View Poll Results: Is Roger right, or is the textbook right?

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  • Roger is right--whoever wrote this textbook must have drunk or something

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Thread: Roger Mexico vs. the English Textbook

  1. #1
    Minister of Love Roger Mexico's Avatar
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    Roger Mexico vs. the English Textbook

    Well now, we don't have a Linguistics or even an Anthropology subforum, so I'll just put this here.

    I teach a high school English class (two, actually, this year--10th and 11th grade). These aren't TEFL-type classes--although I think maybe they should be--but rather courses based on the standardized English curriculum used in US public high schools. (Justified, ostensibly, by this being an English-immersion school which starts at the kindergarten level and the idea that students are supposed to be effectively bilingual by the time they get to the high school levels, although is only dubiously true in many cases.)

    Anyway, so I'm using this American high-school English textbook and have found that what my 10th grade students generally need before we can really do anything else (it's nominally a class on writing composition for the most part) is a total brass-tacks shakedown of English sentence structure and the components thereof. (They don't seem to have really picked this up in prior grades, although it's nominally part of the curriculum for those grades, for reasons I have a lot to say about but won't go into here.)

    I should also add that I'm not actually trained or certified to teach high school English, and have reached a point of strongly disagreeing with and even resenting the decision to give me this assignment. I'm at times out of my depth--I know the content, more or less, but I struggle to determine whether there are more effective teaching methods for it than the ones I'm using.

    Nonetheless, here I am, and I'm in the thick of trying to get 22 of them up to speed on topics like identifying "Parts of Speech" and the structure and function of phrases and clauses.

    Well, a problem I keep running up against is that the textbook I'm assigned to use for this is rather frequently presenting me with ideas that seem wrong to me. (Me with, again, a decent command of my native language and the concept of grammar but no formal training as a teacher of those things.) I'm regularly teaching, thinking I can just go from what I learned when I took these classes in high school, but then running into the fact that what I'm telling my students conflicts with what the textbook I'm telling them to read (and assigning them work from) says.

    I have no great confidence in high school textbooks as an overall genre of publication. From what I've read, it's quite shocking how little involvement any competent people have in the process of writing them.

    However, I'm very cognizant of the fact that these could just be errors on my part, so I'm submitting these questions to you, the board, and especially the amateur/professional grammarians among you, because I know you exist.

    I've had two major hiccups along these lines to date:

    Number 1 is perhaps a trivial matter of vocabulary, but did cause a lot of confusion because I hadn't quite realized that the problem existed yet:

    I was under the impression that there are three possible "noun numbers" (or number-states of nouns) available in English. You either have one of a discrete item you can count, you have more than one of a discrete item you can count, or you have a perhaps measurable but non-countable quantity of something which doesn't exist in the form of discrete units. (Like "love", "water", or "cheese", although these words do also exist in countable forms with different meanings.)

    As I distinctly recall, the term for a noun describing exactly one discrete unit of a countable item is "singular", the term for a noun describing two or more discrete units of a countable item is "plural", and the term for a noun describing a non-countable substance is "collective."

    Well, not so, says my textbook. Going by this riveting piece of literature, there are only two possible number-states for English nouns (any noun must either be singular or plural), and furthermore the word "collective" refers not to a noun with this non-existent third number-state but rather to a noun describing a discrete entity that comprises multiple other discrete entities--such as "team" or "collection."

    The general point being that a noun might be grammatically singular even if it describes a group of multiple entities, which is of course correct, nonetheless I can't help but find this nonsensical. There are clearly nouns that you don't use articles on, indicating that they are neither plural nor singular but exhibit a third type of number-state. I've started simply calling these "uncountable" nouns to spare confusion, but this irritates me. Am I wrong?

    Number 2 is perhaps more practically significant, and thus more vexing.

    The textbook keeps insisting that participles are inherently adjectives and must therefore only modify nouns. If you ask me, it's rather obvious that participles can also act as adverbs, particularly when they clearly pertain to verbs more so than to nouns.

    For example, in the sentence "We went camping," to my mind 'camping' is rather obviously an adverb modifying 'went'. The textbook insists that 'camping' would instead be an adjective modifying 'we', but I cannot for the life of me come up with a rationale for this that makes any sense. (You went where? You went to do what?)

    It's come up in exercises which are formatted so as to render what I would consider a correct answer categorically impossible. (As in, "identify the underlined word as either a verb or an adjective, and if an adjective, name the noun it modifies.")

