In France this summer, I had an illustrative experience re: “information-integration learning.”
Another 20 years from now, comma splices won’t be comma splices.
They’ll just be commas.
That’s my prediction.
Twenty years from now comma splices will be correct because:
a) no one under the age of 30 (or thereabouts) knows what they are
b) no one over the age of 30 (or thereabouts) has any idea how to teach them.
Also, comma splices don’t exist in French.
The French have a whole Académie dedicated to “fix[ing] the French language, giving it rules, rendering it pure and comprehensible by all,” yet they don’t have a rule that says Don’t use a comma to join two independent clauses.
Well, I say: If French people don’t have to care about comma splices, neither do we.
Andrew Pudewa of IEW fame memorably puts it:
“Make sure the thing doing the ing-ing is closest to the ing.”
I had never heard that !
I’m going to use it this fall — thank you !
In the most obvious grammatical interpretation of this headline, it’s the parent who’s doing the labeling: we don’t get to the teachers until we’re inside the prepositional phrase the end of the sentence (“of his teachers”).
But in the most obvious semantic interpretation–which emerges once we take in the whole sentence–the credit for class-clown labeling shifts from the mother to the teachers.
In general, we want the most obvious grammatical and semantic interpretations to coincide. And so they might have, had the headline read, say, “Labeling my child as ‘class clown,’ his teachers showed their true colors.” Or “Hearing my child being publicly shamed changed my view of his teachers.”
What’s fun about the original–besides the fact that it snuck into a headline–is that the initial grammatical interpretation (mother as labeler) almost works. Indeed, if you really want to, you can probably come up with a context that actually does work for you. Perhaps conceptualizing her son as a class clown somehow helps the mother understand some of the otherwise inexplicable ways in which his teachers were treating him.
Now that I think about it, that may have been my initial take on what the commentary was about. Perhaps it was the bizarre parenting insights that it seemed to promise that got me to read beyond its headline.
Grabby headlines–maybe it was all on purpose!
I realized a while back that I base decisions about whether to trust an expert on the expert’s writing style.
Specifically: I instantly trust experts whose writing style signals that they want to be understood by non-specialists. I feel, intuitively, that they:
a) know what they’re talking about, and
b) want me to know, too.
I also tend to trust experts whose writing style signals that they’re writing in the style of their field, however difficult that writing may be for outsiders.
But experts who seem actively to wish readers not to have the first clue what they’re on about are another category altogether. For them I have zero trust, plus a big round zero on the feeling thermometer.
“Extended lean toolkit for total productivity,” for instance. No. Go away.
Having a reflexive trust in clear writing is the reason I came to own a copy of Siegfried Engelmann’s Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons years before I knew anything about phonics and/or the reading wars. His prose. Engelmann’s prose told me that he wanted everyone who picked up the book to understand every word in it.
So I trusted he knew what he was talking about.
Recently, I’ve realized that I also use non-standard grammar as a tell. I take non-standard grammar, in speech and in text, as a sign of authenticity.
By non-standard, I mean constructions like: “I am making this statement on behalf of me and my sister.”
Obviously, “me and my sister” is standard for the person using this construction. But it’s not Standard Written English, and because it’s not, I reflexively assume the speaker (or writer, in the case I’m thinking about) is telling the truth as he sees it.
Another example: “wrong” participles.
I heard a politician, a few weeks ago, use the construction “If we had went to that meeting.”
None of his colleagues say things like “if we had went,” and the fact that he does makes me see him as truthful in a way I don’t see the others as truthful. I see him as not “polished,” not “slick.”
I have no idea whether I should be making such judgments, of course (although I’m pretty sure the nothing-to-hide principle works in the case of education writers).
But here’s my question: if a person wanted to fake authenticity by using non-standard grammar, could he or she do it ?
I’m pretty sure Katie can, but I’m pretty sure I can’t. 1
Which makes me think your average person can’t fake grammar.
Your average person can lie.
Average people can lie about what they’re doing or thinking or planning or hiding.
But they can’t lie about what participles they use.
1. Katie’s a linguist.↩
Katie and I gave a talk at the ATEG conference weekend before last.
