Other voices, other rooms

The Baltimore Sun

After four (count 'em, four) posts from me yesterday, you're probably more than ready to listen to someone else.

Item: At Lingua franca, Anne Curzan's "Dinging for 'Grammatical Errors'"  points out that different instructors identify different errors, some of which are the hoary peeves, and giver different weight to them, leaving the students to guess what their instructors want rather than form reliable judgments.

Ms. Curzan looks for "nonstandard varieties of English," "stylistic infelicities," and "evidence of language change." Then, instead of deducting points on some arbitrary system:

I circle or underline such issues in student writing (note: I do not cross them out—it sends a different message), and I often write questions or notes in the margins about the language choices a student could make at this spot in the writing. In a writing-intensive class, I may require students to work through my comments one by one and write notes back to me about their choices and revisions. Here is a pedagogical strategy that requires students to pay close attention to language at the level of the sentence, learn from their own work, consult available resources about grammar and style, and engage in a conversation with me (and themselves) about the details of their writing and of standard edited academic prose. It works, and it works without inconsistent penalty points or inaccurate labels about “grammatical error.”

I think that her approach is more sensible, humane, and productive.

Item: At Caxton, Barrie England continues his posts on "the negative canon," the ill-founded precepts of schoolroom grammar. Yesterday's was on the due to prohibition. The thinking was that since due is an adjective, it must be paired with a noun, and therefore due to cannot begin a sentence. This is reasoning from grammar to usage, but it's usage that establishes grammar, and the prepositional due to is well established. In fact, it has become so firmly established a usage that the prohibition may be ready for the extinct-crotchet boneyard.

Item: Today negative-canon post on the double negative at Caxton invokes the separate fallacy that usage derives from logic. Mr. England lays at Bishop Lowth's door the belief that "two negatives in English destroy one another, or are equivalent to an affirmative." English ain't algebra, I keep repeating, and perhaps you recall the joke about the lecturer who says that while two negatives make a positive, but two positives cannot make a negative, after which a voice from the back of the lecture hall says, "Yeah, yeah." I of course shun double negatives in formal edited prose, but in speech they don't make me no nevermind, and are never misunderstood.

Item: At HeadsUp: The Blog, fev tallies the recent instances of the "It's official" cliche at his local paper and requests, "Will someone please just stop?"

He said "please."


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