LIT 501 – Week 5 – Rhetorical Precis

Williams, Joseph M.. “The Phenomenology of Error.” College Composition and Communication, Vol. 31, No. 2. 1981. 152-168.

In the academic journal article, “The Phenomenology of Error,” Joseph Williams (1981) explores the response writers and grammarians have when encountering specific errors in writing. Williams develops his argument through literature review, first-hand interviews and experience, and ends with an attempt to calculate the response errors can evoke in a reader. Williams writes this paper in order to quantify and explain that the grammar rules we follow are arbitrary, the response to mistakes random and confusing to students. He says, “We need not believe that just because a rule of grammar finds its way into some handbook of usage, we have to honor it” (164) and uses in his examples to the contrary numerous writers, authors, and academics. Williams’ audience is primarily teachers, as he concerns himself with grading numerous times throughout the article, but can be expanded to anybody who has influence and judgment over another’s writing. I find the argument compelling, since grammar is arbitrary and most people I have known to study English have absorbed grammar through reading and writing and are not able to clearly explain the “why” of what is. It is validating to have a researched paper espousing my belief that as long as intent is clear, then the specific matters of grammar are an underlying issue of which to make note. And it is not lost on me that I just (awkwardly) rearranged my sentence to avoid a split infinitive.

Hartwell, Patrick. “Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar.” Cross-Talk in Comp Theory: A Reader. Ed. Victor Villanueva. Second ed. United States: National Council of Teachers of English, 2003. 141-233.

In the academic journal article, “Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar,” Patrick Hartwell (1985) explains the difficulty and the different schools of thought on the issue of teaching grammar. Williams exploration is done by acknowledging and explaining two fundamental “schools of thought”: grammarians and anti-grammarians. Hartwell writes this paper in order to have a common middle ground from which to start when speaking, debating, and teaching about the instruction of grammar. Hartwell writes to anybody who cares about writing and communication; the rigidity, judgment, and structure of grammar impacts everybody in every language. The issue with teaching grammar is very well summarized in the opening paragraph as Hartwell states, “the assumption that students will learn only what we teach and only because we teach” is an example of magical thinking. Language changes with each person it touches, and the codification cannot, and should not, reach everybody. As to Hartwell’s purpose, I think he explores the issues very well, and the definitions and attempts to remain neutral as the two main arguments are explored and explained. This will be a very useful paper to use for research when thinking about the how and why of teaching grammar and its importance in the classroom.

Bartholomae, David. “The Study of Error.” College Composition and Communication, Vol 31, No. 3. 1980. 253-269.

In the academic journal article, “The Study of Error,” David Bartholomae argues the definition and application of “Basic Writing” in academic writing courses. Bartholomae develops his argument through literature review and case studies, including examples of his own classroom and students. Bartholomae writes in order to more clearly define what basic writing is and, as such, how to teach and communicate better to students in the classroom precisely what the goal is in learning how to write. Bartholomae writes this paper in order to challenge the teacher’s notion of what an error is, and in so doing can be killing a student or person’s particular voice in an effort to have uniform consistency. He says that “We have read, rather, as policemen, examiners, gate-keepers” (255). Bartholomae writes for teachers, attempting to redefine the idea of “basic writing.” Bartholomae saying that “we,” the teachers, have been policeman struck a very personal cord, and has me reexamining and thinking about the ways in which I have traditionally interacted with people on the topic of writing, and particularly when it comes time to correct or judge any piece of writing. I have said in the past that learning of “standard” english is a way of gentrifying culture and upholding the status quo. This is also true of the police who are often called in to quell disturbances against that same thing. I have to believe a writer knew what that word meant, even 40 years ago, in the comparison to teachers, but if not, it made me read the paper differently, not as a mere opinion, but more as a call to action.

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