Re: Teaching Grammar (long

Subject: Re: Teaching Grammar (long
From: wburns -at- MICRON -dot- COM
Date: Thu, 7 Dec 1995 09:32:29 MDT

Diane Haugen notes:

>The work of John Hayes and Linda Flower, summarized well in Flower, et al.,
>"Detection, Diagnosis, and the Strategies of Revision," reflect that the
>different activities performed by novice writers as opposed to expert
>writers are marked. One of these differences is that expert writers have a
>good--but transparent--knowledge of the rules of language, including
>grammar. This is one of the primary factors in the difference between
>those who struggle with writing and those who do not.

>The mystery is how the expert writer acquires this knowledge and the
>ability to use it without consciously thinking about grammar rules.

Yes, the --transparent-- knowledge of the rules is there. I agree that the
point where many of us disagree is this mystery you've mentioned. Can writers
absorb the rules of grammar without being exposed to formalized grammatical
analysis? My anecdotal evidence suggests that many writers do learn the rules
without studying formal analysis. The research I read in graduate school
supports this possibility. We've had this thread on language acquisition that
has underscored the notion that language is absorbed (learned) through
immersion in a speech environment. Why can this not also be the case with
written language?

I'm not sure precisely what John meant, but I think the main contention is
whether formalized analysis of grammar improves writing. Stacey Kahn pointed
out (as have a few others) that the answer to this question lies largely in
the learning preferences of individuals. I have found grammar study to be
both interesting and helpful. My wife finds it tedious. She is still
an excellent writer and editor, regardless of her lack of formal grammar

On the language acquisition thread--I think we'd better clarify something
concerning this "universal grammar" notion. Most linguists agree that we have
some innate capacity to learn language and that this capacity diminishes
around puberty. However, not all accept the notion of a universal grammar.
We may have "parameters," so to speak, that delimit the possibilities for
grammar, but that's not quite the same. And regardless of who influences our
speech, we definitely -learn- the rules of our own language. Having
capacities is one issue. Learning to using them is a distinctly different

Bill Burns *
Assm. Technical Writer/Editor * LIBERTY, n. One of imagination's most
Micron Technology, Inc. * precious possessions.
Boise, ID *
WBURNS -at- MICRON -dot- COM * Ambrose Bierce

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