H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
The effects of this are twofold. On the one hand he conceives an antipathy to a subject so lacking in intelligibility and utility. As one teacher puts it, pupils tire of it; often they see nothing in it, because there is nothing in it.4 And on the other hand, the schoolboy goes entirely without sympathetic guidance in the living language that he actually speaks, in and out of the classroom, and that he will probably speak all the rest of his life. All he hears in relation to it is a series of sneers and prohibitions, most of them grounded, not upon principles deduced from its own nature, but upon its divergences from the theoretical language that he is so unsuccessfully taught. The net result is that all the instruction he receives passes for naught. It is not sufficient to make him a master of orthodox English and it is not sufficient to rid him of the speech-habits of his home and daily life. Thus he is thrown back upon those speech-habits without any helpful restraint or guidance, and they make him a willing ally of the radical and often extravagant tendencies which show themselves in the vulgar tongue. In other words, the very effort to teach him an excessively tight and formal English promotes his use of a loose and rebellious English. And so the grammarians, with the traditional fatuity of their order, labor for the destruction of the grammar they defend, and for the decay of all those refinements of speech that go with it.
The folly of this system, of course, has not failed to attract the attention of the more intelligent teachers, nor have they failed to observe the causes of its failure. Much of the fruitlessness of the study of English grammar, says Wilcox,5 and many of the obstacles encountered in its study are due to the difficulties created by the grammarians.# These difficulties arise chiefly from three sourcesexcessive classification, multiplication of terms for a single conception, and the attempt to treat the English language as if it were highly inflected. Dr. Otto Jespersen puts them a bit differently. Ordinary grammars, he says, in laying down their rules, are too apt to forget that the English language is one thing, common-sense
Note 4. The Difficulties Created by Grammarians Are to Be Ignored, by W. H. Wilcox, Atlantio Educational Journal, Nov., 1912, p. 8. The title of this article is quoted from ministerial instructions of 1909 to the teachers of French lycées. [back]
Note 5.Op. cit., p. 7. Mr. Wilcox is an instructor in the Maryland State Normal School. [back]