This was so much. Where do I begin?
I am more and more surprised by these articles. I did not realize how in-depth theories and studies in the English Lit field would be. We really break it down word for word, sentence for sentence..
See what I did there? Ha.
Anyway. Let’s talk about Robert Connors’s “The Erasure of the Sentence”. There were always disagreements and theories being developed, but it wasn’t until the middle of the 21st century did interrogation of the field really intensify. Scholars were beginning to define, compartmentalize and efforts made to improve the writing skills of emerging writers.
Many argued that the teachings for composition were too formative and were not actually productive. As a result, sentence pedagogies were beginning to develop. Francis Christensen observed how models weren’t helpful in guiding teachers to teach students how to develop sophisticated sentences. As a result, he came up with Generative Rhetoric of the Sentence, also known as the Christensen Rhetoric. In this program, students were given short sentences and asked to attach sophisticated clauses and phrases. In high school for SAT prep classes, we were given sentences to reconstruct. The objective was to get us to make a variety of sentences that said the same thing in a sophisticated manner. Oftentimes, we were given a thesaurus and told to find words similar to the words in the original sentence. We were then asked to recreate the sentences using little to none of the original words.
Another system that emerged was the imitation system, or similis. This system is an exercise in direct imitation and asks students to match the style of syntax by using models. The idea here was to practice form and syntax rather than the actual content of the writing. This system was heavily devalued due to the lack of good models to follow, however, when tested, this model proved to be supportive in the development of expository writing. I remember doing something similar to this. I can see why a system like this may be devalued, though I do think that imitating that of a superior gives the writer more practice in being a stronger writer.
Sentence-combining also emerged during this time. With the sentence-combining system, students were asked to join two short/simple sentences in order to create a longer one…..this sounded like something I used to do with essays I didn’t care for. The goal, however, was to fine tune and reduce errors as well as develop the ability to write more complex sentences. Though the thought that there would be theory or program for composition of a sentence never crossed my mind, Christensen said once: “You could be a good writer if you could learn to write a good sentence.” I agree with this. I don’t know why, but something as simple (to me) as constructing a sentence is not something I think about; however, I am always asking myself how I should write/construct something. Being able to write good sentences means that you are able to articulate a message you’re getting across.
But does grammar matter here? Yes, but not.
At least, not to me when it comes to certain aspects of composition.
I used to get so irritated with teachers when I would hear “I can’t read this because of your spelling” and then go on to embarrass students in front of the class. Here’s why:
- Some people do not have the ability to spell all of their words correctly.
- It’s miniscule when the content benign spoken about is a paper that will be listened to rather than read
- It’s not the most important part of writing
Though dense and wordy, Patrick Hartwell’s “Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar”, Hartwell asserts throughout his article that “formal grammar instruction has no effect on the quality of students writing or on their ability to avoid error”. In other words, grammar has no effect on the student’s ability to create sentences and memorizing grammar rules will not improve your quality of your sentences and composition of writing. Hartwell goes on to argue helping students better develop their metalinguistic awareness, which is the awareness of and reflection on the nature of language, will help students to actively engage with language and to better explore social contexts. It also further interests the students in concepts beyond the physical structure of the words used in the sentence.
I’d love to tell this one to my 1st grade Reading & Spelling teacher.
You can create meaning with or without proper grammar. The use of coded writing is a perfect example of this. When writing in code, you can create an endless amount of meanings and sentences without being chained to the grammar rules; someone just has to be able to understand what you’re trying to say. Remember those activities where they would mix the letters of a word within the word and were told to read an entire paragraph?
No? Was it just me?
Because if so…..Typoglycemia is theory that teh odrre of ltters in a word dseo not mttaer.
See what I did there? *ahem*
(Typoglycemia is the theory that the order of letters in a word does not matter.)
The belief behind Typoglycemia is that you will be able to read a scrambled sentence so long as the first and last words are in the write place. There is also evidence that suggests that we recognize the “shape of a word”, which is why we’re able to unscramble words to an extent…but that’s a discussion for another time.
The same can be exemplified through slang and AAVE. Though AAVE is getting more and more recognition as an actual language (hoorah!), many still refer to it as “improper English” or “slang” and it irritates me to no end. Imagine the 10,000+ books you haven’t laid eyes on yet because of the ignorance and negativity surrounding the use of AAVE and slang. I once picked up a book by my library in the Urban Section, in which the librarian told me that I might want to choose more “grammarly driven content” (whatever the f*ck that means). When I read the book at home, I fell in love with the story. It was about an expecting teen mom who lost her boyfriend to gun violence (guess what kind). I loved it even more because the life I lived & my way speaking was emulated in the book.
And the librarian couldn’t understand that. All she probably saw when sorting the books were a bunch of words she couldn’t understand because they weren’t a part of her lifestyle.