The practice of diagramming sentences first began in America in the middle of the nineteenth century. Set against the full history of grammatical study, diagramming is a relative newcomer. Language has been studied systematically since at least the second century bce in the western world, and even earlier in India. Yet sentence diagrams—visual depictions of the relationships among words—were developed only after over 2000 years of study. From our vantage, the desire to visualize sentence structure may seem like an intuitively obvious move.
24 Oct 2007

Another College Board Error

Submitted by Karl Hagen
I haven't written more installments in my series lambasting the College Board recently, but the following may prompt me to continue sooner rather than later. (I have a lot more to say about useless explanations.) I have discovered what appears to be an error on an operational test question. In other words, this question counted towards the scores of all students who took this particular test.

The May 2007 SAT. Section 6, question 24 has the following question:

After the uprising of October 10, 1911, that has led to the establishment of a Chinese republic, many Chinese Americans decided to return to China in hopes of a bright future there. No error

Do you see the problem?

4 Oct 2007

The diagram as an aesthetic object

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Here are my answers to the question I set in this post.

The constituency problem, as Jangari correctly noted, concerns the prepositional phrase "with the solemn precision of scientists articulating chemical equations." The original diagramming indicates that the "we" of the sentence are learning with precision, but it seems much more natural to assume that it is the diagramming that occurs with precision. In other words, the PP modifies diagram, not learned.

2 Oct 2007

What's wrong with this diagram?

Submitted by Karl Hagen
I just finished reading Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog by Kitty Burns Florey, a book that purports to tell the history of sentence diagramming. It's not as bad as I had imagined it would be. I had braced myself for an old-fashioned paean to the virtues of diagramming, but in fact Florey is honest about the limitations of diagrams and skeptical about claims that diagramming helps improve one's writing.

That said, there are irritating errors in the book.

5 Jul 2007
This is part 2 of a series.
(Part 1, Part 3)

The instructions for the writing sections of the the SAT ask the test taker to use the conventions of "standard written English" in finding correct answers. But as I noted in part 1 of this article, the public specifications as to what that means, are vague.

2 Jul 2007
The following article is part 1 in a series.

Some time ago, I wrote about a flawed question, in The Official SAT Study Guide from the College Board. In trying to understand the thinking of the question writer, I reviewed the official explanations to the test that are available on the College Board's website through its online course.

29 Mar 2007
I'm contemplating changing polysyllabic's tag-line to "commentary by a licensed grammarian." Oh, wait! I don't have a license. There's no license required to set yourself up as a grammarian. And it shows in the quality of material that supposedly will teach you grammar. I'm not actually a fan of requiring paper credentials for every field, but the complete lack of quality control in writing about grammar irritates me so much that I fear I'm in danger of becoming just as cranky as Goold Brown:


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