I think Tania and Jean's suggestion to use the word "conventions" makes a
lot of sense, especially to distinguish such mechanical surface conventions
from syntax and grammar. That's the term I always use--conventions of
Standard Written English (or SWE, as I've seen it referred to over and over
again in articles, etc.). Emphasizing that these conventions are
culturally constructed helps students accept them as aids to communication
(or rather, to understand that the absence of peculiar transgressions of
these "conventions of SWE" helps to remove unnecessary barriers to
communication--sorry for the convolution there!). Also, speaking of SWE
(Standard WRITTEN English) helps to clarify differences between how they
talk and how they might represent on paper the equivalent of their speech
for formal writing tasks.
I've also found two other sources useful on grammar distinctions--Joseph
Williams in his book _Style_ distinguishes three kinds of rules: first,
those that define the fundamental structure of English (word order, for
instance--"I see you" instead of "See you I"); second, those that we can
choose to follow or not depending on our audience and purpose (most of us
choose to follow them to show we're part of the educated class--avoiding
double negatives like "I don't know nothing," paying attention to noun/verb
agreement--"you were" instead of "you was"); and third, classroom folklore,
invented in textbooks or by teachers, rules about which there is no clear
consensus among thoughtful writers and readers and which don't usually
affect one's meaning at all (don't start sentences with "and" or "but,"
don't split infinitives, don't use "hopefully" for "I hope," etc.). I'll
quote from Williams here: "By confounding these three quite different kinds
of errors, grammarians have misled countless teachers and their students
into believing that splitting an infinitive is an error as egregious as a
double negative, and that both are almost on a par with scrambled syntax."
(p. 20--6th edition). I'm not sure grammarians have anything to do with
this anymore--the linguists I know are interested in other much more
fascinating things and are fairly non-prescriptive. But I surely see this
confusion among those who mainly want writing courses to produce students
who write "correctly" according to all 3 categories.
The other piece I've found helpful on this issue is Patrick Hartwell's
"Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar" (it was in a Feb 1985
College English, but is reprinted in a lot of anthologies). Since a
student of mine did a summary of it for the Crash Comp series we ran last
year in the English Dept Newsbulletin, I'll paste a copy of it below for
anyone who might find it useful.
And then of course there's Winston Weathers's _The Alternate Style _ and
Grammar B, just to liven things up!
I think the idea of a survey of writing programs in Canada is a great
idea--it would surely help me out a lot. And should we include Creative
Writing programs, graduate and undergraduate, so we cover the territory
completely? or just academic and professional writing? Betsy
Hartwell, Patrick. "Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar."
_College English_ 47.2 (February 1985): 105-27.
Patrick Hartwell's "Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar"
challenges the notion that grammar instruction improves student writing.
In an impressive survey of experimental and anecdotal research, Hartwell
explains that all major studies conducted since 1906 conclude that formal
grammar teaching in secondary and post-secondary education does not improve
student writing. Numerous studies report that such instruction in fact
detracts from student writing by consuming class time that could be devoted
to writing instruction.
To demystify grammar instruction, Hartwell describes five "grammars" that
operate in student writing. Most memorable of these is "Grammar 1," the
grammar that is available to all native speakers. Hartwell finds that when
he asks students to arrange in "natural order" the five words "French, the,
young, girls, four," all native speakers arrange the five words in their
proper sequence, but none can explain the rules governing this order
(189-190). Hartwell concludes that Grammar 1 "is eminently usable
knowledge -- the way we make our life through language--but it is not
accessible knowledge; in a profound sense, we do not know that we have it"
(190). Hartwell's provocative essay concludes by calling on instructors
not to be guided by the "rules" of
"common school grammars" (198) but rather to be guided by theories of
language and literacy that take account of unrecognized student abilities
and the complexities of writing instruction.
R. Noguchi's _Grammar and the Teaching of Writing: Limits and
Possibilities_ (NCTE 1991) is also a useful resource for deciding on a
minimal number of grammatical concepts to teach for maximal impact on
At 01:13 PM 2002/01/14 -0500, you wrote:
>How about "stylistic conventions"? the word "conventions" reminds people
>that grammar, punctuation, etc. are cultural constructions that have
>changed and will change. Such a term also provides a logical connection
>with talking about genre and how it influences what is appropriate or
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[log in to unmask] or, if you experience difficulties,
write to Russ Hunt at [log in to unmask]
For the list archives and information about the organization,
the annual conference, and publications, go to the Inkshed Web site at