    Is this just some nuance I never picked up on in my own education on the subject, has some decision been made by academic authorities since I was in school, or are the people writing this textbook simply less than fully familiar with they are trying to explain, more so than I am?
    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    No history, no exposition, no anecdote or argument changes the invariant: we are all human beings, and some humans are idiots.

  2. #2
    Hasta Siempre Madrigal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger Mexico View Post
    I've started simply calling these "uncountable" nouns to spare confusion, but this irritates me. Am I wrong?
    My TFL and TSL textbooks (I taught this for 7 years but as people can tell by my writing here, I'm by no means an English expert) simply reduced them to two groups: countable and uncountable nouns. I think that's useful. Of course, you have to explain at the same time that some nouns can be both. (Trick question: "Fuck the police." Is police a countable or uncountable noun in that sentence?)

    For example, in the sentence "We went camping," to my mind 'camping' is rather obviously an adverb modifying 'went'. The textbook insists that 'camping' would instead be an adjective modifying 'we', but I cannot for the life of me come up with a rationale for this that makes any sense. (You went where? You went to do what?)
    I'd scrap the whole controversy. "To go camping" is a phrasal verb. As far as they need to know, it's a verb, it just has two words.
    Quote Originally Posted by Hephaestus View Post
    Heh. We've been here years now.

  3. #3
    Minister of Love Roger Mexico's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Madrigal View Post
    My TFL and TSL textbooks (I taught this for 7 years but as people can tell by my writing here, I'm by no means an English expert) simply reduced them to two groups: countable and uncountable nouns. I think that's useful. Of course, you have to explain at the same time that some nouns can be both. (Trick question: "Fuck the police." Is police a countable or uncountable noun in that sentence?)
    Yes, I've seen this approach too. I just learned it with the three-number-states thing, which I find useful because it kind of collapses two questions into one. I have them track a list of "things you need to know about each word" (like person, number and tense for verbs, to use another example), and this spares them "countability" as a separate category of attribute since obviously an uncountable noun doesn't have a number by definition.

    After the massive headache that was getting them to understand that "stative" verbs ('be' and similar verbs) are neither transitive nor intransitive (they aren't actions, and they 'link' to 'complements' which aren't 'objects' because if the complement is a pronoun you're still supposed to put it in the nominative case). I figured "singular, plural, or uncountable" was easier as one category of classification vs. "countable or uncountable" and then "singular, plural or [not applicable because it's uncountable]"

    "Police" is still countable in that sentence because it's just an irregular plural form--you're clearly talking about "two or more police" because you wouldn't say "A police arrested me." (You'd say "a policeman/policewoman arrested me.")

    I'd scrap the whole controversy. "To go camping" is a phrasal verb. As far as they need to know, it's a verb, it just has two words.
    Yes, I agree, except it comes up with whole phrases. The actual sentence from the textbook exercise where I encountered this was "Peacocks spend their days on the ground, consuming small snakes and lizards," where the textbook is trying to have us believe that "consuming" is an adjective that modifies "peacocks" instead of an adverb that modifies "spend". The latter interpretation strikes me as making a lot more sense.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    No history, no exposition, no anecdote or argument changes the invariant: we are all human beings, and some humans are idiots.

  4. #4
    Hasta Siempre Madrigal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger Mexico View Post
    "Police" is still countable in that sentence because it's just an irregular plural form--you're clearly talking about "two or more police" because you wouldn't say "A police arrested me." (You'd say "a policeman/policewoman arrested me.")
    In Spanish, "policía" is both "policeman/woman" and "police". You can say "Los policías". But yeah, in English I think it is always a non-count noun that can be both singular and plural (though there seem to be some people that insist you can never say "the police is").
    Quote Originally Posted by Hephaestus View Post
    Heh. We've been here years now.

  5. #5
    Minister of Love Roger Mexico's Avatar
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    Well, I wouldn't say "the police is."

    "Police" is the plural of "policeman/woman". It's like saying "the Irish"--you're clearly talking about the entire population of Ireland. If you wanted to talk about one Irish person, you'd say "the Irishman/Irishwoman." (Or just "the Irish man"/"the Irish woman" because cramming them together into single words is becoming archaic--same with "Frenchman," "Englishman" and so forth.)

