The Case for an
A Research Analysis of Twelve
“Once the treasure of good English is yours , you can walk with
kings. None can take it from you.” --Hadida, 1927
Texts for advanced grammar school level and beyond:
Albert Cook (1895) Exercises in Old English
Simon Kerl's (1862) A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language for the Use of Schools.
William Swinton's (1880) English Grammar and Composition: A Grammar Containing the Etymology
and Syntax of the English Language.
John and Helen Erskine's (1910) Written English: A Guide to the Rules of Composition
Sophie Hadida's (1927) Pitfalls in English and How to Avoid Them
Texts for compulsory elementary education:
Richard Edwards and J. Russell Webb's (1867) Analytical Third Reader
J. Madison Watson's (1868) Independent Fourth Reader
Daniel Webster's (1876) Webster's Youthful Speaker
Joseph A. Turner (1879) A Handbook of Punctuation
John Kennedy's (1890) A Stem Dictionary of the English Language for Use in Elementary Schools
George Lyman Kittredge and Sarah Louise Arnold (1908) The Mother Tongue: Book II An Elementary
William Frank Webster and Alice Woodworth Cooley (1910)The New Webster-Cooley Course in
English: First Book, New York State Edition with Selections for Memorizing.
The Concept of ‘Language’
“Thoughts disentangle passing over the lips.--Kennedy, 1890
Kerl (1862), “The pupil should constantly bear in mind, that language is made to suit the world, and not the
world to suit language. The properties of words arise generally from the nature or relations of objects" (p. 5).
Swinton (1880), “Language is the expression of thought by means of spoken or written words. Grammar is the
science that treats of the principles of language" (p. 1).
Kennedy (1890), “Language is the external representative of thought. It is not only the means of expressing
thought, but it is also the necessary means or condition of extended thinking” (p. iii, preface).
Kittredge & Arnold (1938), “language is the expression of thought by means of spoken or written words"
(p. xiii). They continue, "All language, however, is really the expression of thought by means of signs;
for spoken words are signs made with the voice, and written words are signs made with the pen" (p. iii).
Erskine (1910), “To teach language is to help another to develop the power of communicating his
own thought and feeling, of expressing himself. This is to develop the life of that self, since clear definite
thought and clear direct expression are inseparable” (p. iii).
The Study of Language
"Language is one of the most delicate and complicated instruments which men use, and a study of its laws and their
application is a worthy occupation for the mind. "
--Kittredge & Arnold, 1908
Kerl (1862) contends that language can be studied practically, historically, and metaphysically. He
categorizes language analysis as metaphysical (p. 85). A sentence is merely so much of discourse as makes
a complete thought in the view of the person uttering it; a proposition is a single combination of such
words as make a predication, judgment, or thought; and a phrase is merely two or more words rightly
put together for thought, without expressing a predication (p. 58).
Swinton (1880) the study of the English language is intertwined with the study of grammar
because language is composed of sentences and sentences are made up of words.
Etymology and syntax are the two principal divisions of English grammar (p. 2).
"The study of grammar contains four components: orthography, etymology,
syntax, and prosody”(p. 2).
The Study of Language Continued...
Kennedy (1890) stated that there are three aspects of
language study. These include: analysis, etymology,
and philology (p.v).
There are three aspects of language study, occurring properly in three successive
stages, and having sharply defined limits, viz.: first, analysis, which ends with
stem values, following a language to its foundation-stones, and stopping there;
second, etymology, which considers the antecedent history of stems; and third,
philology, which considers the collateral relationship of stems. The first subject
should never be omitted at all, and should be taught systematically in the six
years prior to high school; the second subject should never be omitted from the
high school; and the third subject should be a feature of every college course (p. v).
The ‘Catch-22’ of Living, Changing Language
"Language not only exists, but lives, grows, and decays. It is not a dead mechanism,
but a living organism. Words and modes of expression, are constantly coming into use;
others, passing out of use; and others, assuming new burdens of meaning, and
perhaps losing their old."
