11 Nov 2006

Lies my teacher told me

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Grammar teachers (and I mean those who are actually teaching grammar, not grammar-school teachers) could pick up a few pointers from math teachers. Thanks to a recent post on The Quick and the Ed, I learned about a great book by Liping Ma on teaching elementary mathematics. I've just ordered the book from Amazon, so all I've had a chance to read is the snippet available on the search-inside pages, but I immediately ran across some very interesting remarks that seem directly relevant to grammar pedagogy.
29 Oct 2006

A Bush-League Mind

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Because it's political season, lists of Bushisms like this one seem to be in vogue now. (I found the link to it on the front page of digg.com.)

Mark Liberman at Language Log has been at pains to point out how Bush, because of the stereotype that he is a mediocre intelligence and perhaps suffers some cognitive impairment from all those years of hard partying before he got sober, gets a bad rap for things that escape attention when they come out of the mouths of other people in public life.

11 Oct 2006

They Really Should Know Better

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Over at Language Log, Geoff Pullum writes about how the BBC doesn't know what a passive construction is.

That problem is hardly limited to journalists. English teachers frequently have the same problem. In this issue of Purdue OWL News [mistakenly dated 2007], an e-journal that answers writing questions, one of the OWL Tutors analyzes "is using" as a passive construction.

In the follow-up issue for the next week, the OWL news editor published a correction, but his explanation still leaves a lot to be desired.

24 Sep 2006

Determiner vs. Determinative

Submitted by Karl Hagen
I suspect that most people would find arguments over grammatical terminology to be one of the more soporific topics for discussion. Even if you're interested in learning something about grammar, you probably don't really care about all the variations in terminology. Do we call it a main clause or an independent clause? Who cares? Most of the variations are actually inspired by theoretical concerns. The choice of a particular label can be significant to the extent that the label tells you something about the grammatical theory behind the label. For example, old-fashioned grammar books call a wide range of words (and phrases) "adjectives" when they appear in front of a noun, despite the fact that they have few formal resemblances to ordinary adjectives. In this scheme the, leather, and John's become equivalent to old when they appear before a word like wallet. This choice of terminology makes no distinction between form and function, and it encourages us to believe that these words actually change their parts of speech. More up-to-date grammar books do not lump all these words together into the same category because they distinguish form and function.
30 Aug 2006

Ignorant Monolingual Xenophobes

Submitted by Karl Hagen
This only makes news because it involves an Arab-American at an airport, but really it's not a particularly unusual thing for monolingual Americans to protest against writing in other languages. Look at all the attempts by various city councils to force store-owners to make their signs half English.

The protests seem to be most severe when the written language uses an unfamiliar script. A sort of visceral panic seems to set in. But really, what difference does could it possibly have made what the shirt said? The people who complained, of course, are simply frighted fools, and I suppose they are unavoidable these days, given the political climate. But for security officials insist that this gentleman remove his shirt--that is simply outrageous. Are they just as stupid, or do they simply pandering to the paradoid whims of any xenophobic nutjob? Pray tell, how does changing a shirt mitigate any supposed security threat?

24 Aug 2006

To properly split an infinitive

Submitted by Karl Hagen
As many of you probably know, the prohibition against the split infinitive is one of the most notorious non-rules of English grammar. I say non-rule because even incredibly conservative books Like Fowler's essentially dismiss it as necessary for good writing. And yet some people are still afraid to insert an adverb between the infinitive marker to and the verb. Hence we find sentences like the following, from a legal memo just posted on Groklaw (emphasis added):
22 Aug 2006

Before You Go Prescriptive

Submitted by Karl Hagen
We've all been there: you read a piece in a newspaper, book, blog, etc., and something about the writer's use of language annoys you. Perhaps you find a pronoun in the wrong case ("I found Alice and he waiting at the bar."). Perhaps you run across some strange word choice ("Mark consistently flaunted his parents' authority, returning well after his curfew."). In short, the writer has committed unspeakable barbarities upon the English language, and you are provoked. But before you unload your scorn on this poor, benighted soul who has assaulted your sensibilities, pause a moment to reflect.
20 Aug 2006

An Old Grammar Joke

Submitted by Karl Hagen
[The protagonist of this joke doesn't need to be a Texan, but that's how the joke was originally told to me.] A Texan is visiting a friend at Harvard, and they agree to meet at the library. He's a bit lost, so he stops a passing student. Texan: "'Scuse me, could you tell me where the library's at?" Student: "Around here, we don't end our sentences with prepositions." Texan: "All right, could you tell me where the library's at, asshole?"


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