    Uncountable nouns would be words like "politics." I guess that's a bad example because some people will use "politics are" and "politics is" interchangeably, but you don't talk about "a politics" the same way you don't talk about "a rice" or "an air". If you want to describe these things as having a specific quantity, you need to add a unit of measurement because the nouns themselves don't represent units like singular or plural nouns do. You have a "a pound of rice." (or "a quantum of solace" or "a lot of love")

    You don't do this with "police" because the word implies its own unit of measurement. You might have "a group of police", but that's like having "a group of chickens."
    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    No history, no exposition, no anecdote or argument changes the invariant: we are all human beings, and some humans are idiots.

  6. #6
    Mens bona regnum possidet ferrus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger Mexico View Post
    but you don't talk about "a politics"
    Unless you are writing a pretentious postmodern philosophy article.
    Die Logik ist keine Lehre, sondern ein Spiegelbild der Welt. Die Logik ist transcendental. - Wittgenstein

  7. #7
    chaotic neutral shitpost jigglypuff's Avatar
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    "consuming peacocks" would still be technically correct and "consuming" would be modifying the noun. verbs in -ing form can be used as adjectives, like if you're saying "i like running dogs" or "running dogs are cute" which is probably how your textbook thinks, but the presentation isn't as clear as it could be.

    fwiw i went to public school in the US/california and i don't remember learning about any "uncountable" nouns at all. they probably just trusted that we'd grasp it intuitively. there are almost always those exceptions to the rule.

    anyway, i imagined just now a teacher who gets fed up with this stuff suddenly breaking out the chicago manual of style in the middle of class cuz they can't take the bullshit of the textbooks anymore. that would be ridiculous, yet not.

  8. #8
    Hasta Siempre Madrigal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger Mexico View Post
    "Police" is the plural of "policeman/woman".
    I think the plural of policeman is policemen.

    I just checked online and there doesn't seem to be an agreement on it (including, er, reputable news sources like the BBC), although any actual dictionary says it's always plural. Maybe I am wrong to be using the plural only to refer to a specific activity ("the police are looking for him"), but the singular when talking about the institution, especially in a discussion of political theory.

    I think I just wanted to use Fuck the Police in a sentence.
    Quote Originally Posted by Hephaestus View Post
    Heh. We've been here years now.

  9. #9
    Minister of Love Roger Mexico's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ferrus View Post
    Unless you are writing a pretentious postmodern philosophy article.
    Ha, I had this exact same thought as I was typing that.

    Quote Originally Posted by tele View Post
    "consuming peacocks" would still be technically correct and "consuming" would be modifying the noun. verbs in -ing form can be used as adjectives, like if you're saying "i like running dogs" or "running dogs are cute" which is probably how your textbook thinks, but the presentation isn't as clear as it could be.

    fwiw i went to public school in the US/california and i don't remember learning about any "uncountable" nouns at all. they probably just trusted that we'd grasp it intuitively. there are almost always those exceptions to the rule.

    anyway, i imagined just now a teacher who gets fed up with this stuff suddenly breaking out the chicago manual of style in the middle of class cuz they can't take the bullshit of the textbooks anymore. that would be ridiculous, yet not.
    I suppose they might have been thinking it's equivalent to "The peacocks consuming snakes and lizards spend their days on the ground" (certainly participles often do function as adjectives that way) but I don't see why "spend their days consuming" couldn't be a verb modified by an adverb, which makes more sense semantically.

    And yes, normally I might pull out a less frustrating, more authoritative source document and say "let's just read this", but I've been lectured on the importance of using the textbooks since the kids' parents pay for them.

    Quote Originally Posted by Madrigal View Post
    I think the plural of policeman is policemen.

    I just checked online and there doesn't seem to be an agreement on it (including, er, reputable news sources like the BBC), although any actual dictionary says it's always plural. Maybe I am wrong to be using the plural only to refer to a specific activity ("the police are looking for him"), but the singular when talking about the institution, especially in a discussion of political theory.

    I think I just wanted to use Fuck the Police in a sentence.
    If you're referring to the institution as a corporate entity, I think "police agency", "police department" or something like that is the appropriate expression.

    You can also say "policemen" of course, but you'll hear "the police are looking for a suspect" vs. "the police department has issued an official statement."
    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    No history, no exposition, no anecdote or argument changes the invariant: we are all human beings, and some humans are idiots.

  10. #10
    TJ TeresaJ's Avatar
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    When in doubt, I ask the internet.

    Wikipedia doesn't have a problem with adverbial participles.

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