freshman comp

Herb Stahlke hfwstahlke at GMAIL.COM
Fri Dec 10 14:34:26 UTC 2010

Freshman Comp is taught overwhelmingly by contract faculty and
graduate students, many of whom are excellent teachers and do a
difficult job well and, as Charles points out, with little reward.
Handling four or five 25-student Comp classes becomes drudgery
quickly.   The problem with most such composition teachers is that
they know little of English grammar, a fact that gets attention
regularly on the ATEG-L.  I've taught students in grad rhet/comp
course who regarded any sentence containing a BE verb or without an
overtly agentive subject and transitive verb as the dreaded passive
voice--which they then marked wrong, labeling it as passive.  Plenty
of us on this list are familiar with backwards pronominalization and
the literature on it, so we can identify it and sort out the
references, but to a lot of comp teachers sentences like we've been
discussing fall into a large category of awkward sentences whose
awkwardness is hard to identify.

Arnold's discussion a few years ago of possessive anaphors addresses
tangentially the problem of what many comp teachers know--or thing
they know.


On Fri, Dec 10, 2010 at 7:29 AM, Charles C Doyle <cdoyle at> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Charles C Doyle <cdoyle at UGA.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: freshman comp
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> And there's also the matter of practicality for English composition teachers, so many of whom are overworked (underpaid, lacking job security, health insurance, etc.). The teacher can't possibly comment on every single problem (or potential problem) that occurs in every single piece of student writing.
> Even if there were time to do so, research shows that students quickly reach a saturation point beyond which they ignore the comments written on their papers.  (How often to we have students, at all levels,come to remonstrate about a low grade--whereupon we discover that the student has looked at nothing we've written on the paper except the grade?)
> The issue under consideration here is surely, well, pretty minor as regards English composition, pretty low in the hierarachy of "offenses" that a composition teacher can prudently address!  It's of interest to us mainly as language scholars, not as teachers of composition.
> --Charlie
> ________________________________________
> From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of ronbutters at AOL.COM [ronbutters at AOL.COM]
> Sent: Thursday, December 09, 2010 1:29 PM
> I was speaking of her judgment as a teacher of composition.
> Obviously, people have different responses to syntactic complexity. But in the case at hand, no one seems to have indicated that they found the passage more than slightly problematical, even without the clarifying preceding sentences. A number of people have written me offline to say that they had to read the passage several times to find anything even prescriptively questionable about it.
> So why  tell a student not to do something that could have rhetorical virtues (as I think it does). There is more than one goal in writing effectively--absolute linguistic clarity is an unambiguous virtue only in legal writing (and then not always attainable).
> What I do object to is arbitrary adherence to prscriptivist rules (and I know that Arnold does, too).
> ------Original Message------
> From: Arnold Zwicky
> Sender: ADS-L
> To: ADS-L
> ReplyTo: ADS-L
> Subject: Re: [ADS-L] freshman comp
> Sent: Dec 9, 2010 12:17 PM
> On Dec 9, 2010, at 7:19 AM, Ron Butters wrote:
>> As a former Director of Freshman English at Duke, I'd have suggested that Barbara rethink her judgment.
> her judgment as a composition teacher?  or her judgment about the sentence (in its context)?
> the latter isn't something to rethink; it's a raw response to the sentence in context.  it's not uncommon for referent-finding examples to evoke different responses for different people (i've posted several times on Language Log on such cases), with some people seeing no issue, while others find the examples grammatical but inept.  the fact is that a large number of factors play a role in referent-finding, and different people seem to weight them differently.
> the question for any particular example is how extensive the processing problem is for readers in general.  and that's something you can't gauge from your own responses alone, although you can develop a feel for certain classes of cases and how likely they are to be problematic for a significant number of readers.  if they are, then a composition teacher should flag them as problematic.
> arnold
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