My books can be purchased as e-books for only $1.99. If interested, just click here: Books.
Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
In case anyone is interested in any of my past posts, an archive list can be found at the bottom of this page.
My newest novel, Happy Valley, can be found here.

Thursday, June 25

ES3 Plea

Hey, readers out there, especially readers who are English teachers or readers who are just interested in the English language with all its twists and turns. I'm inviting you, hoping to entice you, to buy a copy of my book on English Sentence Structure. It's available as an e-book on for only $1.99. Go there and search for ES3. I'm not trying to make money off this plea for your support; I just don't want my system to be lost forever if I pass on without passing it on to someone who might then pass it on to someone else. What follows is the Preface to the book, an explanation of my purpose with this system. And what follows that is an examination of one of the truly great stylistic sentences in the English language, something from Faulkner's "The Bear." It's a really detailed examination that will lose anyone not familiar with my system, but it might demonstrate just how useful it can be, how useful it is.
The study of English grammar disgusts some, fascinates some, and befuddles most, yet English teachers at all levels teach it again and again, each year lamenting the fact that most of their students fail to understand what happens grammatically within the English sentence. The teachers might use any of a variety of methods ranging from the traditional to the transformational approach, but their students’ lack of understanding remains the same.

Traditional grammars too often fail to explain linguistic anomalies, labeling them as exceptions to the rules. The traditional approach also lacks coherence, often being parceled out in unrelated sections over long periods of time, the students learning one set of facts about English grammar, only to forget it when they later move on to a new unit of grammar study. The structural and transformational grammars are an improvement, attempting to bring all elements of the English language together as a complete study. And they are, to some extent, succeeding. However, most of what is written on structural and transformational grammar is aimed at professional linguists. Even those few texts that have been simplified for use in elementary and secondary schools are still too difficult for the student who has only an average interest in or ability with language (alas, nearly all of them). They are so complete and complex that the student loses sight of the forest. These grammars fail the average student for the same reason that the traditional grammars failed him: the terminology and rules of the game so overpower him that he can only throw up his hands in despair. Or do I mean, throw up in despair?

I will not try to justify the teaching of grammar or sentence structure as an end in itself. Obviously, grammar study can only be valuable if it helps students to write and speak with some understanding of what they are doing. And, at the very least, our language is interesting, despite (or possibly because of) all the vagaries and contradictions in spelling, phonology, syntax, and usage. To bring students to a point where they can be somewhat comfortable and confident when dealing with sentences, the English teacher needs a system of grammatical shorthand, a system which does not attempt to cover every linguistic detail, a system which eliminates all but the most essential grammatical terms.

In the system I am proposing, seven basic symbols can be used to describe the various relationships that words and word groups have to one another: S, V, O, 1, 2, 3, and 4. Each symbol stands for one of the seven most frequently used units of building the majority of English sentences.

Please do not misunderstand this to be just another method of diagramming, that useful but somewhat limited game we played only a few decades ago in nearly every traditional English classroom in this country (and a game which is probably still being played in quite a few today). This system is much less limited, much quicker, much more visually clear, and a whole lot more fun.

I am not suggesting that we learn to write by following predetermined patterns. That is not how we write. Some people play the piano beautifully and cannot read a note. I greatly admire and envy those lucky ones with that inborn ear for musical expression; I greatly admire and envy those equally lucky ones who can write “by ear.” They do not need to know what is happening structurally in their writing. They feel it. The words flow across the page without a hitch or stumble. Most of us, though, lack that talent. We know when something has gone wrong in our writing, but we do not know how to fix it. We need some mechanical method for analyzing our writing to catch and repair those weak or confusing passages, a method also for analyzing professional writing to see and imitate what we find good in it.

I believe this book presents such a system. I hope that you, both teachers and students, will agree with me.

The sentence begins simply enough, “He had already inherited . . . the bear.” But then he follows it with several word groups describing the bear: a 1-o (“with one trap-ruined foot”) and an adjective s-v-o (“that in an area almost a hundred miles square had earned for himself a name”). And then he launches into several increasingly complex appositives. The first one is simple enough: “a definite designation like a living man” pointing back to the word name. Then we have an appositive (introduced, as only Faulkner would, with not only a colon but also a dash), “legend,” apparently and rather loosely standing for the bear. I say loosely because although the bear is a legend, the legend of which he speaks is the bear’s legendary exploits, a series made up mainly of 1-o’s many of which are described by 4’s. Then he shows us another dash leading to another appositive, “corridor of wreckage,” which seems to be pointing back to the word legend, described by more 1-o’s and concluding with the image of the bear, echoing the beginning of the sentence, “a corridor of destruction . . . through which sped the shaggy tremendous shape.” An interesting sentence, one typical of Faulkner, weaving back and forth, working itself deeper and deeper into the structural layers. Readers sometime complain that he is simply writing sloppy sentences that even he does not really understand. I think those readers either cannot or will not take the time to find out what he is saying, meaning. Now, look at the entire pattern:
Looks rather complicated, but notice his use of parallel structure, especially that series of 1-o’s followed by 4’s. That last appositive, “corridor,” is a little problematical in that the corridor is not an exact equal to “legend” unless we twist the meaning to accommodate Faulkner’s apparent intention, that this “corridor of destruction” is a main feature of the legend of the bear.

All right, do I have your attention? Or maybe I've lost most of you along the way and you're now yawning. But if even one of you is intrigued enough to buy my book and give it a shot, it will for me have been worth it. Please, let there be at least one of you.
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