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Descriptivist Grammar?

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Any thoughts on descriptivist grammar? I recently discovered the 'war' between prescriptivist and descriptivist grammar and am intrigued. 

I own several different grammar programs and have issues with all of them. I've tried to determine out why I don't like these programs. I can't describe it better than that they feel strange to me. Like they're wrong but I know they're not wrong because they are solid programs. I have MCT, R&S, FLL. MCT is my least favorite because it seems like it's open and flexible, i.e. language is beautiful and complex, but it's as strict as the rest of them. 

I googled and discovered descriptivism. I'm currently reading a book about it. I think this might describe my issues with elementary grammar programs. 

I'm curious whether anyone here had similar thoughts about grammar and could share how they applied this philosophy when teaching their children? 

 

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It's not really a war. One philosophy is science-based, the other isn't. *shrugs*

Do you want a book for yourself?

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Descriptivism is the only approach to grammar that makes sense linguistically. The way native speakers of a language/dialect use that language/dialect = correct grammatical usage in that language/dialect.

I don't do formal grammar with my kids beyond teaching them basic parts of speech. I do teach mechanics of writing, which are sometimes presented as a part of grammar. Our brains are not primed to pick up written mechanics the same way they are to pick up spoken grammar, so some degree of formal teaching is usually helpful.

I am a proficient writer, speak multiple foreign languages, attained perfect scores on the English portion of every major standardized test I ever took (SAT, ACT, GRE...); I don't have a clue how to diagram a sentence and am not entirely certain what a predicate is.

I think there may be some students for whom a more formal study of grammar is helpful, and certainly there are some who enjoy it. I don't however consider intensive grammar study to be a critical part of elementary education by any means.

Edited by maize
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8 minutes ago, maize said:

Descriptivism is the only approach to grammar that makes sense linguistically. The way native speakers of a language/dialect use that language/dialect = correct grammatical usage in that language/dialect.

I don't do formal grammar with my kids beyond teaching them basic parts of speech. I do teach mechanics of writing, which are sometimes presented as a part of grammar. Our brains are not primed to pick up written mechanics the same way they are to pick up spoken grammar, so some degree of formal teaching is usually helpful.

I am a proficient writer, speak multiple foreign languages, attained perfect scores on the English portion of every major standardized test I ever took (SAT, ACT, GRE...); I don't have a clue how to diagram a sentence and am not entirely certain what a predicate is.

I think there may be some students for whom a more formal study of grammar is helpful, and certainly there are some who enjoy it. I don't however consider intensive grammar study to be a critical part of elementary education by any means. 

 

1. There are multiple methods of sentence diagramming. Shockingly, the one which is most preferred by linguists is generally unknown in textbooks.

2. As for grammar study in elementary, many such curricula are so filled with arbitrary - and often patently false! - shibboleths and nonsense and often bad grammar instructions to boot, that I honestly think it's better off not to do it if you yourself aren't an expert. There is a reason many people think it is *ungrammatical* to use a passive sentence, and that any number of non-passive sentences are in the passive voice.

Edited by Tanaqui
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1 hour ago, Tanaqui said:

 

1. There are multiple methods of sentence diagramming. Shockingly, the one which is most preferred by linguists is generally unknown in textbooks.

2. As for grammar study in elementary, many such curricula are so filled with arbitrary - and often patently false! - shibboleths and nonsense and often bad grammar instructions to boot, that I honestly think it's better off not to do it if you yourself aren't an expert. There is a reason many people think it is *ungrammatical* to use a passive sentence, and that any number of non-passive sentences are in the passive voice.

When teaching from our various grammar curriculum, I sometimes feel silly because I think of the exceptions to the rules that I'm trying to teach. My daughter will sometimes think of an exception during the lesson and we get derailed talking about it. Then I think she sees through me because I'm teaching a rule that isn't actually a hard and fast rule and I know it. I'm starting to think we would be better off not having the lesson at all. 

I would like something that teaches grammar in a more utilitarian way, i.e. words, punctuation, and sentence structure are tools that you learn to use by observing how more skilled people use them. Not this is right and this is wrong. 

 

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Punctuation has nothing to do with grammar. That's orthography. (I have one pet peeve, but boy do I own it.) And to be fair, there is a benefit to explicitly explaining that sometimes you've got to speak the prestige variety even if that's not what you speak with your friends, just like sometimes you have to wear office clothes even if you like to wear your PJs at home.

I can't really help with your query because I suspect there IS no descriptivist textbook or curriculum approach to grammar (much less grammar + punctuation + style) for the younger set, but you may find this web series interesting. Entries go from the bottom of each page to the top, and you do want to read the comments each time.

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9 hours ago, Tanaqui said:

 

1. There are multiple methods of sentence diagramming. Shockingly, the one which is most preferred by linguists is generally unknown in textbooks.

2. As for grammar study in elementary, many such curricula are so filled with arbitrary - and often patently false! - shibboleths and nonsense and often bad grammar instructions to boot, that I honestly think it's better off not to do it if you yourself aren't an expert. There is a reason many people think it is *ungrammatical* to use a passive sentence, and that any number of non-passive sentences are in the passive voice.

This is new info to me, so please explain. 

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Thanks. I suspected that this did not exist. 

I think we're going to stop explicit grammar instruction for now. Yesterday, she took Sentence Island away and hid it somewhere. That's how much she disliked it. I can't say that I blamed her. We covered prepositions using FLL the day before. Prepositions were new to her. I don't understand why elementary grammar programs delay introducing prepositions. She picked up the concept in about 5 minutes but the review went on and on. 

She enjoys listening to me read Grammarland though. We did the FLL lesson on prepositions and she quickly learned how to recognize a preposition. But I don't think she understand the function of a preposition until I read Grammarland. 

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7 hours ago, Tanaqui said:

Punctuation has nothing to do with grammar. That's orthography. (I have one pet peeve, but boy do I own it.) And to be fair, there is a benefit to explicitly explaining that sometimes you've got to speak the prestige variety even if that's not what you speak with your friends, just like sometimes you have to wear office clothes even if you like to wear your PJs at home.

I can't really help with your query because I suspect there IS no descriptivist textbook or curriculum approach to grammar (much less grammar + punctuation + style) for the younger set, but you may find this web series interesting. Entries go from the bottom of each page to the top, and you do want to read the comments each time.

I was in French schools for grades 6-8, what they called grammar there (and they did a lot of it) was really more appropriately called spelling/orthography. It was grammar in the sense that they were drilling verb conjugations and agreement but of course all the native French speaking kids already used all the right conjugations in speech. What they had to learn was which spelling went where--mostly because there were so many verb endings that were spelled differently but had come to be pronounced the same (é, er, ez, ai, ait, ais, aient...)

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3 hours ago, Tanaqui said:

LanguageLog on sentence diagramming. And here's a second link. Don't ask me for more deets, I don't have them. But that should be enough for a running start, I should think.

This was interesting and set me down some fun rabbit trails.  I am a teeny bit amused that the given sample of both diagrams, Reed and Kellogg AND Treebank (?) diagramming in the first link...are incorrect. It makes me feel better.  

 

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