Suzanne Kemmer kemmer at RICE.EDU
Fri Apr 11 23:53:39 UTC 2003

I agree with Wally that focus on 'the sentence' is most likely the result
of being focused on written language. Of course it would be very good to
children (or any people) about spoken language and its forms
and uses, especially for the purpose of building discourse skills
and repertoires.  It would be nice to see a practical school curriculum
puts discourse analysis into practice.

But while discourse linguists are working on how to get that
into the curriculum, I don't see any problem in using the
sentence as a starting point and fundamental
unit for teaching about language structure.

The primary aim of teaching about language structure
in schools is ultimately to teach writing. (It would be nice it
the aim were just 'knowledge about language', like a good linguist
would want, but it isn't.) It takes a long time to build up the skills
that lead to fluent and complex writing.

As a student (undergrad and grad)  I did some teaching and
tutoring of composition to well-schooled populations, with whom
I could work on information structure and presentation. Then
in my first teaching job, I was exposed to the attempts at writing
of a population far more innocent of any (writing-based) grammatical
(And these were by no means the most uneducated people in
the population at large.)

I consider it hopeless to try to teach students about
how to control information presentation in a discourse, when they have
no sense of how to put a written clause together and lose control quickly
when dealing with anything but the most simple structures. (For
one thing, many of the undergraduates I was teaching
had a lot of trouble with complement structures, and choosing
the right sorts of complements for the range of 'learned' verbs they
wanted to
use and had seen used in writing.)

So, I find Dick's basic curricular plan, centered around the sentence
still looking at larger and smaller units),
to be quite appropriate for teaching about language structure.
I would put in lots of lexical/collocational work, because
learning the abstract grammatical structures doesn't do much
good if you don't know what words they 'belong' with. (I'm sure
he's already done that, being a Word Grammarian.) Written
English is nobody's native language and students just have to learn it.

On Friday, April 11, 2003, at 12:42  PM, Wallace Chafe wrote:

> This is one of the places where looking at how people actually talk
> makes a
> significant difference. There is, first of all, the difference between
> grammatical sentences and prosodic sentences. The latter certainly
> reflect
> something interesting about language processing. Beyond that, I've
> suggested in various places that sentence closure (of either kind) is
> often
> decided opportunistically on-line, while people are talking, and doesn't
> necessarily reflect the boundaries of cognitively relevant units,
> although
> it may. One kind of evidence I find particularly interesting appears in
> repeated verbalizations of (more or less) the same content, where
> sentence
> boundaries may be distributed differently in the different tellings. I
> talked about this at GURT in February, but see, for example, chapter 11
> of
> Discourse, Consciousness, and Time, and my article Things we can learn
> from
> repeated tellings of the same experience. Narrative Inquiry 8: 269-285
> (1998). I'm tempted to suggest that linguists' preoccupation with
> sentences
> comes above all from writing and grammatical traditions derived from
> written language. To show that I'm wrong about this, one would have to
> examine spoken language more carefully than most people have as yet
> done.

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