Tuesday, May 6, 2008

glamourous grammar?

Glamourgirl_2 Roy Peter Clark (journalist and author of Writing Tools) is starting a new online book called The Glamour of Grammar, to be presented in semi-weekly installments in his blog/column at Poynteronline.

It's not another Eats Shoots & Leaves (in fact, he refers to Lynne Truss as a "British grammazon"; I don't know what that is, but it does not sound flattering). He does, however, admit to an admiration for Grammar Girl, the blog/podcast by Mignon Fogarty.

The goal seems to be to help students develop a better appreciation for the practical benefits of understanding and using English grammar, by understanding it in context. I like that approach, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he does with it. Here's a snippet from the first chapter:

English is your language. It does not belong just to book authors, poets, copy editors or grammar teachers. It belongs to you.

. . . .

So consider yourself a member of one of the largest "discourse communities" or language associations in the world: speakers, readers and writers of English. There are some people who would lead you to think that you are unworthy of membership in this English language tribe. I think of them as language bullies. They may think of their tyranny as benevolent, concerned as it is with proper grammar, usage, spelling, punctuation and other elements of language. They see a sign misspelled or mispunctuated in a store window and declare that the apocalypse is upon us. Their standards are so unnaturally high that they have the opposite of their intended effect: They persuade us that, when it comes to language usage, we suck. (On your behalf, I've used that last verb intransitively.)

I'm writing this book so you can feel included, rather than excluded, from what scholar Frank Smith once called the "literacy club." It will help you live inside your language so that one day you will feel your language living inside of you. I can't really describe for you what living a life of language feels like, but I'll try to show you, instead. It requires some technical terms, but not as many as you think. It means occasional field trips to such language meadows as grammar, syntax, usage, spelling, punctuation, lexicography, history, semantics, rhetoric, literature, diction, etymology, poetics, language geography and foreign languages.

. . . .

Many old timers, dreaming of a Golden Age of learning that never existed, wonder: "Why don't we teach grammar any more? But we do, in school after school, classroom after classroom. A better question might be: "If we teach grammar, why don't people learn grammar?" The answer, I would argue, is simple: Because we teach grammar, syntax, punctuation, spelling -- all the elements of language -- out of context, outside of making meaning as a reader, a writer or a speaker. By doing so, we make grammar forgettable.

Clark is asking readers for feedback, for corrections to mistakes they may find in the work, and for suggestions for topics to cover.



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