Cambridge has a new grammar series called Grammar and Beyond out/in the works. I got a review copy of the level 2 book by Randi Reppen. I first noticed it at the TESL Ontario conference in October and was interested in it because it's the first grammar series for English language learners I've noticed that employs the concept of determiner (please tell me in the comments if you know of others).
Unfortunately, they make a hash of it.
Let's start with the shocking mismatch between the level of grammar and vocabulary knowledge needed to read and understand the text and the level of knowledge that is being conveyed. Anybody who can understand "singular count nouns always have a determiner before them" (p. 82) already knows as much. There is no point in telling them that they should "not use a or an with plural nouns." The people who need to know this won't even be able to read the chapter with its introductory reading which begins, "identity theft is the act of using someone's personal information without permission." I mean, come on! Permission is ranked as lemma #3,254 in Mark Davies' new Word and Phrase Info corpus interface. The indefinite article is #5. For most language learners, that represents a gap of over a year between when they figured out what a means and what permission means. This problem of explaining English grammar in English to people who don't speak much English is a difficult one, but there is no excuse for completely ignoring the issue.
Part 3 is entitled "Nouns, Determiners, and Pronouns", which is really what attracted my attention in the first place. Nobody in English language teaching understands that there is a relevant function in noun phrase structure and a category of words that typically perform this function. I'll call the function specifier and the category determinative. Because they haven't noticed, they use the same term to refer to both, and they confuse themselves. This book is no different. It says "determiners are words like a, an, the, that, this, my, or our," presumably referring to a category of words, but it includes my and our which are pronouns (and are listed as such on page 105), and don't belong to the same category as the others.
Part 3 has 3 units: Unit 7: Count and Noncount Nouns, Unit 8: Articles, and Unit 9: Pronouns; Direct and Indirect Objects. Determiners show up for the first time in Unit 7, where the quote above appears. A little later, it says, "do not use a / an with noncount nouns," another no-brainer (the problem is to remember what nouns are count and noncount!), but it assures us that "you can use other determiners (my, some, this, etc.) with noncount nouns." This is, of course, true of some other determinatives, but etc. suggests each, every, another, both, and many should all be fine. They're not. If you mean "certain determiners," then say so.
Skip to page 86, Section 3, and they do say so: "you can use certain determiners and measurement words with noncount nouns. Can you give me some advice about spyware programs? She told me two interesting pieces of news." The list of allowed determiners includes: a lot of, some, a little, much, any, not much, not a lot, and not any. Of course, it ignores two of the three options given 4 pages back. Also although I would argue that a lot of is not a determinative, I don't think anybody believes that a lot by itself is.
The inclusion of piece is likely supposed to represent a "measurement word" and not a determiner, and I assume that they are grouped together because of the superficial similarity between partitives like some of the news and the phrases pieces of news. Except that partitives are not dealt with anywhere in the unit.
Then we come to the "Grammar Application" where we find "Exercise 3.1 Determiners and too and enough." This implies that enough isn't a determinative even though it is.
Overall, then, it's interesting to see the term "determiner" finally showing up in a grammar book. Now we just have to get people to understand what determinatives and specifiers are.