Thursday, June 26, 2008

TGE: other miscellaneous problems

The errors, contradictions, and lack of clarity in Ron Cowan's The Teacher's Grammar of English have filled three posts already (here, here, & here) and could probably go on for quite a few yet. I suspect, though, that people are growing tired of this, and I myself am finding it rather wearisome, so I expect this will be the last entry unless Cowan wishes to reply to anything. Here, then, are a few more miscellaneous problems in no particular order.
  1. In the glossary, Cowan defines a phrase as: a head and any modifiers (no gloss is supplied for head or modifier.) Consider a simple verb phrase such as (this grammar) bites the wax tadpole. On p. 20, we find that VPs consist of "a main verb, which is the head of the phrase... and any following NPs, PPs, AdjPs, or AdvPs that may be present." In our sentence, this leaves the wax tadpole as a modifier of bites, a particularly heterodox analysis. Auxiliary verbs are then not part of the VP (unless they head their own VPs, a point which doesn't seem to be addressed, but which would result in the bizarre notion that the main verb is a modifier of the auxiliary).

  2. On pp. 18-19, TGE provides the following (apparently exhaustive) list of functions of NPs: subjects, direct objects, indirect objects, objects of a preposition, predicate nominals, and appositives. Presumably, then, NP itself is not considered a function, but rather a phrase. Yet on p. 16, gerunds are said to "function as NPs". Still later, on p. 472, they are said to be part (the head, I suppose) of gerund clauses, which, in turn, are said to function as subject clauses, and which are specifically contrasted with NPs on p. 471. So are they the same or are they not?

  3. The list of NP functions is incomplete. In the sentence I started two days ago, the NP two days ago functions as an adjunct. Nouns can also function as determiners (e.g., Kawabata's short stories and modifiers (e.g., the faculty office).

  4. On p. 22, it says that do expresses distinctions of tense and aspect. TGE recognises two aspects in which auxiliary verbs participate: perfect and progressive; do is not used for either.

  5. In the chapter on imperative sentences, it states that the only inflected verb form allowed in an imperative after be is "in the progressive form". This ignores passives such as (e.g., be warned, be finished, be gone, don't be fooled by... etc.)

  6. Page 113 has a section on "Idiomatic I need you Imperatives" (e.g., I need you to get ready quickly.) Such sentences are certainly hortative, but imperative is a grammatical term, not a rhetorical one. On p. 110, the main verb in an imperative is described as being "always in its bare infinitive form", yet I need you to..., clearly doesn't meet this requirement for inclusion. (Also note that imperatives do not have truth values, whereas this construction could be subject to the rejoinder, "no you don't.")

There are likely some very good things in the book that I have overlooked, but frankly, there's so junk to be sifted out that I really can't be bothered looking for those few finds. Where I've run across them, I've tried to note any positives. To be fair, I haven't even had a look at the sections at the end of most chapters on "problems that ESL/EFL students have with..." and "suggestions for teaching..."

Overall, Cowan has simply not taken enough care to build a coherent grammatical system. It's not that I don't agree with his theories; it's that he doesn't agree with his own theories. Over and over again he contradicts himself or makes claims that are factually wrong.

I think the folks at Cambridge ESL need to get their editorial house in order too. This is the second grammar book they've published in the last few years that fails to meet the minimal standards for accuracy and consistency.

What a waste!


Q Higuchi said...

I still remember the anger and sadness I felt after I actually purchased Carter & McCarthy's Cambridge Grammar of English - and I thank you for making it possible for me not to make that mistake again. No, I shall not even order an inspection copy unless I really have to.

I can totally see that you must be weary of going through the awful grammar. Don't be a hero. I think you have done more than enough.

I have only two questions. First, can there be a reasonably decent, elegant account for determinatives/determiners? We probably agree that the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language provides the best account, but even there, things are not all that neat and easy. I am beginning to suspect that the category itself might be a little problematic - but I don't have any alternatives.

Second: What's been going on at CUP!? It seems as though Carter & McCarthy's grammar wasn't embarrassing enough. Well, I know nothing about the inner workings there, so I shall refrain from speculating anything - although I can imagine some twisted version of the Queensland grammar brouhaha at work. I can only hope that the third time will be the charm.

Rebecca said...

Can you recommend an alternative? Thanks!

Brett Reynolds said...

There are a variety. If you're looking for something really rigorous, and you'll willing to work hard at understanding it, I'd recommend 'A student's introduction to English grammar'. Of the ESL grammars, I'd suggest 'The grammar book'. R.A. Close's 'A teachers' grammar: The central problems of English' is a very easy and useful way to think of various problems, along with Micheal Lewis's 'The English verb'.

Rebecca said...

Hey, thank you so much. I was looking at "A Teacher's Grammar," so I'm glad to hear it affirmed. Personally, I prefer rigorous, because my own knowledge base is decent, but I'm also looking for a resource for other teachers in our program, one of whom is not a native English speaker himself, so having something accurate, comprehensive, and accessible is ideal. I appreciate your input.

Brett Reynolds said...

Close's book isn't at all comprehensive, but it's very accessible.

Rebecca said...

Okay, great, thanks for your input.