Alsup et al (2006) "Living in a cyber world has transformed the very nature of literacy
itself” (p. 284).
Kittredge and Arnold (1908)
Language never stands still. Every language, until it dies (that is, until it ceases to
be spoken at all), is in a state of continual change. The English which we speak
and write is not the same English that was spoken and written by our
grandfathers, nor was their English precisely like that of Queen Elizabeth's time
(p. xvii, Development of Language).
Rationale for the Study of Old English
The author's experience in the teaching of Old English has persuaded him
that exercises for translation into Old English would
serve a useful purpose. A sufficient reading knowledge is often
acquired before there is any adequate mastery of forms. Such
mastery is of the first importance, considering that Old English
is studied quite as much for the light it sheds upon the subsequent
development of English speech as for any other reason…yet it is
not easy to induce the student to make the requisite effort
[to study Old English] when he no longer finds especial difficulty in
reading the text” (p. iii, preface).
The New Words of Yesterday…
Kittredge and Arnold (1908)
New words and phrases are always springing up, whether to name new
things and ideas or merely for the sake of variety in expression. Thus within
the memory of persons now living the words telegraph, telegram,
telephone, dynamo, and the like, have come into existence and made
good their place in the English language.
(p. xix, Development of Language)
[cell-phone, internet, mouse pad, digital voice recorder, camcorder, fax
machine, walkman, pac-man, type-writer…]
That Dang Slang!
Kittredge and Arnold (1908)
Now and then, however, a slang word gets a footing in good use and so keeps its
place in the language. Thus, mob, snob, boss, chum, were originally slang, but
are now recognized members of the English vocabulary (p. xix).
The surface objection to slang is the vulgarity it suggests. The deeper objection is
that the speaker is too lazy or too stupid to find the exact word for his idea; therefore he uses a formula-which is a substitute for a thought. When a boy says of a girl,
"She's a peach," he is using a perfectly good word; and if we had not heard the
formula before, we should think it original and striking, if a bit cannibalistic. But when
we know that the same word may be diverted to the praise of a cigar or a hair cut,
we understand that the boy has expressed himself, more than he has expressed
his thought (p. 12).
Do not pick up every new, popular, and pertinent expression that
you hear on the vaudeville stage.. .Such a word is "movies." At first
the purist said "moving picture theater." A long expression for a popular
amusement could not possibly survive. Now, those who were strong in
their opposition to the word "movies, which they considered inelegant,
are using it (pp. 4-5).
Well- chosen words, correctly pronounced and grammatically used, are
the hall-mark of enlightened persons. They constitute your passport to
culture and advancement. They are indispensable to progress in business
and society. They mark your station; they open and close doors to
further opportunity, to fuller enjoyment (p. iv).
The Importance of Brevity for New Word Longevity
Pokemon (Pocket Monster)
SCUBA (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus
LASER (light amplification stimulated by the emission of radiation)
cell phone (cellular telephone)
LP (long play album)
DS (dual screen)
LCD (liquid crystal display)
CRT (cathode ray tube)
DVR (digital voice recorder)
VCR (video cassette recorder)
PC (personal computer)
PSP (play station portable)
CD-ROM (compact disc read only memory)
RAM (random access memory)
Slang Words To Avoid
Hadida (1927, pp. 5-6)
•cut it out
Kerl (1862, p. xi)
Low, vulgar, or provincial expressions should be avoided. Such are, "To get into a
scrape," "To play the 'possum,’". . . ."To bark up the wrong tree,”"To get the hang of” "To
have a fair shake at," and many others, which we decline to quote for fear
the learner should catch them.
Kittredge and Arnold (1908)
(1)A construction which is ungrammatical in modern
English cannot be defended by quoting Shakspere [sic].
