Monday, 8 October 2012

Super Grammar

I work a lot with comic books, and this week I found a new one: Super Grammar, a book that purports to teach children about grammar using superheroes. It seems like a great idea, but considering the poor state of English grammar teaching, I wasn't expecting much.

It's the same old story. Semantics, syntax, punctuation, dialects: they're all lumped together into one big Bag of Grammar. There's a section on "The Sabotage Squad", "the sworn enemies of correct grammar." Three members of the Sabotage Squad are punctuation errors, one is "The Disagreement" (subject-verb disagreement) and the fifth is "Double Negative", who will trick you "into saying the exact opposite of what you mean." So negative concord, a normal part of some English dialects, is equated with punctuation errors.

You're not no superhero.
Double negative. If you're not no superhero, then you must be a superhero.
Who would interpret that sentence that way? Someone who was trying to deliberately misunderstand, that's who. Wouldn't it be better to teach children about register and dialect rather than tell them their native dialect is "double-dealing double talk"?

We find the usual confusion between syntax and semantics: the first superhero we meet is "The Subject", whose main power "allows him to be the person, place or thing the sentence is telling us about."

To find the subject of a sentence, ask yourself: Which person, place or thing is the sentence telling us something about?

Using the same example sentence, "The hero fights crime," we can find the subject by asking this question: Which person, place, or thing fights crime?

The answer is "The hero" because "The hero" is the person, place, or thing that "fights crime."
This is so unclear. "Crime" is also a person, place or thing this sentence is telling us about. Why is the subject of this sentence not "crime"?

And how do you find the subject in sentences like these:
It’s raining.
There is a plane in the sky.
What people, places or things are these sentences telling us about? In the first sentence, it's rain. In the second, it's a plane in the sky. But neither of these things are the subjects.

Why are children taught a rule about how to find the subject that will misidentify the subject in a lot of cases? What am I missing?

Other things I didn't like about this book: it states that "will" forms the future tense, it promotes the myth of FANBOYS, and I don't even know what I'm supposed to make of this chart. Who knew that reflexive pronouns were subjects?


4 comments :

Jonathon Owen said...

Myself am quite dismayed by all of that grammatical nonsense.

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

What are the credentials of the authors? Myself believe that themselves wrote a silly book, so ourselves should ask ourselves which purpose itself serves.

Carl M. said...

When I was in fourth grade, I was taught that a noun is a "person, place, or thing." Later teachers amended that to include "idea." That the authors could mix up nouns and subjects is pretty awful. That's an incredibly basic distinction.

goofy said...

In fairness, I wouldn't say that they mix up nouns and subjects. But I think they fail to provide a rule to identify the subject of the sentence. Here are the sections on Subject and Noun so you can judge for yourself:

http://www.supergrammar.com/search/label/subject
http://www.supergrammar.com/search/label/noun