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Studies in the Teaching of English. Grammar: Historical English Grammar in the High School


by Marion S. Coan 1906

If we but consider briefly the origin and foundation of English grammar as it has so long been taught, we may see at once sufficient reason for its failure to excite interest in the mind of the ordinary pupil. Going back in the history of education to the time of the great revival of learning we find English held in contempt as the language of the vulgar, while in the schools it found no recognition at all. There the subjects for study were the classical languages, and the chief literary productions were in the Latin, as a language universally known to scholars, and fixed in its classical purity. Grammar was a prominent part of the curriculum, but it was the grammar of Latin, with its beautiful system of inflections and elegance of diction. However, the sturdy Anglo-Saxon spirit was asserting itself more and more as the predominating force in the life of England, and gradually found expression in a constantly accumulating body of literature. This in time won recognition as the embodiment of a great language. Then the necessity for a grammar of this language was realized, that it might be analyzed and its various parts classified under appropriate categories, with a series of rules to give permanence to its form and to establish a fixed standard for reference. Not realizing the essential difference between the Italic and Teutonic families of languages, and in particular between a dead and a living tongue, classical scholars with great care constructed an English grammar on their Latin model. Even though in its earlier stages English had borne some resemblance to Latin in that it was highly inflectional, when the first English grammar was written the language in its rapid growth had become practically inflectionless, and thus had little in common with its classical predecessor. In consequence we have had a system of English grammar established upon a false basis and modeled upon a prototype to which it could not logically conform. From the bondage thus inflicted upon it, it has been almost impossible to free it, and the unfortunate mistake has had a result much to be deplored. As Mr. Richard Grant White says, "We have measured our English corn in Latin bushels," and we have thereby constantly cheated ourselves. This artificial method of treating the structure and use of our language could not appeal to the mind of youth, and to the great majority of pupils grammar has meant nothing but drudgery, with many a rule but without a reason.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 7 Number 5, 1906, p. 501-511
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11653, Date Accessed: 10/20/2017 3:18:13 AM

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  • Marion Coan


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