(2) Shakspere [sic] must not be accused of "bad grammar"
because he does not observe all the rules of modern
(pp. xx-xxi, General Principals)
The Uncouth Passive Verb Form
Our language occasionally needs forms to express in the continuative
Passive sense those verbs whose perfect participles imply completion;
and, as necessity makes slaves of us all, the foregoing uncouth passive
forms [The ship is being caulked. Your friend is being buried.. .Such form
are avoided by the best writers.] are rather gaining ground…The uncouth
forms are used in only the present and the past indicative; for such forms
as had been being built, might be being built, might have been being
built, die of sheer ugliness (p. 236).
Educational Trends of Yesteryear
Soon after (the publishing of Progressive Grammar in 1872), however,
The experience of the school-room led the author to believe-as a like
experience was leading many others to believe-that a method of
language-training quite different from that mainly in vogue was
necessary: there arose, in fact, the thought of language as one thing,
and of grammar as another thing; and in this view it seemed that a
suitable apparatus of elementary instruction was yet to be supplied.
This conviction took shape in the books known as Language Primer,
Language Lessons, and School Composition (p. iv, preface).
This book also works well with the recent "broadening
and readjustment of the scheme of language-study in
the public schools." A "progressive and graduated
course of training in the mother-tongue.. .beginning
in practice and ending in theory" is now the trend
(p. iv, preface).
On Sentence Complexity
Critics have too generally condemned long sentences.
Some of the long sentences in our old English
writers carry rich clusters of thought with them, and
are like bomb-shells in effect.
Grammars, too, are generally filled with such sentences
as, "The sun shines," and "The sky is blue;" while long
and difficult ones seem to be studiously avoided (p. 85).
(Examples of Text Bias from 1862 to 1910)
features classics by such authors as Milton, Coleridge, Shakespeare, Aesop, and E.A. Poe
traditional Judeo-Christian values from Harper's Magazine and the Bible also featured
Prejudices: "Law and lawyers abound in tautology and redundancy, and sometimes in
needless technical terms" (Kerl, 1862, p. 283).
Themes promoting morality and spirituality
(select readings: Never Sulk or Frown, Obeying Orders, and Business First and Pleasure After)
Excerpt from Please get it now, Brother : "Children, are you kind to one another? Or are you
cross, and selfish, and fretful! Remember, the time will come when your brother, or
sister, or playmate, will die" (Edwards & Webb, 1867, pp. 26-27).
Perennial classics (Hawthorne, Dickens), “re-written, abridged, or otherwise
specially adapted to illustrate the principles of rhetorical delivery"
(Watson, 1868, p. v).
In determining their character and classification, the hypotheses have been
assumed, that, in the main, what healthy, intelligent children from seven to
twelve years of age really like is really best for them; that fascinating stories,
lively conversations, and vivid descriptions are preferable to facts of science, or
other writings that are chiefly didactic; and that exercises in reading should be
nearly on the level of the average child's mind-what it is just awake to, or
aiming at—rather than what, while suggesting maturer thought and feeling, is
beyond its present comprehension (pp. v-vi).
Remind you of anyone…? (Vygotsky)
Select readings: The Wonderful Pitcher, The Fireman's Dog, The Cat's Pilgrimage,
and Tom Twist.
However, we also find the promotion of Judeo-Christian values:
Supporting Mother, Helping Father, and The Drunkard’s Son
Theme of Temperance
The Temperance Song
Now if we have to work in the shop, field, or study,
And would have a strong hand and a cheek that is ruddy,
And would not have a brain that is addled and muddy,
With our eyes all banged up, and our noses all bloodyHow shall we make and keep ourselves so, do you think?
Why, we must have nothing but water to drink (Watson, 1868, p. 152).
Theme of Death
Death of Little Paul, Somebody's Darling, Wreck of the Hesperus, First
Progressive Grammar (Swinton,1872)
Published because many educators felt they were failing
"to teach the art of speaking and writing the English
language with propriety.”
