choose to take only one). The only parts of Language I remember were early in my secondary education (i.e. age 11 – 13, at ordinary state schools) where the teachers took it on themselves to be firmly prescriptive in the language lessons (and yes, they were the same people as taught literature).

    One taught a term’s-worth of lessons devoted to solecisms – meaning ‘These are mistakes, don’t make them.’ Not by coincidence she was not born a native English-speaker. And I remember and am still thankful for it. Example – “I would of done …” just makes you sound uneducated.
    I think you can give kids guidance on correct grammar, a sense of register and so on, without their needing a comprehensive understanding of deep linguistic analysis, or killing their creativity. I remember big wall posters about ‘their’, ‘there’ and ‘they’re’ or ‘bear’ and ‘bare’ and an awfully large number of English speakers could usefully have spent some time seeing such things every day.

    I also think, a lot of facility with language is a result of just reading an awful lot of well-written material. So I don’t think it is a problem that it is in the hands of English teachers who have no formal linguistic science studies behind them.

    It’s a common phenomenon that students have written essays and analysed fiction and poetry – but don’t learn anything about parts of speech until they start learning foreign languages. I appreciate the paradox in placing the grammar teaching in the hands of the FL teachers – you can know the grammar of any language except your own. I just don’t understand the benefit of having youngsters sit around identifying parts of speech in a language they know perfectly well.

  22. D.O. said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 7:27 pm

    @the other Mark P.
    Really? You do not need to know what, on chemical level, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are? You do not need to know that when natural gas is burnt the result is water and carbon mono- and dioxide? You can skip the formation of rust? You do not need conservation of energy? No idea about endothermic and exothermic reactions? Note, I listed only the things that are readily connected to everyday life. And it is hardly a 10% list of such topics.
    In your opinion, what do students need to know apart of this weeks TV schedule and the top 10 hip-hop list?

  23. Paolo said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 8:51 pm

    @mollymooly, in Italy grammar begins being taught at primary school; it was still very traditional when I started school (late 70's). We did analisi grammaticale (e.g. il bambino legge il libro: il, articolo determinativo maschile singolare; bambino, nome comune maschile singolare; legge, verbo della seconda coniugazione, terza persona presente indicativo etc.) and analisi logica (il bambino legge il libro: il bambino, soggetto; legge, predicato verbale; il libro, complemento oggetto).
    I remember a Goethe-Institut teacher in Germany saying that he could tell students' nationality by their understanding of grammar, apparently Italians' being very good and English students' very bad.

  24. Lane said,

    December 31, 2013 @ 4:40 am

    Paolo, a lot of English-speakers (including me) learn these grammatical terms for the first time (properly) in their first foreign language class. And I reckon it's partly because we learn the traditional inflected European languages (my school had Spanish, French and German). Any time you use a verb you need (at least) to think about person and number, and probably verb class, and maybe also voice and mood. A Spanish or Italian verb has dozens of forms, and there's no way to learn them without learning that kind of analysis.

    So in a way, the simplicity of English inflection (play, plays, playing, played) may be a crutch that allows English-speakers to never learn how their own verbs (to start with) work.

  25. bookmarks for December 30th, 2013 through December 31st, 2013 | Morgan's Log said,

    December 31, 2013 @ 7:01 am

    […] Language Log » School grammar, round two – Continuing loving it to death, our hero turns to implementation. English Depts are driven too much by literature and suffer from a lack of training in analytical methods so we might place the study of grammar elsewhere: "But at least in the U.S., my suggestion would be to turn away from English departments, and pursue a plan based on an alliance of linguists with people in computer science, psychology, statistics, medicine, law, sociology, business, etc., who increasingly see linguistic analysis (e.g. in the form of "text mining" or "text analytics") as an interesting object of study in itself, and as a means to enable research on other (applied or fundamental) topics. This alliance — which eventually might even include some people from Digital Humanities — is a plausible basis for college-level courses in "grammar" as practical text analysis." With this, we need a change in marketing The English Major, away from Book Club and towards theory in practice (aka analytic methods, study of text, NLP). It'll take a generation, – (DH linguistics grammar ) […]

  26. Ken Brown said,

    December 31, 2013 @ 7:34 am

    School teachers in England similar to those Molly Mooly describes for Ireland. Primary level teachers will be graduates, sometimes education graduates, but teach a variety of subjects.

    Secondary level teachers usually have a first degree in the main subject they teach. Though that is increasingly untrue for maths and sciences, which maybe one reason for a growing class divide between on the one hand private schools, the few remaining grammar schools, and a ragbag mixture of ex grammarschools and specialist so-called "academies", which teach sciences seriously; and on the other hand ordinary schools which now often only teach wateted-down "general science", with inadequate hours, taught by a biology graduate if you are lucky, a geography or education graduate if you aren't.
    (I've nothing against geographers, but not mant of them have the maths or the right kind of enthusiasm to be great A-level physics or chemistry teachers. Same goes for most biologists of course)

  27. Ben Hemmens said,

    December 31, 2013 @ 10:48 am

    FWIW, in Ireland most primary-school teachers have a primary degree in Education

    I suspect that is normal internationally. Here in Austria, the Pädaks/Pädagogische Hochschulen where the primary-school teachers get their training are not attached to the universities. Insofar as the students are given any language training, it's done in-house without reference to what the university departments might be teaching. The great majority of university students taking an education major are destined to teach in a Gymnasium, the academically-oriented secondary schools.

