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Submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of Texas A&M University-Commerce in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of MASTER OF ARTS November 2010


Approved by: ___________________________________________ Adviser ___________________________________________ ___________________________________________ ___________________________________________ Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences ___________________________________________ Dean of Graduate Studies and Research



Sylwester Zabielski Texas A&M University-Commerce, 2010

Adviser: Salvatore Attardo, PhD This thesis explores categorical ambiguity in a theoretical and applied perspective. It begins with an analysis of ambiguity, including the definition of ambiguity, the teasing out of different types of this linguistic phenomenon, and the differentiation between ambiguity and neighboring concepts. After reviewing the literature concerning the role of grammar in teaching writing, the thesis examines an empirical study testing the effect of a self-correcting exercise on undergraduates metalinguistic reflection. The hypothesis behind the study was that a self-correcting exercise may be more effective in triggering metalinguistic reflection than a traditional grammar exercise, and, therefore, it could be more useful in teaching writing. The results of the empirical study showed that the self-correcting exercise was indeed more effective in triggering metalinguistic cognition than the traditional one.


Acknowledgements I have never anticipated the graduate experience to be so complex and demanding. This thesis took me months of reading, writing, editing, and revising, but I wouldnt have done it any other way, even if given another chance. I would like to acknowledge my two greatest editors, Robert Wiley and Melissa Knous, and thank them for putting up with my moods, as well as for being very professional in their critique of some of the chapters that I included here. Also, this thesis wouldnt have been possible if it wasnt for my family support. My parents, even though residing in a different country, have always encouraged me to push myself harder and further. They made me who I am today and for that I will owe them forever. Furthermore, I would like to thank Dr. Salvatore Attardo, who made it possible to write about ambiguities and who carefully observed my progress since the first grammar class I took with him. His professional expertise and access to scholarly resources were indispensable throughout this work. Also, special thanks go to my committee members and to the administration of Texas A&M Commerce-University. None of this would be possible without you.


Table of Contents List of Tables................................................................................................... List of Figures.. Chapter 1: Introduction and Hypothesis.. Chapter 2: Ambiguity and Related Concepts... Introduction to Ambiguity............... Classification of Linguistic Ambiguities. Lexical Ambiguity.............. Structural Ambiguity... Pragmatic Ambiguity.............. Ambiguity versus neighboring concepts.. Vagueness Polysemy and Homonymy............... Neutralization (a.k.a. Underspecification)............... Indefiniteness............... Indirect Speech. Chapter 3: Pedagogical Implications of Ambiguity in Student Writing. Modernizing Grammar: Self-correcting Exercise Chapter 4: Empirical Study: Ambiguity Detection and Verb Detection. Methodology Subjects Hypothesis Procedure. vii viii 1 3 3 4 5 5 8 9 10 12 13 15 15 17 27 30 30 30 30 31

Results and Discussion. Chapter 5: Conclusions References................................................................................................................ Appendix A. Pre-test................................................................................................ Appendix B. Traditional Test... Appendix C. Self-correcting Test............................................................................ Appendix D. Post-test.............................................................................................. Vita...........

33 42 44 49 51 53 56 57


List of Tables Table 1 Table 2 Table 3 Table 4 Comparison of the Results of the Post-tests... 35

Comparison of the Results of the Post-tests by Tier.. 37 Number of Incorrect Responses: Mean, Median, and Mode.. 38 Comparison of the Two Sets.. 39