This text is “an attempt to break loose from the shackles
of purely technical grammar--to strip it of fruitless
formalism, and to introduce the constructive element”
Some readings are whimsical, some promote Judeo-Christian values
Most readings are Patriotic (Webster, 1876)
An Appeal to Arms by Patrick Henry (p. 154)
Boston by Ralph Waldo Emerson (p. 179)
Flower of Liberty (p.190), and Old Ironsides (p. 130) both by Oliver Wendell Holmes
Paul Revere's Ride by Longfellow (p. 13I)
The War Inevitable-1775 by Patrick Henry (p. 103)
Very great care has been taken to make it a working class-book"
(Swinton, 1880, p. v).
Select authors: Shakspeare [sic], Milton, Byron, Scott, Irving,
Sentence exemplars a reflection of harsh realities
"When he had swum until his strength was exhausted, Tom threw up his arms and sank“
(p. 113, Compound and Complex Clauses).
"Whichever road you take, you will find it rough and lonely“p. 179, Compound Relative Pronouns
"My friend became haggard and despondent" (p. 186, Interrogative).
"Hundreds in this little town are in danger of starvation" (p. 209, Numerals).
"Egbert stood motionless, horrified at the sight" (p. 232, Verbs).
"I will shoot the first man that runs [Threat.]" (p. 239, Future Tense).
"The bridge will be swept away by the flood" (p. 247, Conjugation).
"The bank was robbed last night" (p. 247, Conjugation).
"To toil is the lot of mankind" (p. 268, Infinitive as Modifier).
"The poor dog did nothing but whine piteously" (p. 268, Infinitive as Modifier).
"The birds refused to sing on that sullen day" (p. 271, Infinitive as Modifier).
--from Kittredge and Arnold, 1908
Webster and Cooley (1910): A precursor to the "happy" and contrived
elementary readers common in American classrooms from the 1940's to the late
1970's. (ie. Fun with Dick and Jane)
Examples of readings from Webster and Cooley's (1910) 'happy' reader
include: Good Times at Home, Vacation, Autumn Pleasures, Holidays,
Kindness to Animals, Adventures, Interesting Cities, Birds, Knights and
their Adventures, Discoverers and Explorers, and Outdoor life and Pleasures.
Examples of contrived sentences to illustrate the Use of "Went" and "Gone"
1. The children went to their father when his day's work was done.
2. Every evening they went to his study.
3. We often go to our grandfather's home.
4. We went last year and he made us a swing.
5. We have gone there every summer that I remember.
(Webster and Cooley, 1910, p. 5)
Classic selections for study and memorizing as required by New York State Syllabus, 1910.
Selections by such authors as Tennyson, Longfellow, and Wordsworth.
"Words should drop from the lips as beautiful coins newly issued from the
mint,--deeply and accurately impressed, perfectly finished, neatly struck by
the proper organs, distinct, sharp, in due succession, and of due weight."
--Austin as quoted by Kerl, 1862
Let the examination bring out clearly the true and full meaning of each sentence,
and so fill up the "skeleton of words: as to form in the pupil's mind a beautiful
reality. Such a filling up, and only such, will give proper meaning to words and
invest this meaning with life and animation. It will surely break up the dead
monotony so often found, let thoroughness be the motto. Let whatever is done be
--Edwards and Webb, 1867, p. 21
Literature voices a wider range of the good, the true, the beautiful than any other
art; and of all arts it is the most conveniently available. It would be well if not
only the dictionary, but the arithmetic, the geography, the grammar, indeed, every
branch of study, could be saturated with song.
--Kennedy, 1890, p. vii
Errors and Corrections
"We should not make little fishes talk like whales. "
--Kittredge & Arnold, 1908, p. xxi
In familiar speech our verbal deportment is often careless, and even when we rise
to the best
manner we are capable of, our spoken word is almost never so Dignified nor so
accurate as our
written speech. (p. 11).
