LINGUIST List 7.632

Tue Apr 30 1996

Disc: English Textbooks

Editor for this issue: Annemarie Valdez <>


  1. Marilyn Silva, Re: 7.624, Qs: English Textbooks, Conjunction, Agency

Message 1: Re: 7.624, Qs: English Textbooks, Conjunction, Agency

Date: Sun, 28 Apr 1996 11:40:09 PDT
From: Marilyn Silva <>
Subject: Re: 7.624, Qs: English Textbooks, Conjunction, Agency
In his post dated Apr 25, Mike Maxwell reports:

"The following is from my son's seventh grade English textbook
("Houghton Mifflin English", 1990):
 A phrase is a group of words that is used as a single word in a
 sentence. A prepositional phrase begins with a preposition, ends
 with the object of the preposition, and includes any words that
 modify the object. [p. 447]
 Adjective Phrases. You have learned that prepositional phrases are
 used as single words. A prepositional phrase that functions as an
 adjective is called an adjective phrase... [Example:] "Wallpaper
 was a cheap substtute {for woven wall hangings}." ... [p. 451]
 Adverb Phrases. A prepositional phrase that functions as an adverb is
 called an adverb phrase... [Examples:] "We will travel {with a tour.}."
 ... "This tour is famous {for its careful planning}." ... "Have you
 ever traveled far {from home}?" [p. 453]"

Indeed I share Mike Maxwell's sense that his son's textbook is "out in
left field." But perhaps it won't ruin the boy forever. Given that
there has been almost no grammar instruction in the K-12 level for the
last twenty years, we should applaud his school and teacher in
exposing him to any ideas in grammar.

Having said that, let me add what I know about the texts that are out
there. Unfortunately, most of the folks who put together grammar books
and other products for the K-12 level know next to nothing about
modern grammar (and sometimes little about grammar, period). Last
summer, for example, I was called in as a consultant by "Creative
Wonders," a subsidiary of ABC that had acquired the rights to
"Conjunction Junction" and other educational snippets previously
televised on Saturday morning during the 70s. Creative Wonders was in
the process of producing an interactive CD-ROM called "Grammar Rock"
and the fellow who called me was rightfully concerned about the
educational quality of the product. Anyway, when I took a look at the
data going into this product, I was appalled: Whoever wrote the
material had no idea what was what in grammar. I spent days trying to
fix the stuff, but there were constraints, partly because I had been
called in at the end of the project rather than at the beginning, and
partly because the explanations I was forced to work with were driven
by the lyrics of the songs from the "Schoolhouse Rock" series (e.g.,
"Any person that you know, and anything that you can show, and any
place that you can go --you know they're nouns, you know they're

I fixed the stuff as much as I could. For example, I made the 
programmers change all the stuff on the conjunctions, which, 
according to the original program, was the connection of two 
unequal elements, such that "John and Mary went to the store" 
was analyzed as a connection of a noun [John] and a clause 
[Mary went to the store]! Furthermore, compound nouns like 
"ceiling fan" were analyzed as adjective plus noun! Once again, 
I had to work within the confines of the material already 
produced (pictures, music, etc.).

Considering all these problems, the final product looks pretty 
good, even if it is, well, a bit schoolmarmish and traditional. 
My 8-year-old was my guinea pig, and she loves it, and has learned 
enough from it to be able to determine word class membership for 
particular lexical items. Of course, given that she is the daughter 
of two linguists, all of that may be due to genetic predisposition 
to love language analysis, but, anyway there it is. "Grammar Rock" 
may not be the last word in up-to-date analysis, but it does encourage 
learning and interest in grammar.

Let me add that I am beginning to think that the very concrete
approach to grammar given in "Grammar Rock" may turn out to be the
right one for the 6-to-10-year-old targeted by this product. So much
for our sophistication. Linguist List subscribers may want to take a
look at it; as I said, kids really love it--even older ones, as it
turns out--and it is inexpensive (I think $29.95, but I'm not

But back to Mike's original comment. What we have is an example of the
enslavement of most grammar authors to the eight traditional parts of
speech, the notion of the word as the ruler of grammar, and the idea
that a phrase must consist of more than one word (I stuck to that in
part for "Grammar Rock." I had to, given the constraints I mentioned,
but I do suspect that kids have a heck of time thinking about a single
word as a "phrase"). Thus, a phrase "acts as a word"! In fact those
PPs Mike describes are adjectivals (as are a host of other post-noun
modifiers) and adverbials,but the author may have been dissuaded by an
editor or reviewer from distinguishing between an adjective phrase and
an adjectival one, and between an adverb and an adverbial on the
grounds that teachers wouldn't select the book because children might
become confused. Publishers of texts are always concerned about the
bottom line, and the textbook market can be tricky.

There is hope here, however. I have a contract for a new book aimed 
at the lower-division college/high school market. This one teaches 
students to think of phrases rather than individual lexical items, 
shows subjects to be entire phrases rather than words, and presents 
adverbial movement as rhetorical choice. BTW, my publisher wants 
me to work on a CD-ROM product that picks up where Grammar Rock 
leaves off. Once I'm done with the latest book, I may give it a go!

I've already written a college-level text that is text-based (i.e.,
the focus is on written rather than spoken English) and surface
structure oriented (_Grammar in Many Voices_ NTC Publishing Group,
Lincolnwood IL, 1995). Since the primary audience for this text is the
group of students planning to teach, I hope to influence the
curriculum designers.

Marilyn Silva
California State University, Hayward
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