One of the presenters made the point that most anti-grammar advocates don’t actually oppose teaching students grammatical correctness in written English.
What they really oppose is teaching students the names of grammatical concepts. They’re against teaching labels.
But, she said, when you refuse to teach labels, you deny students the language of language.
To underline the point, she and her co-presenter acted out an extended dialogue in which the only nouns were “thing” or, alternatively, “things.” It was pretty funny. Completely incomprehensible, but funny.
This reminds me of a friend of mine, who was talking about having a hard time, as she gets older, remembering what things are called. It drives her college-age son nuts, she said.
“It’s not a doohickey, Mom!”
She hears that a lot.
I said He should just be grateful you didn’t say thingamajig.
Or thingamabob, even worse.
Half the time the opposition to teaching knowledge amounts to no more than an opposition to teaching vocabulary.
I don’t get that.
People learn vocabulary fast. In fact, vocabulary learning is the one area where adult L2 learners excel. (I’ll find a source for that & post…)
All these people lobbying against teaching content …. they seem never to notice that in real life it’s not fun, not knowing the names of things.
Not knowing, or not remembering. Either one.
On Norwegian Air.
Meanwhile here’s the head of American Airlines modeling coach seats on one of his planes:
When airline CEOs try the cheap seats by Scott McCartney 7/24/2018
As Catherine has quoted J.S. Mill as saying,
The structure of every sentence is a lesson in logic.
And, I would add, much of the logic of a sentence comes from its grammar.
But grammar brings us more than logic; it opens up worlds of possibility. Were it not for the various tense-marking and mood-marking verb endings and auxiliary verbs, for example, we’d mostly–whether we’re conversing, reading, writing, or even thinking–be stuck in the here and now.
Mr. Shandy (senior), in a disquisition on auxiliary verbs that concludes the 5th volume of Laurence Stern’s Tristram Shandy, puts it nicely:
Now the use of the Auxiliaries is, at
once to set the soul a going by herself
upon the materials as they are brought
her; and by the versability of this great
engine, round which they are twisted,
to open new tracks of enquiry, and make
every idea engender millions.
The verbs auxiliary we are concerned
in here, continued my father, are, am;
was; have; had; do; did; make; made; suf-
fer; shall; should; will; would; can; could;
owe; ought; used or is wont. — And these
varied with tenses, present, past, future, and
conjugated with the verb see, — or with
these questions added to them, — Is it?
Was it? Will it be? Would it be? May
it be? Might it be? And these again
put negatively, Is it not? Was it not?
Ought it not? — Or affirmatively, — It is;
It was; It ought to be. Or chronologi-
cally, — Has it been always? Lately?
How long ago? — Or hypothetically, — If
it was; If it was not? What would
follow? —- If the French should beat
the English? If the Sun go out of the
Now, by the right use and application
of these, continued my father, in which a
child’s memory should be exercised,
there is no one idea can enter his brain
how barren soever, but a magazine of
conceptions and conclusions may be
drawn forth from it.
— Didst thou ever see a white bear?
cried my father, turning his head round to
Trim, who stood at the back of his chair:
— No, an’ please your honour, replied the
— But thou could’st discourse
about one, Trim, said my father, in
case of need?
— How is it possible, brother, quoth my uncle
Toby, if the corporal never saw one?
— ‘Tis the fact I want; replied my father,
and the possibility of it, is as follows.
A WHITE BEAR! Very well. Have I ever seen
one? Might I ever have seen one? Am I ever
to see one? Ought I ever to have seen one?
Or can I ever see one?
Would I had seen a white bear? (for
how can I imagine it?)
If I should see a white bear, what
should I say? If I should never see a
white bear, what then?
If I never have, can, must or shall
see a white bear alive ; have I ever seen
the skin of one? Did Iever see one
painted? — described? Have I never
dreamed of one?
Did my father, mother, uncle, aunt,
brothers or sisters, ever see a white bear?
What would they give? How would
they behave? How would the white
bear have behaved? Is he wild?
Tame? Terrible Rough? Smooth?
— Is the white bear worth seeing? —
— Is there no sin in it? —
Is it better than a BLACK ONE?
END of the FIFTH VOLUME.