List of Figures Figure 1 Comparison of the Results of the Post-tests... 36


Chapter 1 INTRODUCTION AND HYPOTHESIS Many English words belong to more than just one lexical category. The word fish, for example, functions both as a verb, meaning to try to catch fish, and as a noun when one refers to an animal that lives in water and uses its fins and tail to swim (Longman Dictionary of American English, 2000, p. 290). When students have to analyze a sentence like He likes to gather seashells and fish, the categorical selection gets very difficult, and more information is needed to determine an appropriate classification. Ambiguity, therefore, can cause difficulties for students. This thesis is an attempt to tackle some issues concerning ambiguities in English. It includes examining ambiguity in its various forms (lexical, structural, pragmatic, etc.) as well as differentiating, as much as possible, between ambiguity and neighboring concepts such as vagueness, polysemy, indirect speech, prototypicality, indefiniteness, and neutralization (a.k.a underspecification). Research gathered by Dallin Oaks and Norman Stageberg served as an inspiration for this work, as well as a theoretical starting point. Both scholars have highlighted the complexity and interrelations between different ambiguities in English. Most college students are not able to detect categorical ambiguities. In fact, they often struggle with recognizing parts of speech. Therefore, analyzing the role of grammar in teaching writing seems to be a good opening for the following discussion. Scholars opinions on using grammar in teaching writing have been divided. Some believe that it is necessary to use grammar in order to improve writing while others deny its importance in composition classes. There are also scholars who do not want to rely on old-fashioned

2 definitions and who are ready to modernize grammar and make it more accessible to the students. Which approach is more useful and effective then? Can grammar be taught? Which pedagogical tools could be introduced to trigger desired metalinguistic reflection and decrease ambiguity in student writing? Is there a clear answer to the question of where the place of grammar instruction is in teaching writing? These and related issues are addressed in this thesis. Before moving into the literature review outlining the ongoing debate on the role of grammar in teaching pedagogy, ambiguity shall be characterized and its different kinds teased out first. Some specific examples for each type of ambiguity will be given in order to deliver a clearer picture of this interesting phenomenon. Finally, an empirical study will be described and analyzed in extensive detail in order to determine whether the selfcorrecting character of a grammatical exercise proves more helpful in accessing and performing grammar than the traditional one.

Chapter 2 AMBIGUITY AND RELATED CONCEPTS Introduction To Ambiguity A commonsensical definition of ambiguity is the property of having more than one meaning (Brown & Attardo, 2005, p. 370). Similarly, Oaks (2010) definition of ambiguity stated that an utterance is structurally ambiguous when it can yield more than one syntactic interpretation or when it implies more than one syntactic relationship between constituents within the structure (p. 18). Structural ambiguity analyzed by Oaks is very important, yet it is only one of the many kinds of ambiguities present in English. Qing-liang (2007) stated that ambiguity is defined as the fact that a word (or an expression) or a sentence, before realization of stress, stop, intonation or other phonological means. . . can be regarded as two or more different descriptive senses (p. 1). Indeed, one can see many expressions or sentences as ambiguous before phonological realization. For example, by applying stress on different parts of the expression English teacher one could separate its two distinct meanings: English teachera teacher who teaches English English teachera teacher from England One could also shift the logical stress to create different presuppositions. A sample sentence They went there yesterday would presuppose quite differently, depending on how one shifts the local stress: They went there yesterday. (Presuppose: not I, you, she, etc.) They went there yesterday. (Presuppose: not stayed) They went there yesterday. (Presuppose: not other places)

4 They went there yesterday. (Presuppose: not other days) The latter example tried to prove that one could eliminate ambiguity in speech by stressing those parts that were important for the intention of our message. Yet Jackendoff (1994) observed different issues tied to phonological ambiguity. He claimed that at a normal conversational rate sentences can be spoken in such a way that they are acoustically indistinguishable (Jackendoff, p. 56). His point could be proven by uttering the following pairs of sentences: I dont really think its a parent. I dont really think its apparent. Have you looked at this guy yet? Have you looked at the sky yet? In casual pronunciation, it is impossible for someone who is not a native speaker of a given language to distinguish when one word starts and the other one ends. It may also be troublesome to people who are native speakers, too. Sound similarity produces a conducive environment for ambiguity to arise. Jackendoff also discussed different examples of visual ambiguities such as the Muller-Lyer illusion (two even horizontal lines with the inward and outward arrow heads, which create the illusion of different lengths) or the duck-rabbit ambiguity. Those perception ambiguities, even though very interesting, are not within the scope of this work, as such ambiguities fall outside of the discipline of linguistics. Classification Of Linguistic Ambiguities Norman C. Stageberg is considered to be a pioneer of the study of ambiguity. In 1968 he wrote, Ambiguity, as we all know, means double or multiple meaning, and it is

