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Linguistic science and the teaching of composition.

The most common result of the teaching of English and composition is not the creation of good writers and speakers, but the creation, in most of the public, of a lifelong fear of grammatical errors. Grammar is, like logic, what Charles W. Morris calls, in Signs, Language and Behavior, a systemic discipline. And the ordinary result of systemic disciplines is to make discourse possible. Such, naturally, is our avowed purpose as teachers of English. But somehow or other the purpose is subverted by our methods. To be sure, we help some of our students to speak and write better. But the majority of fair-to-middling students leave the English class feeling that "correct English," like moral perfection, is something that they cannot hope to attain. Burdened, as the result of our castigations, by a sense of linguistic Original Sin, they depart from school feeling, like those Puritans who felt that whatever was fun must be sinful, that whatever sounds natural must be wrong. It is tragic that most Americans suffer, with respect to the use of their own language, especially in formal or semiformal situations, a discomfort or malaise that can only be described as a mild form of anxiety neurosis.

Neurotic behavior is what we all exhibit when confronted with a problem situation that appears to us insoluble. One way of avoiding neurosis is to avoid the situations that bring it on. When avoidance is impossible, we are put into a state of more or less acute tension and anxiety - and the tension and anxiety make us still less capable of solving the problem. In such a condition we exhibit unnatural, awkward, or inappropriate behavior; sometimes we are reduced to paralysis.
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Title Annotation:Fifty Years Ago in ETC
Author:Hayakawa, S.I.
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Date:Jun 22, 1999
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