Why the Bad Grammar? A Linguist's Explanation

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 16, 2004 | Go to article overview

Why the Bad Grammar? A Linguist's Explanation


Byline: Veda Charrow, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Have you ever wondered why so many reporters don't know that "criterion" is singular and "criteria" is plural? How many times have you read something like this in a magazine: "The student who brings a knife to school to peel their orange may be expelled"? How many times have you heard a newscaster saying, "The new phone bill is different than your previous bills"? Or hypercorrections like "The judge admonished the driver whom everyone knew had struck the cat"? In short, have you ever wondered why so many people who should know better make grammatical errors? Earlier in the 20th century, professional writers and educated speakers could be expected to make few, if any, grammatical errors. Newspapers and magazines were edited not only for content and length, but for grammatical correctness. This is no longer the case. Newspapers, magazines, newscasts and, of course, the Internet are rife with errors like the ones above.

I have no doubt that the reason for this profusion of grammatical errors is that most American elementary and high school students aren't taught English grammar anymore. And I'm afraid that my own discipline, linguistics, may be largely to blame.

Linguistics is a social science whose goals, among others, are to describe languages and dialects, to show how various languages are related, to explain how children acquire their native language, to discover how language is understood and to demonstrate how different forms of a language are used in different situations.

Linguists are trained not to make value judgments. Thus, if asked whether a non-standard variety of English is worse than standard English, we would unhesitatingly say "No." As a result of linguists' refusal to be prescriptive, non-standard usages have crept into areas where they would not have been allowed 30 years ago, and have become accepted. The effect has been to lower the bar for students and their teachers.

But even more damage to the teaching of grammar was wrought by the misuse of a linguistic theory called transformational-generative grammar, which was developed by Noam Chomsky.

Mr. Chomsky, better-known today for his anti-Israel and anti-Iraq war stances, originally made his name as the father of transformational-generative grammar, or T-G. In the '60s, Mr. Chomsky, a prominent MIT linguistics professor, proposed a theory of grammar that could easily explain the different meanings of an ambiguous sentence such as "Visiting relatives can be boring." Traditional grammars would have some trouble providing different grammatical explanations (and sentence diagrams) for the meaning "Relatives who are visiting can be boring" vs. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Why the Bad Grammar? A Linguist's Explanation
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.