Discussion Board Post Monday, September 27, 2021, East Tennessee State University, M.Ed. program

In response to:

  • Razfar, A., & Rumenapp, J. (2014). Applying linguistics in the classroom. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. (Chapter 5)
  • Crash Course videos on Syntax, #1, #2

During my undergraduate courses at UNC-CH, I took a course completely dedicated to grammar. Thinking back, I realize it never took a linguistic approach to it. Rather, it was prescriptive and not descriptive. The course involved learning the parts of speech and endlessly diagramming them using Reed-Kellogg diagrams—for the entire semester. I remember some sentence diagrams filling an entire page (much like an algebra problem). To be honest, I liked course, but it turned me into the grammar police.

After reading chapter  five in the Razfar and Rumenapp book and watching the Crash Course videos on YouTube, for the first time I feel that maybe I need to end my role of pointing out grammatical errors in memes and social media, which has been a favorite pastime of mine (jk). To learn from the videos that “Don’t nobody know nothing” is grammatically correct makes me uncomfortable, but okay, I get it. Grammaticality has nothing to do with whether a sentence makes sense. Take Chomsky’s famous sentence as another example of a grammatically correct but uncomfortable (and senseless) sentence: “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.” Let’s see what I can come up with that is just as brilliant. How about “Bitter compassionate speed sings lovingly.” Okay, not so brilliant, but it works, right? Do you think students would enjoy such an exercise?

What I’d love to impress upon my students is that grammars are different around the world, a universal grammar exists, and grammars are a description of how sentences go together in a language. I’d love to share these examples with them, have a discussion about dialects and different ways they’ve heard people talk, and play with words and sentences together. To have them discuss why “purple large apple” and “brown big camel” don’t work could add humor to the discussion and foster creative thinking as they tried out other such phrases in their discussions. To play with grammar using words that are made up could also be fun, such as the example on page 89 that says “The brank fimled in the hinkled bram.” Once students played around in this way, then they could venture into syntactic analysis and diagramming with tree structures where they’d have the chance to see different phrases (NP, VP) as more than just rules in a book or on the whiteboard. Also, students in the classroom who speak other languages could offer up diagrams of sentences in their native language to compare with English sentences. I suspect that agreement of gender and nouns in Spanish would be an eye-opener to students who had no familiarity with that language. Hierarchical rules might be surprising too (NP green apple in English versus NP manzana verde (apple green) in Spanish). Overall, they could begin to not just understand the grammars of English, but develop understanding toward speakers of other languages who are learning English. Knowing the complexities and differences in languages removes ignorance, and I think ignorance is what underlies mistreatment of others who are perceived as different in some way. So learning about descriptive grammar can be one step toward eradicating racism—or do you think that is too much of a stretch??

On that vein, what about “loaded” sentences, such as the example on page 97: “The boy who is from Kansas came over our house for dinner.” When I read that paragraph, my mind immediately jumped to how people often state the color of a person in a sentence, such as “The black man that was standing outside the convenience store.” Hmmm. Think about how that sentence can be interpretated in some people’s minds, and compare that to “The man that was standing outside the convenience store.” I think the first sentence indicates subconscious (or maybe overt) racism.

I loved the section in the book about ambiguity and power, particularly the linguistic humor found in headlines (https://bit.ly/3COCixt) and in these three sentences from page 102 that show how the grammatical subject of the sentence changes the meaning.

  1. Argentinian police forces kill 20 protesters.
  2. 20 killed in Argentina.
  3. 20 die in Argentina.

I think that this chapter was full of deeply interesting ideas for engaging students in grammar. Personally, I love this kind of stuff, but that’s a plus when teaching, because my genuine enthusiasm for it would be a key ingredient in motivating my students. However, I suspect that once they got into the lessons, their enthusiasm would outshine mine. As it says on page 102, students don’t usually get excited about learning grammar because it has been “stripped of its social functions.” Maybe relevancy could be added if students created memes or reels for their social media that plays with language. The possibilities are endless for piquing students’ interest in grammar when teachers approach it in these ways.

Related Posts

Warning: PHP Startup: imagick: Unable to initialize module Module compiled with module API=20180731 PHP compiled with module API=20210902 These options need to match in Unknown on line 0