NPR profile (was something else)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Dec 5 20:04:43 UTC 2006

At 12:37 PM -0600 12/5/06, Matthew Gordon wrote:
>Actually the piece I heard was pretty fair. The author of the book, Kitty
>Burns Florey, explicitly notes the uselessness of diagramming sentences for
>improving writing and even for teaching basic grammar. She suggests the
>value of sentence diagramming is as a reinforcement of material learned by
>other means.
>You can listen to the story here:

I'd be happy to defend Kitty Burns Florey, who is a very good
novelist, a neighbor (in Hamden, CT), and the source of the
recommendation that led us to our contractors (she wrote a nice piece
in the Times in the late 80s on the addition she had built onto her
house and made the experience seem so great I wrote her postcard
asking for the names of her contractors, who (ultimately) didn't
disappoint).  She strikes me as someone far too sensible to have
presented sentence diagramming as a useful skill for writers, so I'm
glad to see the specifics.


>On 12/5/06 11:59 AM, "Beverly Flanigan" <flanigan at OHIO.EDU> wrote:
>>  But of course you CAN diagram any sentence of any language--we do it all
>>  the time!  The myth about diagramming making one a "better" or "more
>>  correct" writer would be typical of Vocabula Review, and it was expressed
>>  by the woman on NPR too (on one of the morning shows that Monday--Morning
>>  Edition, I suppose?).  But these are the people who assume that "real"
>>  sentences are ungrammatical--another myth, of course.  And what would that
>>  "second set of rules" be--unless (hopefully) just a reminder that Standard
>>  Written English is often stylistically different from (though no better
>>  than) ordinary spoken English?  This is akin to saying there's only one
>>  "real" way of pronouncing English!
>>  At 11:32 AM 12/5/2006, you wrote:
>>>  A while back Harper's reprinted "Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog"
>>>  from the Vocabula Review, which was a memoir about diagramming in
>>>  school. It was a good read: the author was nostalgic, but pointed out
>>>  that it didn't make her a better writer though a more "correct"
>>>  writer. She also pointed out that you can't diagram real ("in
>>>  situ"/"in vivo") sentences: they have to be made up ("in vitro") for
>>>  the purpose in order to work well. And it forces the students to
>>>  learn a second set of rules. I made my freshmen read it. Some of them
>>>  had done some diagramming in school and had found it useful as they
>>>  are visual learners.
>>>  I'll have to go and look for that story on NPR, Bev. Thanks for
>>>  pointing it out. Do you remember which program it was on?
>>>  ---Amy West
>>>>  Date:    Mon, 4 Dec 2006 00:12:18 -0500
>>>>  From:    Beverly Flanigan <flanigan at OHIO.EDU>
>>>>  Subject: Re: Overheard on the local FOX news:
>>>>  And overheard today on our favorite prescriptive network, NPR:
>>>>A woman has
>>>>  written a book on the value of diagramming sentences in school--the old
>>>>  way, of course, horizontally, with angled lines shooting off
>>>>  everywhere.  Why valuable?  Because it might teach students to write
>>>>  "accurately," instead of merely "expressing their feelings."  Why there is
>>>>  an assumed dichotomy between these two is beyond me.  But no doubt this is
>>>>  why Faulkner is almost "impossible" to diagram.  And of course Scott Simon
>>>>  (who followed  with something like "with whom we deal with") just thought
>>>>  she was marvelous. Sigh.
>>>>  At 10:06 PM 12/3/2006, you wrote:
>>>>>  Something about someone suggesting a "_rehaul_ of U.S. forces in Iraq."
>>>>>  --
>>>>>  All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"---a strange complaint to
>>>>>  come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
>>>>>  -----
>>>>>  -Sam Clemens
>>>>>  ------------------------------------------------------------
>>>>>  The American Dialect Society -
>>>  ------------------------------------------------------------
>>>  The American Dialect Society -
>  >
>>  ------------------------------------------------------------
>>  The American Dialect Society -
>The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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