Saturday, May 22, 2010

Me Likes Grammar

Gerunds, Conjunctions, and Clauses! Oh my!

I. Love. Grammar.


Okay, now that I avoided all those e-tomatoes thrown at me (many from my students...muah! you know who you are...), I want to reiterate it. I love grammar. I remember enjoying learning it in what small capacities we used to in the "old days" (I know, I know, I've just entered my thirties...I'm still old). Diagramming sentences, editing sentences, strengthening sentences...all great fun for me. Later, when I went on to college and took my first grammar class as a part of my degree in ESL education (before my grad degrees in English and before I even began teaching), I went from loving it to revering it.

As native speakers we are taught a lot of the grammar of our native tongue intrinsically. We know why something sounds or looks funny though we may not know why. The metacognitive analysis of grammar that we apply to the learning of other languages is something we don't ever really do and even when taught grammar explicitly, we will still never look at these form and function rules of our language with the same eyes that a non-native speaker does. This makes us simultaneously more of and less of an expert than non-native speakers are on English grammar. Fascinating, no?

Funny, I actually heard a chorus of no's in the horizon. Weird.

Seriously though, think about it. In knowing a grammar of a language, we become an insider of that language. The way we learn that grammar also further identifies us within that group. In fact, one of the defining characteristics that distinguishes a creole language from a pidgin language is the grammar--the presence or absense of a fully developed grammar system. That's what makes Hawaii Creole English (lovingly aka "Pidgin" with a capital 'P') a creole, not a pidgin (lower-case p). Those semesters I spent as an undergraduate in those ESL ed courses, I found myself feeling such incredible pride that I knew the grammar of Pidgin (there weren't too many of us in that class). I also spent those very semesters being humbled that I could only fully explain about half of the more complex grammar rules in the English language. Again, I knew it sounded/looked funny, I knew how to fix it, but I didn't know the grammar rules behind it.

Grammar rules. A lot of folks hate it, like most rules. But, like most rules, they would totally miss it if it were gone. As a kid (and even later as a college student), I wasn't this evolved as to being able to recognize a good thing that a lot of others thought was perhaps a byproduct of hell. What I did have, however, was an appreciation of grammar that I viewed in the same light as fun geometry formulas and proofs (yes, I liked those too). And, the more grammar rules I learned, the more I felt like I was unlocking doors to my language, my ability to express myself. I had learned the tools that allowed me to write a ridiculously long sentence (I'm talking half a page, single-spaced) with MS Word only being able to give me a single angry green squiggly noting long sentence that, when 'ignored,' just showed MS Word had no other beefs with my sentence. The single complaint = long-ass sentence...but not incorrect, mind you. ::triumphantly sticks tongue at MS Word::

Grammar = power. I truly believe it. Okay, maybe not like Iron Man power but at least Mighty Mouse power. (=

Without this feeling of empowerment earned via my learning of grammar, I wouldn't feel as comfortable breaking these very grammar rules in my fiction writing. Yes, you heard right. I'm breakin' some of these rules in my WIPs. Do I feel dirty and wrong and in serious need of punitive measures for my grievous offenses? To be honest, it does feel like crossing over a double solid line or rolling right on through a stop sign on a deserted road (ahem, two things I NEVER do...). But, because I know the rules, I feel okay taking stylistic liberties in my language expression--the right to follow, bend, or flat out ignore those rules as I see fit. When breaking societal rules, perhaps ignorance is your best defense but I think when breaking grammar rules, the lack of ignorance is your very best offense.

Thus, I owe a lot of thanks to that first college grammar class I took. My wide eyes then are equivalent to the wide eyes I see now in my 2 yr old son when he finally understands and correctly uses a new verb tense for a word he only used in the base form just a mere few months ago when he first learned it. Seeing my son going through his language learning journey, I started remembering back to what I learned about how native speakers learn the varying forms and functions of their native language as children.

It's pretty unreal. Perhaps that's what first got my radars attuned to grammar, grammar, grammar. For the last few weeks, it's seemed like there have been signs pointing me back to this great love affair I once had with grammar. Everywhere. Well, my momma didn't raise any stupid ones. Far be it from me to ignore sign after sign after sign for the past few weeks. Yes, I said weeks. I said I wasn't stupid, I didn't say I wasn't a little slow. *grin*

So what was this brilliant sign-following thing I did? I just pitched and got approval to propose a new grammar course! If this course approval goes through all the proper university channels without a hitch, I will be the proud teacher of a new course--the third baby after my English teaching methods and adolescent literature/literacy courses. WHOO HOO!!! I loved teaching grammar in Kansas and I loved teaching the teaching of grammar in Arizona. In this course I'm proposing, I will get to do both. *smiling sigh* Wish me luck!

Monday, May 3, 2010

The fairies in fairy tales...

Hi y'all. I'm still really sick so I'm afraid I'm not very blog-y. However, I did want to give props to a poem that a student of mine had her English students read. It is from Such a Pretty Face. I'd love to read the type of fairy tales this author is thinking about too! (=

Sorry I don't have more to write...when I am no longer pnuemonic, I will be back... Until then, as always, happy reading!

Fat Is Not a Fairy Tale
by: Jane Yolen

I am thinking of a fairy tale,
Cinder Elephant,
Sleeping Tubby,
Snow Weight,
where the princess is not
anorexic, wasp-waisted,
flinging herself down the stairs.

I am thinking of a fairy tale,
Hansel and Great,
Bounty and the Beast,
where the beauty
has a pillowed breast,
and fingers plump as sausage.

I am thinking of a fairy tale
that is not yet written,
for a teller not yet born,
for a listener not yet conceived,
for a world not yet won,
where everything round is good:
the sun, wheels, cookies, and the princess.