This week in my Language Structure and Acquisition class we are learning, or should I say exploring sentence diagramming as a tool for breaking down the syntax of Language. In particular, we are working on a large project that digests a piece of literature which uses non-standard English or dialect, and we are taking note of the author's use of linguistic elements.
So the final elements we are analyzing is syntax, along with pragmatics. And it is syntax that has brought us to sentence diagramming.
Let me be honest here--I LOVE sentence diagramming. But let me also follow that with I'm not particularly good at it. I'm not bad, but I'm no pro. I guess that begs the question then, why do I LOVE it. Love is a strong sentiment and often not applied to things we struggle with. Another bit of honesty? If the sentence is far past simple I struggle with diagramming.
But here's the reason for my love: I LOVE LOVE sentences. Not just love, LOVE LOVE. Hell, I could even throw like into that. I LOVE LOVE and love to like sentences. I really do. I love words too, probably just as much as sentences, but sentences are the trophy shelves of words. Think about it. If you find a word that you really like how are you going to showcase it? How are you going to give that word a vehicle to move out of your mouth and go through, zooming, and racing into the world?
A lovely sentence.
Gertrude Stein is often quoted as saying/writing:
Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.
This sentence poetically explores the identities of roses. It elevates roses and provides a vehicle for the word to have an impact. Of course there is more to that sentence than the love of the word love; it also speaks towards the law of identity and the rule of threes in writing, but my point is that the sentence it what delivers all of the above. And that, is why I LOVE sentences.
So back to diagramming sentences. My novel for this project is Their Eyes Were Watching God. Anybody who knows me should not be surprised by this choice. I still wonder why I didn't name my daughter Zora, as was always my plan. But, the passage in the novel that I choose to work with for syntax and pragmatics is of course pure dialect. It is at the very beginning of the novel and is spoken by a collective of women, and directed at the returning Janie. They are questioning her up and down, almost eating her alive with their antagonistic words.
As I sit here with my whole project complete, including the five-page paper I wrote synthesizing my whole analysis I still have to diagram two or three of those women's questions. And I am at a complete and utter lost. I'm digging out grammar books from years past with yellow pages and fading blue ink (must be old because I HATE blue ink and only write in black or pencil--in fact, I only annotate my books in pencil.) I'm combing the web, I'm bugging E for assistance, heck I may even ask the kids to help me.
But as I'm exploring, and searching, and trying to find the solution to these few sentences I'm also thinking of something else. How important it is to have an ear for writing and language, and how sentence diagramming can help facilitate that. One of things I've discovered while tutoring is that students, no matter how bright and full of good ideas, that have problems with writing do not have an ear for writing, and in particular do not have a foundational knowledge of grammar and sentence structure.
This is where sentence diagramming comes to the rescue. Sentence diagramming helps you to actually see, structurally, how sentences work and don't work. It allows you to not just learn grammar words and phrases like "subject," "predicate," and "transitive verbs" but to be able to see what they are and what they actually do in a sentence. How do they contribute to the structure of a sentence.
That's real language nerd talk.
Any one who wants to command writing and want to be able to communicate themselves effectively must learn the tools and elements of writing, and also how they work together to influence and communicate meaning. Is diagramming the only way? Heck no. But it is a great way to develop that ear of writing.
You don't have to have aspirations of being the 21st century Zora Neale Hurston (like somebody that I know, ahem) to desire to have an ear for writing or better yet language. Do you blog? Do you tweet? Do you communicate in writing at your job? Are you a student? Are you an aspiring singer/songwriter/rapper? Do you work with the public? Are you looking for a new/better job?
The list can go on and on. Our lives are filled with language and communication. Learning how to deliver your words effectively will greatly affect how you communicate.
Do you want your words arriving in a 1982 faded powder blue Toyota Celica, or a Mini Cooper, Mercedes, or perhaps a Honda CR-V? Think about it. Our delivery matters.
Give sentence diagramming a chance.
*For the record, my sentences would arrive in the 1982 faded, powder blue Toyota Celica. Why? Because it has a story to tell.