5 customary to distinguish two kindslexical and structural ambiguity (p. 29). Stagebergs classification of different kinds of ambiguities and a latter supplement provided by Oaks seem to describe satisfactorily the main concepts behind ambiguity in language. The nomenclature present in the literature may be confusing to some, and therefore the author of this thesis will make an attempt to describe the character and the interrelations between main ambiguities. Lexical ambiguity. In lexical ambiguity (a.k.a. semantic ambiguity), the multiple meaning resides in the words themselves. Crystal (1997) defined lexical ambiguity as the one which does not arise from the grammatical analysis of a sentence, but is due solely to the alternative meaning of an individual lexical item (p. 17). For instance, the sentence She cant bear children may be understood as She cannot tolerate children or as She is unable to give birth to children. In both instances the word bear functions as a verb, but it has different lexical meanings. Structural ambiguity. A mixed subcategory of structurolexical ambiguity is called categorical ambiguity. In categorical ambiguity, one word may hold two different grammatical functions and be used either as a noun or verb, as in Oaks (2010) example I saw her play (p. 18). Here the word play may be understood as a verb (I saw her playing on an instrument) or as a noun (I saw the play that she wrote). Categorical ambiguity is lexical by naturea word is categorically ambiguous when it is assigned multiple categories in the lexicon and when lexical representation of grammatical categories is attested by the actual use. Still, even though our sample sentence I saw her play is

6 lexically (or more specifically, categorically) ambiguous, it is not limited to lexical ambiguity since the alternative interpretation about the part of speech requires us to understand the overall structure differently. Crystal (1997) noted that the most widely discussed type of ambiguity in recent years is structural ambiguity (p. 17). Structural ambiguity (a.k.a. grammatical, syntactic, or, as specified in older logic books, amphiboly) results from the arrangement of the words, that is, from the structure of the utterance (Stageberg, 1958, p. 479). Oaks definition (1996) added that structural ambiguities are those which can create confusion about how the grammatical structure of an utterance should be interpreted (p. 59). The author suggested the analysis of one well-known childrens joke: Q: What has four wheels and flies? A: A garbage truck. In this particular example, the wordplay is not only limited to lexical differences of the word flies. Rather, one can distinguish two structurally possible interpretations due to the fact that the coordinating conjunction and may be joining two noun phrases or two verb phrases. In order to fully understand structural ambiguity, one needs to recall the basic idea that motivated the famous theory of transformational grammar created by Noam Chomsky. Chomsky (1965) observed that there were two distinct structures present within a sentencesurface structure and deep structure. He stated that the syntactic component of a grammar must specify, for each sentence, a deep structure that determines its semantic interpretation and a surface structure that determines its phonetic interpretation (p. 16). With that in mind, one should analyze an ambiguous sentence

7 recommended by Yule. Annie whacked a man with an umbrella is structurally ambiguous because it has two different underlying interpretations, which would be represented differently in the deep structure. The first distinct deep structure could express that Annie had an umbrella and she whacked a man with it, and the second one could imply that Annie whacked a man, and the man happened to be carrying an umbrella (Yule, 2003, pp. 102-103). Phrases could also carry structural ambiguity, as when one comes across an expression like old men and women. One can interpret this phrase as either old men plus old women, or old men plus women. The grammar and context will have to point out the structural distinction between these underlying representations. It is hard to draw a clear line between lexical and structural ambiguity. Oaks (2010) claimed that structural ambiguities may be distinguished from lexical ambiguities in which particular words have a different meaning but the varying meanings do not necessarily change the structural interpretation of the utterance. He made his point through two humorous texts: First, a lexical ambiguity may be illustrated through the following portion of a comic routine: I bought a box of animal crackers, and it said on it, Do not eat if seal is broken. So I opened up the box, and sure enough (Brian Kiley, as cited in J. Brown, 1,349 Hilarious 96). In this joke the word seal has two different interpretations, but by both interpretations it is a noun and the subject of its clause. If the two interpretations were diagrammed and analyzed, by whatever method, there would be no difference in the two diagrams. Now let us contrast that with a humorous structural ambiguity found in a newspaper headline:

8 Canada seals deal with creditors (M. Clark 44). In the headline, seals could be a noun or verb, just as deal could be a noun or verb. Notice that while both of the above examples involve a form of seal, only the headline creates doubt about the structural interpretation. (p. 19) Pragmatic ambiguity. In order to grasp the concept of pragmatic ambiguity, one should start with a short explanation of what pragmatics is. Lyons (1977) believed that pragmatics studies the meaning that [the] sentences have when they are uttered (as text sentences) in particular classes of contexts (p. 591). Crystal (1997) also pointed out that pragmatics has come to be applied to the study of language from the point of view of the users, especially of the choices they make, the constraints they encounter in using language in social interaction, and the effects their use of language has on the other participants in an act of communication (p. 301). An excellent example of pragmatic ambiguity was presented by director Peter Medak (1991), who based his controversial movie Let Him Have It on this linguistic issue. The movie was inspired by an actual court case held in London in December of 1952 against Derek Bentley and Christopher Craig. When Derek learned that his friend Chris went mad and started shooting at police officers after a failed attempt to rob a butchers shop, he separated from him and joined one of the police officers who came on the roof of the building to arrest the villain with the gun. The officer, Detective Sergeant Frederick Fairfax started the conversation: Detective Sergeant Fairfax: Give me the gun, boy! Derek Bentley: Let him have it, Chris!

9 Christopher Craig: [opens fire] Fairfax was wounded during the shooting, and one of his colleagues, Sidney Miles, was shot dead while attempting to arrest Christopher Craig. Of course, there are two interpretations that the listener could have of Bentleys statement. Let him have it could mean Give the detective your gun or it could mean Shoot him. As a result of misinterpretation of words and incomplete evidence, Bentley was sentenced to death and hanged for murderer at Wandsworth Prison in London, England. In hindsight, most believe that this pragmatic ambiguity resulted in the unjust death of an innocent man. Pragmatics includes, then, but is not limited to such considerations as the medium of communication or the identity or location of the speaker. Although these large factors frequently serve to clarify the intended meaning, they may sometimes contribute to ambiguity as they help us see an additional possibility for interpretation (Oaks, 2010, p. 32). Usually, however, more extensive context disambiguates the utterance that could otherwise be perceived as ambiguous. Ambiguity Versus Neighboring Concepts Ambiguity is considered to be a central term describing uncertainty or inexactness of meaning in language, but it is not the only one. There are other neighboring concepts, which often carry similar, yet slightly different meanings. Before moving to those concepts though, it would be useful to explain the term prototypicality in order to understand the interrelations between the neighboring concepts. Eleanor Rosch, a psychologist at the University of California at Berkley, was interested in cognitive prototypes of common objects. In 1975 she tested about 200 students of psychology in order to determine how they selected the best examples for

10 different categories of common objects. Her work suggested that when people categorize common objects, they do not expect them all to be on an equal footing. They seem to have some idea of the characteristics of an ideal exemplar, in Roschs words, a prototype. And they probably decide on the extent to which something else is a member of the same category by matching it against the features of the prototype. It does not have to match exactly; it just has to be sufficiently similar, though not necessarily visually similar. (Aitchison, 1987, p. 55) Roschs research showed that almost everyone undergoing her tests selected a robin as the best example of a bird and pea as the best prototype for a vegetable. Brown and Attardo (2005) also regarded a prototype as the best example of the category and stated that grammatical categories are organized prototypically: for example, a prototypical transitive verb would be kick (John kicked the ball) while a less prototypical example would be have something (John has a ball) (p. 335). While analyzing and describing ambiguities in English one can also distinguish other related concepts, which are similar yet different from the prototypical ambiguity. Among the neighboring concepts of ambiguity one could tease out vagueness, polysemy, homonymy, neutralization, indefiniteness and indirect speech. Vagueness. Oaks provided an explicit definition of that category and gave humorous examples from newspapers reports: When something is vague, its meaning is not sufficiently specific. This is a different matter from ambiguity, which presents more than one interpretation,

