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#206170 - 06/22/12 09:43 AM Teaching Grammar
zmjezhd Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 08/13/05
Posts: 3290
Loc: R'lyeh
Many people have told me that grammar is no longer taught in primary or secondary schools and that it should be. Is this true? Or is some kind of grammar, different from what was taught in decades past, being taught? I don't know, but I am tired of arguing about it. What I would like to know is what these people think grammar is and how it can be taught to seven to 18 year-olds.

I think of grammar as a set of rules for using a particular language. For me grammar consists of various sub-fields of study: phonology (the sounds used by a language), morphology (the basic units of meaning, which can be lexical items, i.e., words, or smaller bits, e.g., affixes), and syntax (how the various units of meaning are put together to form grammatical phrases or sentences). I do not think of orthography as a part of grammar. That is spelling and punctuation, which should be taught, are just not a part of grammar for me or most linguists I have talked with or read.

The vague notion of grammar I get from non-linguists is a good deal of parsing (i.e., parts of speech assignment to words in a sentence) and diagramming (that is a method of drawing a sentence on a chalk board or piece of paper that gives some limited information on a constituent's part of speech (e.g., noun, verb) and syntactic function (e.g., subject, predicate). Thrown in here are also some spelling and punctuation "rules" and a good deal of what I would call usage "rules".

In particular, I'd like to know if anybody can name a good pedagogical grammar of English for use by native speakers. Also, I'd like a run-down of what particular set of parts of speech should be used and where that set came from. By fiat, by analysis? I find that when I try to explain my notion of grammar to the pro-grammar group of non-linguists, we very soon become aware that each group is using a totally different terminology to speak.

[Fixed stupid typo; that's grammars for teaching native speakers.]


Edited by zmjezhd (06/22/12 03:09 PM)
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#206173 - 06/22/12 12:22 PM Re: Teaching Grammar [Re: zmjezhd]
Rhubarb Commando Offline
old hand

Registered: 11/13/11
Posts: 1074
Loc: Lancaster, UK
I'm fairly sure that grammar is no longer formally taught in English primary schools. The idea seems to be that one picks up grammar by osmosis, as you learn to speak. But as the role models are often ill-educated "celebs" and sports stars* and young teachers who have, themselves, never been formally taight grammar, solecisms of all sorts are perpetuated.

As a text book, I have always relied on Fowler - whether he is suitable for people for whom English is a second language, I don't know.


*(not all celebs and sprots stars are ill-educated, of course, but a fair few are - they have been taughtnin prin=mary schools which don't teach grammar!!)
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#206174 - 06/22/12 01:13 PM Re: Teaching Grammar [Re: Rhubarb Commando]
LukeJavan8 Offline
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Registered: 06/23/08
Posts: 6691
Loc: Land of the Flat Water
Listen to the average NFL player interview and see if they
are taught English by any standard.
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#206176 - 06/22/12 01:41 PM Re: Teaching Grammar [Re: LukeJavan8]
gooofy Offline
newbie

Registered: 01/19/12
Posts: 37
"Grammar" for me, and I think for zjmezhd, is not something that is formally taught to native speakers. My 6-year-old niece can produce completely normal sentences, and she is not being taught grammar in school. She has an incredibly good unconscious knowledge of the grammar of English. She knows that subjects precede verbs, that verbs are marked for past tense and present tense third person singular, she understands the complicated ways of forming English questions.

Here are some other examples:

Why is 2 ok

1 I gave a present to him.
2 I gave him a present.

but 4 is not?

3 I explained the problem to him.
4 *I explained him the problem.

Why is the position of adverbs in a sentence relatively free, but we can't put the adverb between the verb and the object?

5 I explained the problem to him clearly.
6 I clearly explained the problem to him.
7 I explained the problem clearly to him.
8 *I explained clearly the problem to him.

In these sentences

9 When I get home, he will be cooking dinner.
10 *When I will get home, he will be cooking dinner.

both clauses describe events in the future, but the verb in the when clause cannot take will. Why?

But "grammar" to many people means something completely different. It means all the prescriptions that separate the in-group from the out-group: object-position "you and I", stranded prepositions, "who/whom", "which/that", etc, things that form a very small part of the grammar that native speakers carry in their heads. It's often claimed that lack of education in this grammar will lead to confusion or linguistic anarchy. But these things that have nothing to do with comprehensibility and everything to do with social divisions.


