Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar

Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar

Article excerpt

Review of Crystal, David. 2017. Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar. London: Profile Books. xvii + 281 pages. ISBN: 978-1-78125-602-2.

The work of Crystal reviewed here is embedded, on the one hand, in the larger collection of books on issues dealing with the history and structure of the English language published by Profile Books since 20111 and, on the other, in the long-standing tradition of popularised books that Crystal has written over the years.2 This is not the first time that Crystal has written a book on English grammar with an informative focus, as this volume complements others previously published (1996, 2004a and 2004b), the recently published monograph on the verb to be (2017) and a number of articles that can be found on his personal website (see note 2). The main aim of the book being reviewed is to describe the origins, exegesis and development of English grammar (mainly descriptive English grammar), and to explain common shibboleths and topics concerning this fascinating field of study from an everyday perspective. With a skilfully narrative style, the author combines the internal history of English grammar with the external and social events that have affected the language.

The title of the book, Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar, was not randomly chosen, since in some of his previous works the author had already provided the reader with clues to decipher the meaning: "Grammar is glamorous? For many people, that would be an impossible association of ideas, remembering a time when they were taught English grammar in school, trying to analyse complicated sentences into parts, and learning rules and terms whose purpose was never clear" (Crystal, 2012: 73;3 our emphasis). According to Crystal, "[grammar is] the study of the way we compose our sentences, of how we say what we mean and of the different effects we convey by varying the order of our words. In short, grammar shows us how we make sense" (2012: 73; our emphasis). The author not only has presented the word glamorous in a positive light, but has also wisely played with the etymology of the word.4

This book is organised in 29 (short) chapters with a clear informative intent. Since the prose used by Crystal is intended to be understood by the general public, technical terms are clearly explained and illustrated.5 Some of these chapters, 16 in total, also contain what Crystal has termed interludes (very popular in some of his books), where remarkable facts are written in the form of short stories or anecdotes. At the beginning of the volume there is a prologue and a brief introduction, which is composed of two short stories ("Not knowing grammar: A student's tale" and "Not knowing grammar: A child's tale"), indicating the purpose of the book. These introductory apologues are particularly intriguing given that common topics around the subject of grammar are discussed. One important topic revolves around the idea of how grammar is crucial for making sense of the words that are used in communicative exchanges. Another discusses the results of the absence of English grammar in the National Curriculum by pointing out that "the consequences of this radical change of direction were long-lasting. When grammar began to re-emerge in schools in the 1900s - in Britain, as part of the National Curriculum - there was a widespread uncertainty among teachers about how to handle it, for the obvious reason that these teachers had never had any grammatical training themselves. That uncertainty continues today" (Crystal, 2017: xv). After the final chapter of the book, an epilogue, an index on teaching and testing (English grammar), the references and further readings are included, as well as a full list of illustration credits.

The first four chapters-Chapter 1 "First steps in grammar" ('sentence'), Chapter 2 "Second steps: the big picture" ('subject' and 'predicate'), Chapter 3 "Second steps: the small picture" ('syntax') and Chapter 4 "Third steps: combining big and small" ('phrase')-present the way in which children acquire grammar in their mother tongue in a reader friendly manner. …

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