Problematic Textbook*

posted Nov 23, 2014, 3:41 AM by Nicky Guinto   [ updated Nov 24, 2014, 7:31 AM ]

This is to call your attention on a potentially erroneous discussion of commas, and pauses and stops, found in a textbook provided by DepEd. Here are my arguments: (1) The example may have been inadvertently interchanged based on the context given in the book and conventions in academic and social registers of spoken and written English; and (2) The “rules” provided to explain the point of using commas to represent “pauses and stops” in “utterances” may eventually lead to pupils overgeneralizing pauses and stops in utterances printed in texts to be symbolically represented ONLY by commas. To explain these further:


(1) The example may have been inadvertently interchanged based on the context given in the book and conventions in academic and social registers of spoken and written English.

 

The conversation, as pictured below, does not expressly indicate the names of the speakers. So naturally, the pupils may infer that the girls in the picture know each other very well, that they do not need to address each other deliberately in the conversation. Nevertheless, the context, in consideration of conventions in written English (in which the sample thought balloons seem to inappropriately adopt because of the use of commas – a feature of the written language (Kirkman, 2006)) considered using what we term in higher English as “Direct Address”.

In structural grammar, a “direct address” is a noun by which a person is addressed that can either come before or immediately after an independent clause, set off by a comma (Celce-Murcia & Freeman, 2008). The utterance “Gracia, the girl standing across the street is my best friend.” contains a direct address (Gracia) and an independent clause (the girl standing across the street is my best friend). Therefore, Gracia and the girl standing across the street are two different persons contrary to the explanation of the textbook’s author which can be seen in the following:




The same idea applies in functional grammar, which renames “direct address” as “vocative adjunct”. Vocative adjuncts function to control the discourse by designating a likely “next speaker” (Eggins, 1994). Please see the following example taken from Eggins:

 

Simon, everyone knows that.

 

In the utterance, Simon is the vocative adjunct or the direct address, separated by a comma with the rest of the independent clause (everyone knows that). Simon and everyone are clearly two personas.

 

In the other utterance (Barbie, that girl in red walking behind the four girls, is my sister.), conventions of written English would dictate that it contains a noun phrase (that girl in red walking behind the four girls) embedded within an independent clause (Barbie is my sister.). The noun phrase appears immediately after the subject of the main clause and is separated by two commas from the main clause. Because it is “written” in that form in the thought balloons (the example), it functions as an appositive in the utterance. An appositive is a nominal (a word, phrase, or clause that functions as a noun) renames and clarifies the subject. In other words, the subject and the appositive are supposed to be the same person. Therefore, in the textbook’s example, Barbie and the girl in red walking behind the four girls is the same person contrary to the explanation of the textbook’s author which can be seen below:

 


            Moreover, an appositive, as it is separated by two commas in the beginning and end to separate it from the main clause is usually non-restrictive. As such, it can be removed from the sentence without necessarily changing the meaning of the main clause.

 

            Having said these, in the activity part in the next page, considering the accepted rules of usage in academic and social English either in written and spoken form, the following answers should have been correct:

 

 


1.       (Questionable!) Jenny/ the old man with a cane/ is my grandfather. (Another example given in the book)

(This example however, means that Jenny is the grandfather; that Jenny is the old man with a cane – which may be confusing because “Jenny” is regarded in society as a female name)

 

2.      Roy / the boy with a red cap / is my brother. (Roy and boy are the same person)

3.      Judy / the woman with long hair is my aunt. (addressing Judy)

4.      Tony / the boy with a blue T-shirt / is my friend. (Tony and the boy are the same person)

5.      Allan / the boy wearing barong-Tagalog is my classmate. (addressing Tony)

 

 

(2) The “rules” provided to explain the point of using commas to represent “pauses and stops” in “utterances” may eventually lead to pupils overgeneralizing pauses and stops in utterances printed in texts to be symbolically represented ONLY by commas.

 

            Another point I wish to raise may not immediately affect the pupils while learning the meaning-making potentials of pauses and stops in utterances. However, because these kids are in their formative years, they may generalize this “rule” pictured below as “law” when they start learning about the marked differences between the spoken and written forms of English, which may not be much of a problem had the earlier explanations in the textbook followed the more generic meanings that placement of commas in certain places in a “printed” utterance create.

 

 

            It must be pointed out as well that in functional grammar (the one which the lesson obviously attempts to adopt), the term “utterance” refers to strands of spoken discourse. Its counterpart, which is “sentence”, is commonly used to refer to strands of written discourse. As it has been indicated earlier, commas are features of written discourse. Forward slash ( / ) should have been mentioned by the author as another option to symbolically represent pauses and stops in an utterance, which ironically appears in the activity in the following page without any mention of it in the lesson proper. Thus, consistency of the lessons and activities was another questionable matter.

 

 

            This is, of course, not to discount the credibility of the author and DepEd to write and evaluate the content of the textbook respectively, but to point out that there may be some inconsistencies that may have not been seen in the process of development and production of the textbook perhaps due to the urgent need for such textbook in schools. As a concerned citizen, and a teacher of English myself, I am compelled to ensure that such inconsistencies are properly addressed in the grassroots level so as not leave our children learning potentially false concepts that they may bring along in the next level of their schooling. After all, I am sure we are one in the goal of providing the best possible instruction we can give to them.

 

 

 

References

 Celce-Murcia, M., & Larsen-Freeman, D. (2008). The grammar book: An EFL/ESL teacher’s course. Singapore: Heinle.

Eggins, S. (1994). An introduction to systemic functional linguistics. London, U.K.: St. Martins.

Kirkman, J. (2006). Punctuation matters, 4th Ed. New York, USA: Routlege.

 

 * This was in a letter form I forwarded to the Grade 4 teacher who asked her pupils to do the activity.

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