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Style, Grammar, and Usage
Baron, Dennis. Guide to Home Language Repair. Urbana, Ill.: NCTE, 1994.
Based on Baron's radio call-in show on grammar and the vagaries of English. Baron answers questions (as "Dr. Grammar") and offers advice on dealing with the Language Police (William Safire and his ilk), the demands of politically correct language, the peculiarities of English spelling, jargon, plagiarism, and sundry other topics.
Baron, Dennis E. Grammar and Good Taste: Reforming the American Language. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1982.
After the Revolution, English supplanted Latin and Greek as the dominant language of instruction in American schools. Patriots sought to differentiate American from British English by establishing native standards of spelling, grammar, and pronunciation. Some advocated the formation of an American Academy, like the French Academy, to set these standards. The authors of popular grammar textbooks also attempted to set standards. Although no uniform "Federal grammar" emerged, the link between correct grammar and patriotism led to the association of correctness with good morals in general, and hence with social prestige. The link between grammar and morality also fostered intense anxiety about correctness that continues to this day.
See: Francis Christensen, "A Generative Rhetoric of the Paragraph" .
Christensen, Francis. "A Generative Rhetoric of the Sentence." CCC 14 (October 1963): 155–61. Rpt. in The Sentence and the Paragraph ; in Francis Christensen, Notes Toward a New Rhetoric: Six Essays for Teachers (New York: Harper and Row, 1967); and in Francis Christensen and Bonniejean Christensen, eds., Notes Toward a New Rhetoric: Nine Essays for Teachers (New York: Harper and Row, 1978).
Professional writers write "cumulative" sentences, in which modifying words and phrases are added before, within, or after the base clause. The modifiers work at different levels of abstraction and add to the sentence's texture. Students should practice writing cumulative descriptions of objects and events in single sentences, which will make style and content more complex simultaneously. See also Christensen .
See: Connors, Robert J. "The Erasure of the Sentence" .
Corbett, Edward P. J. "Approaches to the Study of Style." In Teaching Composition: Twelve Bibliographic Essays. Ed. Gary Tate .
This bibliographic essay discusses works on literary style and stylistics, the history of English prose style, theories of style, teaching the analysis of prose style, and teaching students how to improve their writing style.
Crew, Louie. "Rhetorical Beginnings: Professional and Amateur." CCC 38 (October 1987): 346–50.
Most amateurs begin an essay by stating their purpose, giving background, or telling results. Professionals hold those moves in reserve. Sixty percent of professionals, compared with 10 percent of student amateurs (in the given sample), begin with narratives. Such openings dramatize the subject and are brief. Professionals use indirection, drop hints, or cite experts in order to contradict them, and use oblique quotations, whereas amateurs attempt to be direct. Amateurs use rhetorical questions and truisms, while professionals rarely do. But when these professional strategies are pointed out, student amateurs learn them quickly.
Students should learn grammar as part of the writing process. Mina Shaughnessy's work  helps us distinguish between true grammar errors and merely accidental errors in student writing. Teachers can address the grammar-based errors through such techniques as dictation, narrowly focused editing, paraphrasing, and imitation. D'Eloia gives much useful advice for teaching grammar.
Elbow, Peter. "Reflections on Academic Discourse: How It Relates to Freshmen and Colleagues." College English 53 (February 1991): 135–55.
Academic writing teaches valuable habits of mind. But a composition course should not be devoted entirely to teaching academic discourse, because then it will not encourage students to write by choice. Also, the course will not give them practice in two important kinds of nonacademic writing, that which renders rather than explains experience and that which describes disciplinary concepts in the students' own language. Furthermore, academic discourse is difficult to teach because so many varieties of it exist. Nevertheless, some generic features of academic style can be described: academic writing concentrates on giving reasons and evidence for the views expressed; it acknowledges the writer's interests without letting them dominate; it contains frequent signposts to its internal structure; it tends to be explicit about views expressed but indirect about the writer's personal reasons for holding these views; it uses specialized language or jargon; its sentences tend to be long and complex; it projects a tone of authority, often augmented by citations, and exclusion of nonexperts. Elbow recommends teaching only the more intellectual aspects of academic style, such as reliance on reasoning and evidence, and he gives suggestions for how to do so. Students will be inhibited in their writing and thinking if they have to try to adopt all characteristics of academic style at once, he argues. Moreover, even this list of generic features must be tentative in light of how quickly academic discourse is currently changing and diversifying.
See: Erasmus, Copia .
Faigley, Lester. "Names in Search of a Concept: Maturity, Fluency, Complexity, and Growth in Written Syntax." CCC 31 (October 1980): 291–300.
Recent research on syntactic maturity in student writing has relied too uncritically on the measures of complexity devised by Kellogg Hunt. Such research, aimed at testing the efficacy of sentence combining, finds increased T-unit and clause lengths in student writing, but no connection has been established between such complexity and the overall quality of the writing. Moreover, designating writing as more or less mature on the basis of such measures is problematic because T-unit and clause length in adult writing vary with discourse aims. Similarly, fluency depends on intersentence, not intrasentence, relations. We have no adequate description of syntactic complexity because we have no reliable generative grammar. Nonetheless, writing pedagogy emphasizes syntax to the detriment of coherence in the essay as a whole.
