LINGUIST List 8.878

Sun Jun 15 1997

Disc: Grammar in schools

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Dick Hudson, Grammar in schools

Message 1: Grammar in schools

Date: Wed, 11 Jun 1997 11:44:22 +0100
From: Dick Hudson <>
Subject: Grammar in schools

I'd like to second Herb Stahlke's plea, following his brief survey of
the decline in grammar teaching (which mirrors the events in UK).

>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.

The same posting also carried a similar message from Larry Rosenwald,
who describes his attempts to help students to write better:

>What I do care about is having a
>reasonably precise vocabulary for analysis.

Since this strand arose out of a discussion of a recent trial in UK of
some materials for testing pupils' knowledge of grammar, readers may
be interested in the background. Recent developments in UK are
interesting and (to my mind) potentially very positive, in spite of
having been introduced for quite the wrong reasons (by a right-wing
government aiming at a return to `basics'). The official national
curriculum requires *all* schools to teach grammar. The most obvious
statement of this requirement is under the heading `writing' for
secondary schools (specifically, leading up to ages 14 and 16):

 `Pupils should be encouraged broaden their understanding of the
principles of sentence grammar and be taught to organise whole texts
effectively. [Note the stress on understanding grammar as well as on
applying this understanding.] Pupils should be given opportunities to
analyse their own writing, reflecting on the meaning and clarity of
individual sentences, using appropriate terminology, and so be given
opportunities to learn about:
 - discourse structure - the structure of whole texts - paragraph
structure; how different types of praragraphs are formed; openings and
closings in different kinds of writing;
 - phrase, clause and sentence structure - the use of complex
grammatical structures and the linking of structures through
appropriate connective; the use of main and subordinate clauses and
 - words - components including stem, prefix, suffix, inflection;
grammatical functions of nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns,
prepositions, conjunctions and demonstratives;
 - punctuation - the use of the full range of punctuation marks,
including full stops, question and exclamation marks, commas,
semi-colons, colons, .. '

 As a linguist I have very few arguments with this list (given its
purpose etc). It's also recognised that teachers themselves need to be
trained to do this kind of work. But it's rather ambitious, and the
teachers (and teacher-trainers) need help from the professionals -
i.e. us. I think a lot of us in the UK would be interested to hear
from colleagues in other countries where school grammar is fed more
directly by academic grammar.

Richard (=Dick) Hudson
Department of Phonetics and Linguistics,
University College London,
Gower Street,
London WC1E 6BT
work phone: +171 419 3152; work fax: +171 383 4108
 home page =
 unpublished papers available by ftp =
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