The Uses of Grammar

By Judith Rodby; W. Ross Winterowd | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 17
Using Grammar

In writing this book, we have discovered that nearly everything associated with the word grammar provokes anxiety. Some people worry about their own grammar (and the possibility for error). Others self-righteously judge everyone else's grammar. Some express concern that immigrants are learning standard English grammar slowly or poorly and that they are contributing to social problems: in the opinion of the American Immigration Control Foundation, nonnative speakers “create countries within our own… take jobs and social services from our poorest citizens.… Expand our welfare rolls.”1 In addition, many social and educational ills are blamed on the fact that in the United States grammar study has been virtually absent from the public school curriculum for the last twenty years. In this vein, many students who dislike studying grammar actually come to the conclusion that if they had nevertheless studied it earlier in their lives, they would now be more successful at school, at work, or even in social relationships. This is magical thinking. Unfortunately, all too often students who have been taught prescriptive grammar have not gained an understanding of grammar as usage. Those who know (or think they know) the rules of traditional prescriptive grammar frequently become martinets, giving friends advice about their language and correcting errors that do not even really exist.


FOR DISCUSSION

Return to the “For Discussion” box in Chapter 1, page 2, about using grammar as
part of the writing process. Now that you have had time to reflect on your use of
grammar, how has your opinion changed? (Or has there been no change?) Do you
use grammatical knowledge? If your answer is yes, how do you use it? If no, why?

In finishing this book, we will want to examine what grammar study can and cannot do. Knowledge of grammar must be contextualized and must be examined. Only when members of the multilingual society that is America understand the contradictions in

1 Bruce Horner and John Trimbur, “English Only and U.S. Composition,” College Composition and Com-
munication
53, no. 4 (2002): 609.

-250-

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