Finegan, Edward. Attitudes toward English Usage. New York: Teachers College Press, 1980.
The war between prescriptive grammar and descriptive linguistics has a long history—from Swift and Johnson to the battle of Webster's Third. In the attempt to halt the "degradation" of English, prescriptivists developed the doctrine of correctness, the idea that there are right and wrong grammatical forms. This doctrine dominated language study through the 1800s and continues to dominate teaching and public attitudes toward language. Descriptive linguistics holds that usage determines the language, that different forms have different functions, that spoken language is the language, and that change is inevitable. Although this position has led to modern forms of linguistics, it has not, apparently, changed the general attitude that links "correct" grammar to propriety and even morality. Finegan wittily summarizes the work of teachers and writers on both sides of the war, popular and scholarly, including excellent discussions of the NCTE, Noam Chomsky, Labov , and others.
Flannery, Kathryn T. The Emperor's New Clothes: Literature, Literacy, and the Ideology of Style. Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1995.
There is no inherently good style. Rather, the style preferred by socially powerful groups becomes established as good. This style is part of the group's cultural capital, helping them maintain their power. Since the late Renaissance, the clear, simple, objective style praised by the Royal Society has been promoted by Western educational institutions. Behind "style talk" that treats style as politically neutral is a conservative agenda of maintaining the cultural status quo, as can be seen in T. S. Eliot's elevation of Francis Bacon's work as model prose. E. D. Hirsch follows the same agenda with his doctrine of "communicative efficiency" in The Philosophy of Composition. Literacy education has the institutional role of teaching the plain style to the masses, while literature, with its premium on artifice, remains privileged discourse. Resisting this agenda requires a rhetorical conception of style that valorizes artifice and a range of styles for everyone.
Harris, Muriel, and Katherine E. Rowan. "Explaining Grammatical Concepts." Journal of Basic Writing 6 (Fall 1989): 21–41.
Editing is a process of detection, diagnosis, and rewriting, not a single final step in the composing process. But prescriptive grammar often does not help unpracticed writers. As Patrick Hartwell  argues, most grammar rules are COIK—clear only if known. Learning grammatical terminology, however, is not the same as learning the grammatical concepts necessary for editing. To help students learn the concepts, four techniques are useful: provide background information (i.e., prerequisite concepts) when needed; define critical attributes of the concept; use a variety of examples; and in practice sessions, lead students to formulate questions they can ask themselves.
Hartwell, Patrick. "Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar." CE 47 (February 1985): 105–27. Rpt. in Enos .
The debate about whether grammar instruction improves writing will not be resolved by empirical studies. These studies suggest that grammar instruction has no effect on writing, and they have been attacked by proponents of such instruction. Grammar may be defined in five ways: (1) The internalized rules shared by speakers of a language. These rules are difficult to articulate and are learned by exposure to the language. (2) The scientific study of the internalized rules. Different theories of language generate different systems of rules. These rules do not dictate the actual use of grammar in the first sense. Researchers find no correlation between learning rules and using them, or between using rules and articulating them. (3) The rules promulgated in schools. These are simplifications of scientific grammars and are therefore even further from grammar as used by speakers of the language. They reflect the questionable belief that poor grammar is a cognitive deficiency. Metalinguistic awareness, including some knowledge of grammar, seems to be central to print literacy, but the awareness appears to follow, not generate, print literacy. (4) Grammar as usage: a set of exceptions to grammar rules. (5) Grammar as style: the use of grammatical terms in manipulating style. Much research suggests that active use of language improves writing more than instruction in any grammar.
See: Richard Haswell, "Minimal Marking" .
Haussamen, Brock. Revising the Rules: Traditional Grammar and Modern Linguistics. Dubuque: Kendall Hunt, 1993.
The prescriptive rules of grammar were divorced from descriptive linguistics in the nineteenth century, and trying to remarry them is difficult. The tradition of grammar handbooks is long and deeply ingrained, while linguistics has focused on oral language and theory. Descriptive grammar does, however, have much to offer about grammar conventions that can enliven and improve the grammar we teach to students. Haussamen, a community college teacher, offers new descriptions of old conventions including verb tense, agreement, passive voice, pronoun agreement, and punctuation, all in aid of a more rhetorical approach to grammar.
Horner, Bruce. "Rethinking the 'Sociality' of Error: Teaching Editing as Negotiation." Rhetoric Review 11 (1992): 172–99; Rpt. in Bruce Horner and Min-Zhan Lu .