11 each of which may be very specific. Of course, those people who engage in evasive language can use either kind of utterance, but there is a difference. Nationally syndicated columnist, William Safire, points out in one of his columns that when President Clinton was asked about the missing e-mails that had been hidden by his staff, Clinton responded: I believe that was known years ago. As Safire points out, Sure, he knew and Ruff [his attorney] knew. But no grand jury or congressional committee was told. . . . Clintons statement was vague. On the other hand, when President George Bush senior made a campaign promise of No new taxes and then later went back on that promise, one television comedian humorously pointed out that we should have realized that his promise had actually been an ambiguity, for we cant know whether what he said orally was No new taxes or Know new taxes. (p. 22) As one can see, both ambiguity and vagueness may function as powerful tools used by politicians. Structural ambiguity described earlier is also an important means in creation of humor and a valuable marketing instrument. It can, however, cause some issues in journalism, especially when one thinks about misunderstandings deriving from the ambiguous telegraphic language used in headlines. Even though Crystal (1997) considered ambiguity and vagueness to be synonymous, he later claimed that sometimes in semantic discussion a distinction between the two is actually made: An ambiguous sentence is formulated as having more than one distinct structure; a vague sentence, on the other hand, permits an unspecifiable range of possible interpretations (i.e. is unstateable in syntactic or phonological terms) (p. 17). His sample sentence He didnt hit the dog is indeed vague because one cannot

12 specifically state how many different underlying structures there is in various interpretations of that sentence. What else was hit if he didnt hit the dog? Did he do something else to the dog? We dont really know. According to Kurdevatykh and Juinn-Bing Tan (2008), vagueness represents cases of identity of lexicosemantic variants in their reflective categories and variation of their semantic components (p. 24). The authors believed that vagueness lacks a precise categorical and semantic distinction of meanings and that vague meanings themselves are often seen as a fuzzy set with only possible associations of meanings in the structure of a word. Polysemy and homonymy. One concept most often confused with vagueness is polysemy. Kurdevatykh and Juinn-Bing Tan (2008) offered three criteria to distinguish vagueness from polysemy: 1) categorial distinction or categorial identity of meanings, 2) presence or absence of categorialsemantic links of word meanings, 3) independence or dependence of word meanings from the second component in a word combination (p. 25). A case of polysemy then is the one where a lexical item has a wide range of related meanings, e.g. the word plain could mean clear, unadorned, and obvious. In a dictionary, the great majority of lexical items are polysemous. Yet again, even in case of polysemy linguists may face ambiguity problems, especially while dealing with two lexical items that happen to have the same phonological form. If that is the case, then one deals with homonymy. In homonymy the words look the same, but they carry different lexical meanings, like in the example of the word bank, which could refer to the river or to the financial

