LINGUIST List 8.839

Sat Jun 7 1997

Disc: Grammar in UK Schools

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Richard Ingham, Re: 8.817, Disc: Grammar in UK Schools
  2. Eric, Re: 8.817, Disc: Grammar in UK Schools

Message 1: Re: 8.817, Disc: Grammar in UK Schools

Date: Tue, 3 Jun 1997 11:08:31 +0100 (BST)
From: Richard Ingham <>
Subject: Re: 8.817, Disc: Grammar in UK Schools

Marc Hamann has - perhaps unintentionally - identified an important
issue in his reference to:

"...the inflexible, rote and prescriptive approach to grammar which is
conventionally inflicted on students throughout the English speaking

I think it's important to start with a recognition of how things are
in the UK. This particular corner of the English speaking world may be
somewhat different from what he imagines.

Teaching of English in the UK has in recent years been shaped by
objectives such as the GCSE National Criteria of 1985, which stated no
fewer than seven objectives relating to the communication of
information, meaning, experience, attitude etc. There was just one
taking in 'appropriate grammatical structures, conventions of
paragraphing, sentence structure, punctuation, and spelling'. The
balance of these objectives makes it clear where priorities have been
deemed to lie, and teachers have no doubt followed the signals given.

My personal estimate is that the debate on a so-called 'return to
standards' takes place against this background, rather than against
the more traditional one probably envisaged by Marc Hamann.

These comments should not be construed as representing the point of
view of this department or of other departments at this university.
Richard Ingham
Department of Linguistic Science
The University of Reading
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Message 2: Re: 8.817, Disc: Grammar in UK Schools

Date: Tue, 3 Jun 1997 09:47:49 -0500
From: Eric <>
Subject: Re: 8.817, Disc: Grammar in UK Schools

I would like to point out a a problem in the instruction in public
schools that underlies this discussion, but seems to be forgotten.

If, as many linguists point out, teaching "grammar" as a set of rote
memorization rules with very pointless exercises is not a very logical
route to take, then why do so many school teachers embrace it?

Although I hate to say it, I believe it is because, at least in the
United States, most of the secondary English teachers do not know how
to teach anything else. At the University I attended, one semester of
a 2OO level introduction to grammar was all that was required for a
secondary education license in English.

The simple fact is that most English teachers went in to the
profession out of a love of teaching and a love of composition or
literature or both. I don't remember very many who taught English out
of a love of linguistics. This is why the English teachers embrace the
grammar text, often outdated and pointless, and hang on for dear
life. They know little more than their students in this area of
language study. This makes it very hard for any of the lofty goals of
understanding the structure of language to be taught, since those
responsible for teaching them need to be taught first. While I agree
that the French child learning his verbs need not study Derrida, can
the same be said of the teacher?

I find it interesting that a bachelor's degree in English can be
completed at many universities with only a single "linguistics" course
required. And, I hate to say it, but the linguistics courses are
viewed by those students as an exercise in pain that must be endured
in order to graduate. At the university at which I attended graduate
school, the linguistics program was part of the English department. I
remember the comment of one of my colleagues from the creative writing
program when she found out what program I was in. "Eyeugh. You're a

I must also admit that there are many linguistic students out there
who could not explain TS Eliott's "Prufrock" in literary terms and
would find deconstrutionist literary theory as baffling as the English
majors find optimality theory. But, it is a nasty trick to play,
especially on the students, to force these gentle English majors to
teach basic linguistics. And should we be so surprised to find that
these teachers would rather do a couple of memorized lessons out of
the old text and get back to some literature or an explanation of
iambic pentameter?

Eric Adolphson
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