Date: Sat, 12 Feb 1994 17:27:24 -0700


Subject: Re: English Grammar


Like Don, I did not mean to pan Kaplan. It is really quite good,

but not enough explicit development of tree diagrams as in Veit, leaving

a lot of supplementation necessary. Veit, despite a few minor errors

and having gone too far ahead in presenting the deep structure of the

passive [as subjectless, and having the object move up because of the

need for a subject, a GB perspective], does present trees more fully and

methodically. I also prefer to emphasize phonemes rather than

phonological feature rules, since phonemes can relate directly to

spelling patterns, and are less abstract and more practical for future

teachers, and Kaplan focuses more on rules.

One book I used with mixed success was Bruce Liles A Basic

Grammar of Modern English. It is good in being a "non-transformational

transformational grammar", i.e., it incorporates most of the insights

without the formal machinery or diagrams, but as teachers in the U.S.

have found for over 100 years, a lot of students need the visual aid of

diagrams to "see" grammar, so it took an enormous amount of work to

supplement the book, and students relied on other texts in the library.

Nevertheless, it is a good introductory survey.

The new edition of Kolln is much better, and incorporates

structuralist and transformational insights, marrying them to R-K

diagrams, though too exclusively for my taste. Also, it perpetuates the

old structuralist picture that there are ONLY 10 basic "sentence

patterns" -- really verb subclasses + complements. I use a handout that

identifies 14 subclasses of intransitive verbs and 37 classes of

transitive verbs, which are only the most obvious ones. I find it easier

to supplement a text using tree diagrams with R-K diagrams, since a few

students already know the latter, but almost no one the former.

There is a danger of watering down subject matter too much

instead of challenging students. Some of the problems in our eroding

educational system begin at the college level. I like to quote a

reputed Japanese proverb to students: "To teach the finger, you should

know the arm". English ed majors are traditionally required to take

loads of lit courses that are largely irrelevant to their teaching

needs, and given a minimum of language preparation, even though this

will or should be the backbone of the curriculum. Maybe if we lobbied

more we could get greater parity in faculty membership and more jobs for

Ph.D.s in English linguistics, instead of being often the lone wolf.

Dumbing down the college curriculum to the content of the high school

or middle school curriculum will not carry us very far in the 21st

century. I realize the pressures are there not to teach any more than a

teacher needs to barely squeeze through the junior high text, but I

think those should be resisted if we are ever to turn the downward

spiral around.

Returning to teaching grammar to prospective teachers after a

20-year hiatus, I was very depressed to find that all of the hard work

that a generation of English linguists in the '60s had done to improve

the level of sophistication regarding language in the public school

curriculum had completely disappeared into the sand, and the wave of

students the system coughs up in my classes each year know no more, or

even less, than similar students knew in the '60s. Most students know

nothing about the history of the language (unless they have just

finished the required course the semester before), think English is

descended from Latin or German, have never heard of a phoneme or

morpheme, think the vowel of beet is long and that of bid is short,

believe that ain't is wrong and wonder what a split infinitive is so

that they can avoid it, believe a sentence is a group of words

expressing a complete thought, have no idea about how to recognize a

noun, etc., etc. ad infinitum. Even stalwart supporting institutions

like NCTE have largely abandoned language. Somehow, like the cycle

of poverty, the cycle of ignorance must be broken. It is truly

worrisome that in an age when knowledge is growing by leaps and bounds,

the very foundations for transmitting that knowledge are still in the

19th century and sliding backwards. It is fun to talk about "sluff/

slough" and "mango", but there is a truly serious problem here which

needs to be seriously discussed and confronted, and some solutions

sought. Twenty years from now, will our students be just as ignorant,

or even moreso? I think we have a serious responsibility here.

Rudy Troike