13 institution. In addition to homonymy, bank can also be classified as polysemy when it has very similar meanings. For instance, bank can mean to put your money in a bank, a financial institution, or a building that houses a financial institution. There is a fine line between homonymy and polysemy. Neutralization (a.k.a. underspecification). Sometimes ambiguity may arise due to neutralization (a.k.a. underspecification). Neutralization refers to some feature value whose overt presence is required on the surface but is left underlyingly unspecified and must therefore be provided by a default mechanism (Trask, 1993, p. 291). The study of neutralization sheds light on the semantic behavior of polysemy because it unpacks several senses for a single lexical item. Teddiman (2008) referred to neutralization as to one of the major ways of encoding categorically ambiguous sentences in the mental lexicon. She claimed that in lexical underspecification, the root exists in the mental lexicon but is not specified for lexical category until the word is realized within a sentence (p. 1). In other words, it is context that determines not only whether an ambiguous word is interpreted as a noun or a verb, but also whether it is a noun or a verb. Pustejovski (1998) distinguished three individual types of underspecification: weak structural, weak lexical, and strong lexical underspecification (p. 2). The first type is related to the interpretation that comes about through composition in the sentence. The second type happens due to accidental ambiguity of a lexical sign. Finally, the third type is initially present in a representation and is resolved through compositionality. Pustejovski further explained that for the most part, the work on providing a logical form that allows for multiple

14 interpretations of a sentence can be grouped into the first category above. This includes any sentence, which becomes ambiguous by virtue of composition, e.g. the presence of multiple quantifiers or of a Prepositional Phrase admitting of several attachment possibilities. [Second type] includes accidental lexical ambiguity (i.e. homonymy) and is of little interest to our discussion. I will focus on the nature of the [third kind] from above. (p. 2) Later on he divided lexically underspecified items into four basic phenomena: deep semantic typing, syntactic alternations, terms of generalization and complex typing. The example sentences below represent the first category: Mary enjoyed her cigarette. John enjoys his coffee in the morning. Bill enjoyed the movie. The way that one enjoys a cigarette is certainly different from enjoying coffee in the morning. The same applies to the enjoyment deriving from watching the movies. This example, often described as type coercion, shows how something is enjoyed through the contextual coercion. Neutralization could also be understood on phonological level. It happens when the distinction between two phonemes is lost in a particular environment. For example, let us think about the contrast between voiceless plosive speech sounds and voiced plosive speech sounds (like in tip vs. dip). We all realize that it is important to keep this contrast, or else we will experience phonological ambiguity. Sometimes the case is that this contrast is lost, or neutralized, like when the plosive speech sound is preceded by /s/ like in stop, skin, speech, and as a result, there are no pair of words in the language of

15 the type /skin/ v. /*sgin/. Crystal saw the explanation of the latter issue in phonetic change which happens to /k/ in this position: the /k/ lacks aspiration and comes to be physically indistinguishable from /g/ (p. 258). Indefiniteness. Indefiniteness is another neighboring concept that may cause some ambiguities in grammar. It refers to an entity (or a class of entities) which is not capable of specific identification. In the English lexicon indefiniteness is mostly caused by the indefinite articles a and an and by indefinite pronouns (one, some, etc.). Indefiniteness is often vague because due to the presence of indefinite pronouns or indefinite articles one often struggles with quantity, or even with grammatical rules. For instance, the phrase I need some batteries for my stereo is indefinite. One does not know how many batteries are needed. Indirect speech. Indirect speech can also cause ambiguity. In contrast to direct speech, which uses quotation marks to recall what was said word for word, indirect speech paraphrases speech, and reports what was said in a non-quoted fashion. Oaks (2010) noticed that indirect reported speech contributes to structural ambiguity as it may manipulate verb tense, deictic reference, and even the syntactic ordering of constituents. This is in addition to the occasional ambiguity that can occur, especially in speech, when one cant be sure whether what is being reported is direct or indirect reported speech (p. 586). Shifting of tense mentioned before makes some of the structural ambiguities possible, as in the following joke from the same source: The marriage broker was hard of hearing and had to rely on his assistant during

16 the interviewing of the prospective brides. His first question always pertained to age. Im young, said one applicant. In the early twenties. Whatd she say? he asked his aide. She said she was young in the early twenties, he replied. (p. 585) There are many different types of ambiguities in English and, as one has already learned, it is easy to become confused with the nomenclature for each type. In general, the division of ambiguities comes to the lexical and structural ambiguity. Somewhere in between those two types one can observe categorical ambiguity. There is also a pragmatic type of ambiguity. It is important to distinguish the differences between ambiguities because that can turn out helpful in recognition of ambiguities in students writing. Moreover, it seems logical to know all the neighboring concepts since those are similar to ambiguities and may cause further confusion.

