LINGUIST List 8.860

Tue Jun 10 1997

Disc: Grammar in UK Schools

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Larry Rosenwald, Re: 8.817, Disc: Grammar in UK Schools
  2. 00hfstahlke, Re: 8.839, Disc: Grammar in UK Schools

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

Date: Thu, 05 Jun 1997 14:28:59 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: 8.817, Disc: Grammar in UK Schools

	I've read all the postings on this with interest. I don't
know how many of the posters are teaching courses in expository
writing. I am, fairly often; and my experience in teaching them leads
me to support Geoffrey Sampson's position, at least insofar as I
understand it. That is - if I'm working with an individual student,
it's useful if she (I teach at a women's college) and I have some
technical terms in common - not very fancy ones, just things like
"subject" and "dangling participle." Whether these belong to usage or
grammar doesn't concern me. It's just harder to explain what she's
doing to a student writing sentence fragments if she doesn't know -
I'm trying to be precise here - the usual, albeit imprecise meaning
often given terms like "subject," or "finite verb," or "participle. "
I don't care whether she thinks that complete sentences are a
convention of "standard English" or the eleventh Mosaic commandment -
the whole prescriptivist/ descriptivist dichotomy doesn't really
concern me in regard to this issue. What I do care about is having a
reasonably precise vocabulary for analysis. If people have taught
writing using a different such vocabulary, I'd be genuinely eager to
hear about it.

	Best, Larry Rosenwald, Department of English, Wellesley College
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Message 2: Re: 8.839, Disc: Grammar in UK Schools

Date: Sun, 08 Jun 1997 19:41:33 -0500 (EST)
From: 00hfstahlke <>
Subject: Re: 8.839, Disc: Grammar in UK Schools

Since Eric Adolphson has redirected the discussion to teaching
grammars in US schools, it might be worth looking at a bit of history.
The adoption of the social sciences' empirical design model by
educational researchers in the late 1940s and '50s led, reasonably, to
testing the effects of what was being taught on student learning.
Some good results have come from this shift, but in other cases the
research model produced results that should have been questioned a
little more closely. The teaching of grammar is one of these cases.
Research on the relationship between mastery of grammar and becoming
an effective writer, much of it done in the late '50s and '60s, could
find no such relationship, and so the teaching of grammar came to be
viewed as educationally unproductive. I've recently surveyed current
language arts series, and the amount of grammar that is taught ranges
from minimal to moderate. In several, grammar is relegated to an
appendix or to optional units where there is little effort to show
relationships between grammar and anything else. Some sentence
diagramming shows up, but there is little explanation, even in the
teachers' notes, of why one might want to represent grammatical
information in this way--or in any way.

I also teach an undergrad English linguistics course that, for many
students, is the only brush with grammar in the entire English Ed.
program. I find that these students, many of them well prepared and
highly motivated, have had little or no grammar in K12. This is not
surprising, since they were taught by teachers who were taught to
believe that the teaching of grammar served no purpose. If they were
taught it at all, little effort was made to make grammar make sense or
seem relevant and interesting. They will become teachers with
probablly less understanding of and ability to teach grammar than even
the generation before them.

How do we reverse this? Certainly not by either replacing grammar
with even more abstract and difficulty linguistic subject matter. 
We're not going to see change without concerted efforts by linguists
to work together with educators, school boards and legislators to make
people aware of the nature of grammar as an academic subject. The LSA
has a standing committee on this topic, but I havent' been able to
find out much about their activities or positions from the LSA
literature or Web page. We have the responsibility and the knowledge
to bring about change in grammar education, but we don't have any sort
of unified, concerted effort to do so.

Herb Stahlke
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