Zealous Purists: Turner (1879), Kerl(1862) and (to a lesser extent),
Of the exercises to be corrected.. .I have read some work or works from every State in the
Union, in order that
the book may show all the various kinds of errors which are now current, like undetected
counterfeit money, in
the various parts of our country. If children imbibed no errors at home, it were well to
exclude such exercises
from grammars; but when a person has already caught a disease, I suppose it is best to
convince him of his
condition, and show him how to get rid of it.
(Kerl, 1862, p. iii)
Motivating Students-Webster & Cooley (1910)
Give the poem or story first as a whole, without interruption or comment:
whole, because only in its unity does it reveal its great central meaning
beauty; without comment, because each listener is entitled to "the joy of
discovery,"-to his own personal interpretation, no matter how crude and
faulty (p. vii).
Rules of grammar do not fashion speech; they record its crystallization.
never establish habits of correct usage, though they may serve to make
more intelligent and self-directive. They may throw light on the path of
it is the effort, the determined effort, the repeated effort, that
conquers (p. v).
Style and Usage
Kittredge and Arnold (1908)
One may speak or write grammatically and still not speak or write in
called a good style. In other words, language may be grammatical
being clear, forcible, and in good taste.. .Good style, then, is
grammatical correctness, but grammatical correctness does not
with it good style (p. xvii).
The rules of grammar get their authority from usage (p. xxii). In addition,
"by usage is meant the practice of the best writers or speakers,
the habits of the community in which a person happens to live”
designed to be read aloud in mock heroic style (Webster, 1876)
In promulgating your esoteric cogitations,
articulating your superficial
amicable, philosophical, or psychological
observations, beware of platitudinous
Let your conversational communications
clarified conciseness, a compacted
comprehensibleness, a coalescent consistency, and a
Eschew all conglomerations of flatulent
jejune babblement and asinine affectation.
Sedulously avoid all
pompous prolixity, psittaceous
verbosity and vaniloquent
Shun double entendres,
pestiferous profanity, obscurant
In other words, talk plainly,
briefly, naturally, sensibly,
truthfully, purely. Keep from
"slang;" don't "put on airs;"
say what you mean; mean what you
And don 't use big words (p.
"There is probably not, in the compass of human knowledge, a more
chaotic subject than punctuation.”
Punctuation for the purpose of making meaning clearer was invented by the Alexandrine
grammarians, but this system was forgotten by the time of Charlemagne (786-8 14). The
present system was introduced by Aldo Manuzio (1449-1515), a celebrated Italian printer,
whose name is preserved in the Aldine editions of the classic authors. The system now in
use is substantially that of Manuzio (p. 28).
Of all the points the dash (--) is perhaps used the most lawlessly in being used interchangeably with nearly all the others.. .It is mainly rhetorical in its functions, but is also to some
extent grammatical (p. 61).
A perfect style, then, is so transparent a medium for the thought as to become itself invisible,--a
trainof words presenting the meaning so well and impressively that it passes by itself unobserved
(Coleridge in Kerl, 1862, p. 283).
Five Perennial Dilemmas of English Education in America
Students Lack Preparation for Everyday Life
It is generally admitted, at least by those persons who frequently have occasion to
write the English language, that the knowledge of this subject, obtained in our
Schools is not sufficient for the various requirements of life.
--Kerl, 1862, p. iii
Out of 191 million adults in the US, as many as 44 million cannot read a newspaper
or fill out a job application. Another 50 million more cannot read or
comprehend above the eighth grade level.
--Roberts, 1998, Illiteracy on the Rise in America
Students Lack Preparation for Writing in
A certain mass of errors, due to carelessness as much as
anything else, appears in the writing of every Freshman class; and we have
assumed that those same errors probably trouble the average graduate of the
Schools, whether he is a college student or not.
