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Dear All,

First, I agree in the main with Carrol's discussion of speaking and writing.
But it is most valuable, I think, to note the importance of learning some
linguistics, language acquisition, psychology, etc.  I direct a summer
seminar for faculty on writing--our own and our students.  The faculty who
present come from linguistics, education, English, sciences, composition
theory.  What has come out of it for me, among other things, is an
understanding of important differences in speaking and writing.  I do not
think the difficulty some students have in writing is a glitch or in any way
specific to them.  ALL humans, with the extremely rare examples of ferile
children or a child locked away from all speech (there have been one or
two studied) learn totally complex patterns of speech without being taught.
I assure my students all the time that what they are learning in
composition is what they already do orally.  The "glitch" is between
speaking and writing, but it is the result, I am certain, of their never having
been taught to write.  Speech is universal, is learned automatically by all
humans, is present in every human culture at all times, and is in every
case the full range of grammatical and semantic possibility.  Writing is a
learned skill, is taught, is not universal, is not present in every human
culture and is of extremely varied skill.  I believe it is now almost never
taught in schools because no one learns how to construct sentences.  If it
is taught, it tends to consist of lists of rules.  Students I ask associate
"grammar" almost exclusively with being wrong.

I have thought very much about this.  There is no other field in which the
whole approach is how to correct error, the entire presumption a "wrong"
to be fixed.  We do not have textbooks called "The 50 Most Common
Ways to Make a Fool of Yourself in Chemistry and How to Correct Them,"
or "How to Avoid the Most Egregious Mistakes in History."  This is only
mildly parodic of actual texts for English Comp.

I teach writing at the sentence level constantly, and I totally reverse the
assumptions.  We talk about the possible ways one can make a
sentence; we use simple versions of Chomsky's basic sentence and
transformations, and we keep building complexity.  I can affirm that it
works.  They won't come out writing like Stephen Pinker, but they will all
be less bad, some will be good, and some will be astonished and
astonishing in what they can do.  And they can pass tests that ask them
to produce sentences with parallel constructions, introductory adverb
clauses, restrictive adjective clauses, participial phrases . . . .  They will
be not just "correct" but often rhythmic, sophisticated, and even at times
elegant.  They can learn it.  No one expects people to sit at a piano after
several lectures on how to avoid hitting the wrong keys, why it is wrong to
hit notes without counting timing, and why they should never pound on it
with their fists--and produce music.

Link to Eliot:  If we want to "purify the dialect of the tribe," we need to
teach sentences and grammar and we need to teach them as fascinating
tools for expression and communication that have forms we can learn, not
as occasions for error and despair.

On a second point--I am delighted to see the comments on "Off Topic."
Eliot was interested in everything as far as I can tell.  We can move from
pop culture to his love of music halls as easily as from Mrs. Porter to pop
culture.  Trying to police intelligent speech to frame "ELIOT" in some
isolated poetic box reduces the poetry, I think.

Nancy