From everyday to academic writing

I’m excited about my column in this month’s Cambridge grammar newsletter: it’s about a technique to help students move towards the register of academic writing by changing subordinate clauses into relative clauses. The idea came to me when I was teaching our pre-matriculation ESL undergraduates last session. I had several students who were writing quite accurate sentences with interesting content, but in a style that seemed wordy and prosaic. Fortunately, I had just been reading some research in Systemic Functional Linguistics (Ho, 2009) which found that at the university level, more sophisticated writers tend to choose embedded clauses (i.e. restrictive relative clauses) over clauses with subordinate conjunctions (such as because, even though, etc.). We also know that coordinated clauses (and, or, but) are more frequent in spoken, informal, and less mature English (e.g. Brisk & De Rosa, 2014, in de Oliveira and Idding’s great new volume). Sure enough, I was able to pick out sentences in my students’ papers with lots of coordinating and subordinating conjunctions that would be more academic and effective with relative clauses, especially when reduced. I think some of it even sunk in! Take a look at the article and the worksheet, and let me know what you think. Next month, in part 2 of this thrilling mini-series, I take on another SFL staple, nominalization. Theory into practice: it really works.

Happy Grammar Day, incidentally.

TESOL 2012: Making Grammar Choices in Academic Writing

This is a recording of my session at TESOL 2012 in Philadelphia introducing my forthcoming textbook, “Grammar Choices for Graduate and Professional Students.” Thanks to the ELI’s videographer, Lowell Riethmuller!

This is a recording of my session at TESOL 2012 in Philadelphia introducing my forthcoming textbook, Grammar Choices for Graduate and Professional Writers from the University of Michigan Press (UPDATE: published, September 2012). Thanks to the ELI’s videographer, Lowell Riethmuller! You can also download the handout and other materials.

(Yes, I know the still image in the video frame looks like I’m performing a one-man show of Animal Farm, but I can’t seem to change it!  I’m surprisingly normal in the rest of it.)

National Grammar Day

March 4 is …. National Grammar Day! Sadly, ESL teachers don’t all get a day off to celebrate (or, maybe, we should teach especially well on that day?). This is a publicity stunt by the “Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar,” one of many self-declared and self-aggrandizing stewards of the English language. Their website isn’t actually terrible (although you get bonus points for spotting some of their inconsistent punctuation on the home page), but linguists find the idea that English grammar needs promotion or protection laughable. After all, the language has survived — flourished, in fact — without (despite of?) efforts to save it.

And while I’m thinking about it … why National Grammar Day? Does the U.S. need to serve as the world’s linguistic police? Or does SPOGG only promote good American English grammar? Do they fear our friends from the north are trying re-introduce the widespread use of the letter “u”? Or are they afraid of British ex-pats complaining, “It’s ‘Have you eaten yet?’ not ‘Did you eat yet?’!”

So, I unilaterally declare every day to be henceforth International Grammar Day, dedicated to using the resources of language to boldly communicate meanings in whatever ways work!