Writing teachers now generally agree that what counts as "error" in writing is socially determined, yet we continue to treat discrete errors in student papers as failures in the writer's knowledge of correct forms. Rather, we should see errors as instances of the writer's and reader's failure to negotiate an agreement on how their relationship is to be actualized in the text, that is, agreement on the features the text that permits a satisfying relationship will need to have. Such negotiation could help determine, for example, whether a sentence fragment is to be regarded as an error or as a stylistic device. "Basic writers," then, are those who are inept at such negotiation. They need to be taught what it is and how to do it, including how to make decisions about when or whether to use variant dialects of English. Horner concludes with some pedagogical suggestions for how to help basic writers learn to enter into such negotiations while revising their work.
Hunter, Susan, and Ray Wallace, eds. The Place of Grammar in Writing Instruction: Past, Present, Future. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann-Boynton/Cook, 1995.
Grammar was long regarded as an essential element in the teaching of writing, an attitude criticized and discarded in more recent times. However, the usefulness and methods of grammar instruction are still debated, with some good arguments appearing for at least limited grammar instruction keyed to students' writing. Sixteen essays explore grammar instruction past, present, and future, including Cheryl Glenn, "When Grammar Was a Language Art"; Gina Claywell, "Reasserting Grammar's Position in the Trivium in American Composition"; John Edlund, "The Rainbow and the Stream: Grammar as System versus Language in Use"; R. Baird Shuman, "Grammar for Writers: How Much Is Enough?"; Stuart Brown, Robert Boswell, and Kevin McIlvoy, "Grammar and Voice in the Teaching of Creative Writing"; and David Blakesly, "Reconceptualizing Grammar as an Aspect of Rhetorical Invention."
Kline, Charles R., Jr., and W. Dean Memering. "Formal Fragments: The English Minor Sentence." Research in the Teaching of English 11 (Fall 1977): 97–110.
Grammar handbooks, if they do not simply forbid using sentence fragments, give few guidelines for using them effectively. A survey of samples of formal prose shows that accomplished writers use fragments often and in predictable ways. Kline and Memering list and explain the conditions in which fragments are effectively used and argue that such effective fragments should be called "minor sentences" (following Richard Weaver's suggestion) and taught as a stylistic option.
Lanham, Richard A. Analyzing Prose. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1983.
The dominant theory of prose style prizes clarity, brevity, and sincerity. This theory tries to make prose transparent; it reduces rhetoric to mere ornament; it runs counter to common sense, to what we value in literature, and to the fact that context defines its three main terms. Classical rhetorical terms provide an alternative way to describe prose style. Noun style relies on "be" verbs, prepositional phrases, and nominalized verbs. Verb style uses active verbs. Parataxis is the absence of connecting words between phrases and clauses, and paratactic style uses simple sentences and prepositional phrase strings. Hypotaxis is the use of connecting words, hence a highly subordinated style. Either style may use asyndeton (few connectors) or polysyndeton (many connectors). The "running" style uses parataxis: it is characterized by a serial record of ideas with many parenthetical additions. "Periodic" style is hypotactic: highly organized, reasoned, and ranked. Other stylistic devices (isocolon, chiasmus) affect these styles differently. Descriptive analysis should also account for visual and vocal form, the use of several common and effective tropes and schemes, and high and low diction. The reader's self-consciousness about style tends to direct judgments of style as clear or opaque, but determining the appropriateness of style to a range of purposes through descriptive analysis is a better way to judge prose.
O'Hare, Frank. Sentence-Combining: Improving Student Writing without Formal Grammar Instruction. Urbana, Ill.: NCTE, 1973.
Although teaching transformational grammar is no more helpful in improving student writing than instructing in traditional grammar, practice in sentence-combining (originally used as a way of teaching grammar) leads to increased syntactic maturity, even in the absence of formal grammar training of any kind. See Donald Daiker, Andrew Kerek, and Max Morenberg, "Sentence-Combining and Syntactic Maturity in Freshman English," CCC 29 (February 1978): 36–41. Cf. Faigley .
Ohmann, Richard. "Use Definite, Specific, Concrete Language." CE 41 (December 1979): 390–97. Rpt. in Corbett, Myers, and Tate .
One of the most common revision maxims given in rhetoric textbooks is to substitute concrete for abstract language. This advice springs from an ideology of style that values ahistoricism (focus on the present moment), empiricism (focus on sensory data), fragmentation (objects seen outside the context of social relations), solipsism (focus on individual's perceptions), and denial of conflict (reported facts have the same meaning for everyone). Following this advice may trap students in personal experience and inhibit their ability to think critically about the world. Students need to practice the relational thinking made possible by abstractions and generalizations.
See: National Council of Teachers of English, The Sentence and the Paragraph .
Weathers, Winston. "Teaching Style: A Possible Anatomy." CCC 21 (May 1970): 144–49. Rpt. in Corbett, Myers, and Tate .
To teach style, we must convince students that they must master style to express themselves with individuality and to communicate vividly. We must give students a way to recognize and imitate different styles, to incorporate them into extended discourse, and to suit style to the rhetorical situation. Finally, we must demonstrate our own ability to vary style in writing done in front of the class.