Crap Books 3

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Grammar book

Celce-Murcia, M. and Larsen-Freeman, D. (2004) “The Grammar Book: An ESL/EFL Teacher’s Course”. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle.

This is another book that’s sold hundreds of thousands of copies to the gullible reader of “Recommended Books For This Course” in MA courses all over the planet. The publisher says that the authors hope that the book will “help budding teachers overcome the negative associations which grammar has for so many, so that “some actually come away from the experience believing,” the authors say, “as we do, that learning grammar is fun!” (p. 10). The fun comes from the intellectual challenge of figuring out the rules of grammar; this is not a simplistic text giving clever one-liners and maxims to use in class.”

I suppose learning grammar can be fun, and that there’s fun of a certain kind to be had from the intellectual challenge of figuring out the rules of grammar. But, let me tell you, there’s no fun to be had from trying to figure out what the hell these two are on about, and why they take so long to say it. This is a really crap book: it’s boring, laborious, tedious and a good example of overkill. If you decide to sit down and work your way through this book, hide the razor blades.

As one reviewer says “This is an immense book”. Well, there’s no questioning that! There are thirty-six chapters, one less than in the 1983 edition, but with 200 additional pages! God help us all!

Authoritative works by the likes of Quirk, R., Greenbaum, S., Leech, G. and Svartvik, J. (1985); Huddleston, R. (1984); or Greenbaum, S. (1996) (see the page on “Grammar Paper” in this website for details), are meant to be references works, like encyclopedias or dictionaries. You go to them when you need information about a specific area. But The Grammar Book is not authoritative at all, and it’s almost impossible to use as a reference work. For example, its re-worked Chapter 16 on “Reference and Possession” is hopelessly obtuse and unnecessarily difficult to follow, and contains an overload of information about so many different parts of speech that it’s very hard to find the bit you might be looking for. Similarly, the chapters on phrase structure rules, which in this second edition are even more tedious than before, make locating a specific point a real challenge. These chapters have, according to the proud publisher, “gone through extensive revision to allow for a smoother introduction of the rules, making the organization of the rules determine the examples given, as opposed to the previous edition when the examples governed the order of introduction for the phrase structure rules. Now, the first ten rules on sentences, adverbials, and noun phrases are introduced together, with rules on predicates following in the next chapter”. Imagine! Better, don’t.

The great Charlie Parker, that king of jazz, said “When in doubt, leave it out”. This book takes exactly the opposite approach. And it’s like the 2 authors have no idea of how to say anything succinctly. Every damn last tiny bit of English grammar is taken apart and described in such detail that you feel like shouting out “All right! OK! That’s enough! No more, please, no more!” To add to the length and tedium of it all, the book shows great reverence and concern for all the grammarians who went before: everybody who ever said anything about grammar is here! One can imagine the two authors anxiously re-reading the massive manuscript for a hundredth time to look for things they might have left out: “Oh my goodness, we haven’t mentioned J. Thribb 1897!”. The gerund is, as we know, now more commonly referred to as the “ing” form, but it takes our authors 50 pages to tell us so, because, well, there’s just so much to say about it, now isn’t there, and, of course, everything has to be put in its proper place. I bet their bathrooms are squeaky clean. I don’t think there’s a clear, unequivocal grammar rule in this whole huge tome – how could there be if you’re so obsessed with being fair to everybody and her sister’s view of the matter!

Then there are what the publishers refer to as “refreshing discussions of different scholars’ theories on how and why English operates the way it does”. They’re about as refreshing as re-visiting Scunthorpe. There are also exercises all over the place to check you’ve read the text carefully, and of course one of the appendices gives “suggested answers” to them – nothing definitive, of course, just suggestions. Lots!

Sack

Saville-Troike’s 2004 Inroducing SLA. New York, CUP.

Here’s what Kevin Gregg said:

“Has this ever happened to you? Summer vacation has started, you’ve just settled in to your cabin on the lake, when suddenly you remember: You have a contract to write an introduction to SLA, and the manuscript is due next week. What do you do? Well, if you decide not to go back to the office and actually work, you might try to write down as many of the standard topics as come to mind—learning versus acquisition, performance versus competence, morpheme acquisition, processability, critical period, UG, connectionism, and so forth—and scribble a few anodyne lines about each, without actually providing any details about any. If you did that, you might wind up with something not too different from Saville-Troike’s truly embarrassing new book. …

It would be unjustified praise to call this book superficial: If the discussion were any shallower, it would be convex. ….

This is a slim volume, and yet it manages to pack into its small space as much tedium as can be found in a whole issue of the Federal Register while still leaving the uninformed reader as uninformed as before. I can think of no introductory textbook, in any field, that so thoroughly, scandalously, fails as this one does.”

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