Ives – Grammatical Assumptions

Ives, S. “Grammatical Assumptions.” College Composition and Communication 5.4 (1954): 149-55. Print. 

In this article, Sumner Ives attempted to clear up the assumptions concerning grammar in English education. Ives began by making the distinction between the what he outlined as two major types of meaning in language 1) grammatical meaning and 2) lexical meaning. Grammatical meaning, according to Ives, refers to structural meanings expressed through words like “the” and “did,” and by tone, pause, pitch, and stress. This, Ives said, falls into the realm of the linguist. As the study and description of devices that convey structural meaning, Ives argued that there are different grammar rules for different languages (152).

Ives also worked to clarify the distinctions between grammar and rhetoric. While he stated grammar  is based on “public observance of certain conventions,” rhetoric on the other hand, is based on “private activity within the limits set by these conventions” (152). Ives asserted that the two influence each other reciprocally and are both necessary for English pedagogy for native English speakers.

One area that is of particular interest to me is Ives explication of this then new understanding of linguistic grammar as opposed to “traditional” grammar. He referred to traditional grammar as being the “retention of earlier methods of authority and reason” and as “rationalistic” (152). Linguistics, however, he described as “the application of modern methods of science and logic” (152). Traditional grammar, Ives pointed out, erroneously relied on one standard of grammar based in Latin. This type of assumption impeded “our” progress in understanding language (153). This seemed very promising in terms of a pedagogy that allowed for multiple understandings of language and communication, especially when Ives explained his view of usage.

Usage refers to the fact that not all people use the same structural or grammatical forms in making equivalent statements. Ives acknowledged that there can be differences of dialects within the same language and asserted it was pointless to discount different usages within English as not being English (154). However, he recognized that different dialects were associated with different social status, such as education level. Ives challenged the oversimplification of usage by education or class level in light of the notion of “universe of discourses” where (154). For example, speech and writing are different universes of discourse. Different usage can be considered correct, accepted, appropriate and characteristic only in terms of the universe of discourse (154).

Ives concluded that in terms of pedagogy “the student should be taught the usages proper to universes of discourse which he is not likely to learn about outside the school” (154). This sounds similar to helping students respond to particular rhetorical situations. Another rhetorical factor Ives alluded to is ethos: “If a new doctor or minister says “you was,” [instead of “you were”] confidence in him is lowered. Educated people should talk like educated people, no matter who is listening or what the occasion may be” (154). Inherent in these statements is a particular understanding of what it means to be educated, as well as a particular understanding of what “proper” grammar is, which by Ives’ own definition of grammar and usage is problematic. For example, if my response to this logic was “who the fuck says?” in stead of “we need to interrogate who gets to determine these rules?” would that be an indication that I was less intelligent? Or, is this just another example of the biases that our society has against dialects that do not come from white people of privileged social status, and the people that use them?

In the end, Ives advocated for a link between linguistics and literature stating that grammar is the foundation for rhetoric. Although he speaks about mastering “native language” it is clear that here he is referring to a standard form of English. Even so, his theories could also be applied to language policies, such as Students’ Rights to Their Own Language.

“Reading enables people to extend their experience, to see the world through other eyes and know it in terms of other concepts and attitudes, for these are implicit in language. In fact, one can argue convincingly that a man has not fully mastered his native language until he has read widely in it, particularly those writings which we call imaginative or creative. It follows, too, that increase in experience, in breadth and depth of experience, results in knowledge of more words and greater facility in the use of language. I regret, as you see, the tendency to regard linguistics and literature as separate fields with little to say to each other and in the position of rivals as teachers of composition” (154).

 

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