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Nglsh

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?

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Comments

eloquentwthrage
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.
eric_mathgeek
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.