Diagrams

18 Oct 2015

Before Diagrams

Submitted by Karl Hagen
The earliest work to feature sentence diagrams is normally conceded to be S. W. Clark's Practical Grammar (1847). A decade before Clark, however, Frederick A. P. Barnard, who would go on to become president of Columbia College, and for whom Barnard College was named, wrote a very interesting work that is the earliest significant use of graphical symbols to annotate grammatical analysis that I'm aware of.
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Andrews, E. A. & Stoddard, S. (1839 [1836]). A Grammar of the Latin Language (Sixth ed.). Boston: Crocker and Brewster.

Barnard, F. A. P. (1836). Analytic Grammar; With Symbolic Illustration. New York: E. French.

Brittain, R. C. (1973). A Critical History of Systems of Sentence Diagramming in English. PhD thesis, University of Texas at Austin.

Brown, G. (1845 [1823]). The Institutes of English Grammar, Methodically Arranged (stereotype ed.). New York: Samuel and William Wood.

Brown was so caught up with revising the technical aspects of English grammar that he paid little attention to pedagogy. His methods are generally traditional, even if the scheme he taught was entirely new. Altogether more innovative in his use of new pedagogical techniques was another writer from the 1830s: Frederick A. P. Barnard, the tenth president of Columbia College (now Columbia University) and the person for whom Barnard College was named.
The earliest, and certainly the most innovative, of these experimenters was James Brown, whose system of "American grammar," attempted a complete break with the terminology of English grammar—or indeed with that of any other system ever devised. A cursory glance at the pages of Brown's works provide the reader with definitions like the following:

II. THE CLAD ORDER,

In the decades before the first full system of diagrams, a number of authors experimented with various ways to visualize grammatical relationships. None of these systems were particularly influential, but they all show early instances of teachers grappling with the same problems that would later give rise to true diagrams.

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(This page was last updated October 17, 2015.)

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.
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.

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