Thursday 28 February 2013

On bringing books back from the grave

The correspondents that motivate these posts have multiplied over the past few weeks, as the realization dawns among teachers and students in the UK that grammar (or at least a Govian interpretation of grammar) is back. Leaving aside the question of how poorly the subject is being presented - that’s a topic for another day - I've been inundated with requests for advice about how to cope with the demands suddenly being placed upon teachers, many of whom have had little opportunity to accumulate the kind of knowledge they need to implement the directives. An email that came in this week was typical: its subject line was ‘The subjunctive - a cry for help’. And I write this post after talking to a ‘grammar day’ in Buckinghamshire - the first I suspect of several that will be organized this year, as English advisors try to assuage the grammar panic that I sense is widespread.

The first signs of this panic appeared following the publication of the draft documents last year. And it was then that I decided to reintroduce the wheel, in the form of the series I published at the request of Longman in the early 1990s, when the National Curriculum for English was first presented. It was called Language A to Z, and consisted of two student books (aimed at Key Stages 3 and 4) and a Teacher’s Book, containing an alphabetically ordered set of all the language terms mentioned in the government documents of the time - about 200 relating to grammar, and another 200 or so on other linguistic topics. In fact, the books ended up being used at all sort of levels, from KS2 to A-level. But this is all history, as Longman let them go out of print after a few years.

The situation today seems to be exactly the same as the situation in the early 1990s. There is a renewed concentration on terminology - ‘naming of parts’ - and a focus on structures, with a sad disregard for context, meaning, and use. Indeed, the clock has gone further back than that - more like it was in the 1960s. Regrettable as that is - and I don’t underestimate the importance (or the difficulty) of continuing to argue for change - the urgent question is how to help the situation for teachers right now. I've therefore spent the past few weeks revising and updating Language A to Z, and, thanks to the collaboration of the Librios publishing platform, making these available again as e-publications. The two e-books were launched today - a single integrated student book, and a companion teacher’s book - and they will also be shortly available as pdfs and as print-on-demand items.

My whole website is being redesigned, as a consequence, and things look a bit like a half-built house at the moment, but I wanted to get the books out there as quickly as possible, in the hope that they will help. They can be accessed here. In due course, other books requested from my out-of-print backlist will be made available in this way. The next two, which will be available later in March, will be Words on Words and Language Play. If the blogger link doesn't work, for inexplicable reasons, the URL is


Elisabet Tiselius said...

Books going out of print is indeed a problem, a little surprising with the e-book hype, but it seems as if the "popular" books exist on all platforms both analogue and digital whereas older or less spread books are doomed to dark oblivion.
Anyhow this comment was actually just to tell you that the link to the books in you last paragraph does not appear to work.
Kind Regards,

DC said...

Thanks for this notification. It's a puzzle, as some people are finding the link OK, but I just tried it and it produces a blank for me too. Nothing wrong with my HTML. So I've added the URL for those for whom the link doesn't work.

vasudha said...

Thanks for writing about this.

This post made me think of how I was taught grammar in India when I was in school, about 20-25 years ago. English as a subject was divided into Literature and Language, and the Language section was all about its use and the development of what I now think of as a "grammar instinct". We did a lot of "exercises" (examples that showed different sorts of usage), often using samples from an old old grammar book called "High School English Grammar and Composition" or something like that by Wren and Martin. The emphasis in our school was always on using things correctly, not the names and rules. As a result, I don't always know the grammatical labels but have a very good ear for grammar, much better than many native speakers.

Unknown said...

Can't wait to get a copy of Words on Words!

DC said...

As you can imagine, WoW was the largest and most complicated book to input, but it's done now, and we hope to have it accessible in a couple of weeks.

languagehat said...

Kory Stamper has an excellent post on grammar and National Grammar Day (it's a US thing), which I commend to everyone's attention.

DC said...

Thanks for that link.

Sanja said...

Dear David,
To begin with, I really liked this post. I am a big fan of your work, and it's a shame that all of your books cannot be found in my country. This is a great opportunity for us to read these books and I just wanted to let you know that you have done a great thing! I am not a fan of e-books but due to the circumstances mentioned above, this is the only way for me to find them. Thanks again for everything you have written and thus enabled students in Serbia to understand linguistics and the English language in a completely new and wonderful way!
Kind Regards,

Nigeriakan said...

Good day, sir. I never knew you had a blog until this morning when I saw your name listed among the recommended blogs on Language 52. I fell in love with you after I read 'English As A Global Language' in my school library (but I must confess I did some photocopy of it, I'm sorry for this --I could not find the book here in Nigeria). In fact, I have made you my role-model since then.
EAAGL has inspired me to write an article and I still use it as reference books. I anm in my village for a break now, but I will like to buy your WoW when it comes out. I love you because of your writings. Thank you and God bless!

DC said...

Words on Words is now available as an ebook, with search facilities, on the new website, as from today.