--Turner, 1879, p. vii
Currently, he notes (Kirst, 2003), 45 percent of undergraduates in America
attend Community colleges, up 10 percent in the past decade. For these
students, as well as those who attend nonselective four-year colleges, the
real issue is not whether they will be admitted, but whether they can pass a
placement exam to exempt them from remedial courses.
--Rigoglioso, 2005, from the Stanford Report
Teachers do not have enough time to properly
cover the curriculum
In our schools, there is time for the practical only.
--Kerl, 1862, p. 85
Findings indicate that the context of curriculum decision making
is dominated by the state curriculum framework at all three
participatory levels. The dominance and acceptance of the state's role
district reinforcement tended to preclude teacher
empowerment. Teachers cited lack of time as the major barrier
to effective decision making.
--Andersen and Klein, 1990
(from A Study of Curriculum Decision Making in a Time of Site Based Management)
Prioritizing the Practical over the Aesthetic
The motive actuating much of the elementary education of the day is so
practical as to have grossly materialistic, if not actually sordid, tendencies. How to
get rich receives more attention than how to see a sunset or how to despise a lie or a mean action.
There is a demand for dime novels because of the intensely
practical nature of our universal education. The moral, the aesthetic, the spiritual
needs and conditions seem to have been only too completely overlooked.
--Kennedy, 1890, pp. vi-vii
The federal No Child Left Behind Act, MCAS, and declines in state aid have had
a profound effect on the role of arts and culture in our schools. Unfortunately, No
Child Left Behind does not mandate testing in the arts and MCAS does not assess
student abilities in the arts. As a result arts, humanities and even the sciences are
increasingly marginalized in the curriculum, since schools and districts inevitably
prioritize those subjects that are tested.
--Hunter, 2004, from Culture is Our Commonwealth
What constitutes ‘good English’ anyway?
A common species of nonsense and pedantry is the grandiloquent use of
learned language, when the speaker or writer has nothing to say, or does
not himself comprehend, or only in a shadowy way, what he pretends to
explain or prove to others.
--Kerl, 1862, p. 285
A common current myth about American English is that it is being ruined by massmedia. Even Prince
Charles has claimed that the "bloody " Americans are ruining the English language. Noted writers such
as E. D. Hirsch (1987) and Edwin Newman (1974) assert that English is in its postmortem stages
because of so much linguistic variation. However, according to Robert MacNeil and William
Cran in their book Do You Speak American?, this variation is a result not of linguistic misuse or decay,
but rather of America's increasing diversity and ongoing population shifts.
--Orosco, 2005, Do You Speak American? (Bilingual Research Journal)
The (Perpetual) Call for Education Reform in
Public education is based largely on the principle that it is easier to form
than to reform-that it is easier to take children and make men of them than
to restore them to manhood after they have become profligate. Communities
have learned that the hope of the future lies in the improvement of the children.
When Germany lay crushed under the iron heel of the first Napoleon...the great
philosopher Fichte sent forth the famous utterance: "There is still one thing that
we can do for Germany; we can improve our children, and they will save our
history." Immediately the German free-school system sprang into existence,
And all are compelled to admit that Germany still has a history.
—Kennedy, 1890, p. 97
The (Perpetual) Call for Education Reform in
English education, positioned as it is between theory and
practice, between university and school, between bureaucratic
hierarchy and community, holds a unique position to help
re-direct attention in the debate from argument and
disengagement toward a genuine dialogue that might serve as
for reforming schools in ways that support our
teachers and tap their expertise,
promote our political and economic interests in the global
marketplace, and foster traditional American values of justice
–Alsup, 2006, p. 286
…we need to remember that the
perspective we gain by looking into
the past can only serve to add
clarity and conviction to the
dialogues which are necessary on
federal, state, and local levels
today. We must remember our
origins as we embrace today's new
literacies. Learning from the
mistakes and successes of those
who have gone before us can only
serve to provide modern American
educators with a better informed
teaching stance for the problems
which face us in the 21 st century.