Edited by gooofy (06/22/12 01:43 PM)

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#206177 - 06/22/12 02:31 PM Re: Teaching Grammar [Re: Rhubarb Commando]
zmjezhd Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 08/13/05
Posts: 3290
Loc: R'lyeh
As a text book, I have always relied on Fowler - whether he is suitable for people for whom English is a second language, I don't know.

By Fowler, I assume you mean A Dictionary of Modern English Usage by H W Fowler (1926). (Although there are later editions edited by folks other than Fowler.) As its title implies, it is a book on usage and not grammar. There is also, the lesser well known today, The King's English by H W and F G Fowler (1906). It has more grammar in it, but still has a lot of what I call style (usage). I personally like Fowler (I was introduced to him in high school), but his usage dictionary is getting a little long in the tooth. It's nearly a hundred years old and English, even British English, has changed greatly in that time.

Ill-educated people tend to speak the language (dialect) they learned, and they speak it grammatically. And, I agree with Goofy: children learn almost the entirety of their first language grammar by age 7, which is pretty much before primary school. What they may learn in school, if they are lucky enough to go to school, is a tiny subset of the grammar of the privileged dialect (i.e., the standard language) of their area. I don't watch much sports, but I don't know if I want them speaking formal English.

Again, I am asking for English grammars for teaching native speakers of English the standard.
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#206178 - 06/22/12 02:43 PM Re: Teaching Grammar [Re: zmjezhd]
gooofy Offline
newbie

Registered: 01/19/12
Posts: 37
Originally Posted By: zmjezhd
In particular, I'd like to know if anybody can name a good pedagogical grammar of English for use by non-native speakers.


I've heard good things about the new Oxford Grammar from Bas Aarts. A Student's Grammar of English by Huddleston and Pullum might be good for advanced students.

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#206179 - 06/22/12 04:10 PM Re: Teaching Grammar [Re: gooofy]
tsuwm Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 04/03/00
Posts: 10523
Loc: this too shall pass
no idea, as to a teaching grammar; but just reading is a splendid guide. to wit,

“I remember once,” Cara told him, “who was it? Sister Modeste. She wrote on the board: What if they should never have united themselves in that, over there?" Cara had started to laugh, remembering the moment. "Panic! Se joindre, a homicidal verb. It's much simpler in Spanish. And then my friend Francesca, after the sister wrote out the answer, leaned across the aisle and whispered, 'Well, I'm certainly glad I know how to say that!'"

cool

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#206180 - 06/22/12 06:27 PM Re: Teaching Grammar [Re: tsuwm]
Faldage Offline
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Registered: 12/01/00
Posts: 13803
Originally Posted By: tsuwm
What if they should never have united themselves in that, over there?
cool



What does should mean in this sentence?

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#206181 - 06/22/12 07:22 PM Re: Why our language is changing for the better [Re: tsuwm]
zmjezhd Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 08/13/05
Posts: 3290
Loc: R'lyeh
no idea, as to a teaching grammar; but just reading is a splendid guide. to wit,

Yeah, sure. As I said elsewhere, but will reiterate here: the onliest way to figure out that grammar thing is to read and write ... That is the descriptivist agenda.
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#206184 - 06/23/12 07:22 AM Re: Why our language is changing for the better [Re: zmjezhd]
BranShea Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 06/23/06
Posts: 5282
Loc: Netherlands, the Hague
Thanks for this conversation. In fact in makes me realize that for native language we did not have grammar lessons as such. All we had was something called 'sentence analyzing'/ 'sentence building', spelling and punctuation. I have put this all under the heading 'grammar'. Unlike your understanding of grammar it seems.
(For the foreing languages we definitely had separate grammar books, textbooks and word lists. No images or diagrams however).

To Gooofy, of course it makes a difference whether a child from birth till school age is put in front of a television all day or is read bedtime and daytime books by its parents with all the fun and accompanying discussions.

Anyway, thanks from a non native speaker. (for the links etc.)

the onliest way to figure out that grammar thing is to read and write ... I hope so, I mean, a hard task when young people read little and less.


Edited by BranShea (06/23/12 02:02 PM)

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