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It's quite daunting to teach English in an environment that constantly bombards young people, already pushed quickly through school and creating their own abbreviations via Twitter and Facebook, when the language continues to deteriorate around us.

In a recent blog, a friend of mine (who shall remain nameless for privacy reasons) wrote this while waxing about his decades-long love affair with Madonna: "So they were playing 'Express Yourself.' It was a club remix. One that I had not heard before." The third "sentence" is what's known as the "added-detail fragment" (according to John Langan, author of English Skills, a McGraw-Hill college-level remedial English text book, p422). Langan says: "People often write added-detail fragments [because] they think the subject and verb in one sentence will serve for the next group as well." But as we all know, every true sentence must have a subject and verb, and it must be a complete thought all its own. "One that I had not heard before," certainly does not qualify but would be very easily remedied by either connecting it to the previous sentence with a comma (and lowercase O), or rewriting the sentence as "I had not heard that one before." BOOM! Done.

Then we have the misplaced modifier. Take this example from today's Philadelphia Inquirer, from the article "Beyond the pale, among the tea set" by Annette John-Hall (B2): "Before I left, I had to talk to the guy carrying the biggest sign on the mall: 'Exercising Our 1st Amendment Rights doesn't Make U.S. Racist!' it read. [New paragraph begins here.] A sign so big, the wind nearly knocked it—and him—over." We can tell what John-Hall was trying to say, but it doesn't read the way she meant it. As shown, "A sign so big" is an appositive for "the wind," which is obviously incorrect. "A sign so big" actually renames "it" in the sentence, but John-Hall forsakes grammar for dramatic effect. The correction is so elementary, it's almost painful to introduce. Still, it would have read correctly as, "The sign was so big, the wind nearly knocked it—and him—over." Is that so difficult?

With less and less attention placed on the proper use of English anywhere we look, how long will it be before English professors everywhere are out of jobs, for good?

My friend Andy started his own site called "Sex and the Married Idiot," which describes the trials and tribulations of a middle-aged, sexually naive and frustrated husband and father of five daughters. His blogs are entertaining and racy, discussing the ongoing process of his education in the realm of everything outside plain, vanilla sex as viewed through his admittedly pedestrian eyes. Perhaps I should begin "English and the Frustrated Educator" (soon to be "Former Educator") about my love/hate relationship with our language and everything it's losing with the advent of fast-food-style education, the Internet and text messaging. But then, who's left to read it?



( 13 comments — leave a comment )
Apr. 20th, 2010 08:24 pm (UTC)
I always liked Jan Freeman's The Word column in The Boston Globe, but I haven't read it in a year or two.

Regarding the added-detail fragment, I see that as a "poetic license" type of thing, like when people use "infinite" in a mathematically incorrect way for emphasis. It annoys me, but as long as the point is communicated, I have to admit that it's appropriate for the forum in which it's presented.
Apr. 21st, 2010 02:43 am (UTC)
You're a math major, but I'll take that under advisement. :P
Apr. 21st, 2010 02:47 am (UTC)
You're a math major
Not in the past 20 years...
Apr. 21st, 2010 02:49 am (UTC)
Once a math major...
Apr. 21st, 2010 02:53 am (UTC)
And now a writer and editor.
Apr. 21st, 2010 12:18 pm (UTC)
Okay, I admit that aside from your educational forays, which I've paid special attention to, I didn't know your career/job/thing. What sort of company do you work for?
Apr. 21st, 2010 01:04 pm (UTC)
It's an educational "think tank" -- we do all sorts of education related things, but I've mostly been active in curriculum and materials development. More recently I've been focusing on professional development for math teachers.

But I was a textbook editor for 7 years before I started here (and that was almost 10 years ago) -- and before you say, yeah, but you edit MATH textbooks: The recent "reform" math textbooks have a LOT more reading than the ones we used as kids. Most things are done in context, or involve exploring mathematical relationships, so it's not "here's a problem, and here's how you do it."
Apr. 21st, 2010 05:44 pm (UTC)
Well, I certainly remember most of math beyond grade school as having lots of "word problems" and such. The teaching back then, though, seemed to be to demonstrate the technique and then give problems to illustrate how you would use it. I think that's backwards, though. It often wasn't until was working on the exercises that I actually had the "OH!" moment when I realized what I was doing and why.
Apr. 21st, 2010 06:05 pm (UTC)
Right. Since most students never got that "oh!" moment, there has been some attempt to change how things are done---not just increasing the contextual aspects but also emphasizing understanding over blind following of procedures. This also causes a de-emphasis on some things, though (like factoring polynomials in Algebra, or long division in fifth grade), and some people are unhappy with that.
Apr. 20th, 2010 09:48 pm (UTC)
I would read it. I do horrible things with punctuation, with language, with all of the rules and regulations. Consistently. And this despite my vast contempt for experimental writers who never capitalize anything, oh bitter irony. Your snark is so brilliant and sharp edged I am sure I would enjoy it.
Apr. 21st, 2010 12:44 am (UTC)
Ditto :-)
Apr. 21st, 2010 02:12 am (UTC)
Would you read it in your dinning room, Joey? :-P
Apr. 25th, 2010 08:54 pm (UTC)
No, in bed with juice and a bagel. :-P
( 13 comments — leave a comment )