  28. Tracy W said,

    December 31, 2013 @ 1:09 pm

    @D.O. I know I learnt the basics of the chemical structure of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins at high school, but I can't recall having ever used that knowledge, not even to get an in-joke and I'm a SF fan. Of course by now any such joke would go totally over my head.

  29. John Roth said,

    January 1, 2014 @ 12:50 am

    Thanks for pointing me at Dick Hudson's grammar teaching page. His paper on grammar teaching (second bullet point on the page) was extremely interesting.

  30. Bob Ladd said,

    January 1, 2014 @ 1:52 pm

    @Jerry Friedman: I think it's clear that at the level of "matters that can be taught in grade school" there is no problem reaching consensus among linguists. We are talking REALLY BASIC notions here, like noun and adverb and direct object. The promised guest post by Dick Hudson has plenty of links, for example to a paper showing that a great many such terms are unknown to many UK undergraduates. You are not going to find major disagreement among linguists about what "direct object" means, though you may well find plenty of linguists who don't much care if kids don't learn the term in school.

  31. Suburbanbanshee said,

    January 1, 2014 @ 8:41 pm

    Re: "determiners," my mother says that when she was in grade school in the 1950's and early 1960's, they learned about determiners in English class. She went to Catholic schools in Dayton, Ohio.

    So it's not that they can't be used in teaching kids; it's that they were used and were forgotten again.

  32. RP said,

    January 2, 2014 @ 5:17 am

    E W Gilman wrote:
    "But after working with English usage for several years I reached the opinion that we'd all be better off if there were no grammar taught in grammar school. What utility for a grade school student is knowing what a verb or an adjective is"

    After reading this comment, I realised I'd been misunderstanding the term "grammar school".

    Although I knew its US meaning wasn't the same as the meaning it carries in the UK (where it designates a secondary school that admits only certain pupils, based on academic selection), I hadn't looked it up and therefore had no idea that it meant a primary or elementary school.

  33. Chris said,

    January 2, 2014 @ 10:08 am

    While I'm a bit late to this party, I'll throw in my 2 cents. There's one reason linguistic analysis should be taught in primary school that has not been mentioned (I don't think): It's one of the few non-mathematical empirical analysis techniques readily taught to young people. Most children are naturally fascinated by language, but many children are turned off by math (many reasons for this, but those are outside the scope of this comment). "Critical thinking" has been a buzzword in education departments for decades, but there's little consensus on how to teach it. Linguistic analysis is a great, non-mathematical way to teach data analysis and reasoning.

  34. Tom said,

    January 2, 2014 @ 8:12 pm

    I find it interesting and revealing that so many of the comments ignore the OP's claim that it would be best to separate the teaching of grammar from the teaching of English (reading, writing, literature) entirely.

    It strikes me that if he wants to get any discussion of his actual proposal, he'd be better off touting what he's proposing as "elementary linguistics education" and not "grammar education" at all since "grammar" suffers from a double meaning problem, where most LL readers understand something different from and largely opposed to what a lay audience understands (e.g. grammar as the structure of language vs. grammar as a set of written, syntactical, semantic, and phonological "rules" meant to help native speakers speak and write in a prestige dialect and/or in a formal register).

  35. Dominik Lukes (@techczech) said,

    January 6, 2014 @ 4:16 am

    I wrote a rebuttal to this proposal:

    I something completely else should be taught about language than grammatical analysis. I don't think that grammar explains in any useful way 'how language works'. In the same way that the schema of a combustion engine does not explain how the car works on a human scale. They're there somewhere in the guts of the thing and although I love to explore those aspects personally, I don't think it's part of general education beyond the merest glimpse – of course, that is in as much general education as such is a desirable concept.

  36. Mar Rojo said,

    January 8, 2014 @ 3:08 am


  37. Arrant Pedantry » Blog Archive » Why Teach Grammar? said,

    March 4, 2014 @ 9:02 am

    […] I'm still not convinced, though, that learning grammar has much at all to do with learning to write. Having a PhD in linguistics doesn't mean you know how to write well, and being an expert writer doesn't mean you know anything about syntax and morphology beyond your own native intuition. And focusing on grammar instruction may distract from the more fundamental writing issues of rhetoric and composition. So why worry about grammar at all if it has nothing to do with good writing? Language Log's Mark Liberman said it well: […]

  38. Is the phrase "A little more wiser" grammatically correct? - Page 2 said,

    March 20, 2014 @ 8:36 pm

    […] supplying a link … . When you really should be defending your silly notions. :::::::::::::::: "How does this idea get transmitted to the decision-makers that matter? English teachers are […]

RSS feed for comments on this post