Chapter 3 PEDAGOGICAL IMPLICATIONS OF AMBIGUITY IN STUDENT WRITING Stageberg (1966) stated, In student writing, one cause of unclearness is ambiguity. A student writes a sequence of words that has a particular meaning for him, not realizing that these same words in the same order can also convey a different message (p. 558). Students do not always write to communicate to a known class of readers, and, instead, they write to fulfill an assignment. As a consequence, they do not develop reader awareness and they find it difficult to think as their audience would. Even after multiple revisions they still fail to realize that their readers might get other meanings from their writing. This is, however, not the only issue that students face in composition classes. Another sore spot lies within the mechanics used for writing. Because of that the researcher shall discuss the issue of grammar before even getting into ambiguities. The following literature review not only presents different attitudes of scholars towards teaching grammar in relation to writing but also tries to answer the questions of whether one should use grammar in composition classes and how one should go about doing so. Teaching of formal grammar (syntax), sentence-combining, as well as modernizing grammar are considered to be the most important applications for the improvement of writing and therefore, they will be described in more detail in the upcoming review. Moreover, some attention will be given to the theoretical implications of a self-correcting exercise because this thesis investigates the effectiveness of this exercise in teaching grammar. The literature review makes no claim of being exhaustive or even representative of the research on the teaching of grammar. It is merely a sampling of studies that the


18 author acknowledged as meaningful in showing how grammar could be taught and have positive effects on teaching writing. In 1963 Richard Braddock, Richard Lloyd-Jones and Lowell Schoer concluded that in view of the widespread agreement of research studies based upon many types of students and teachers, the conclusion can be stated in strong and unqualified terms: the teaching of formal grammar has a negligible or, because it usually displaces some instruction and practice in composition, even a harmful effect on improvement in writing. (p. 37) This statement discouraged many scholars from investigating the role of grammar in teaching writing. Bateman and Zidonis (1966) examined a group of 50 high school students passing from 9th to 10th grade. Students were divided into two sections but were taught as one class by randomly assigned teachers. The experimental section was taught from specially selected grammatical materials. After the first three months of the experiment, written compositions were collected from each group. The task was repeated over the last three months of the second year of the experiment. The study sought to measure the effect that the teaching of generative grammar had upon the writing of pupils, aiming also to help them become stylists who have expanded their capability of generating varied and wellformed sentences of the language (Bateman & Zidonis, 1966, p. ix). The results revealed that only four students from the experimental section showed significant improvement in writing, and because of the small size of the successful group of students, the research was treated with caution. Still, Bateman and Zidonis suggested that

19 knowledge of generative grammar helped with writing and that students who knew its principles were able to increase their proportion of well-formed sentences. In February of 1970, another experiment was initiated to determine if grammar really affected the effectiveness of writing among high school students. Warwick Elley, together with three other teachers, Ian Barham, Malcolm Wyllie, and Hillary Lamb, decided to investigate the correctness of Braddocks statement and started a three-yearlong project in one of the New Zealands high schools. A homogenous group of 250 students was carefully selected and meticulously monitored by the researchers. Subjects of the experiment were divided into three individual classes, which were taught by the same teachers who would rotate to each individual group each year of the project in order to secure its credibility and correctness. The first group of pupils took a transformational grammar course, which included grammar, rhetoric, and the literature strand of Oregon English Curriculum (OEC). The second group took up creative writing and reading instead of the traditional grammar, as well as literature and rhetoric of the OEC. The third group of students followed the Lets Learn English course, which included composition, comprehension, prose, poetry, and functional grammar. The results of the experiment conducted by Elly et al. (1979) revealed that transformational grammar, as represented in the Oregon Curriculum, seems to have no more effect on writing style, or the variety in transformations used, or on conventional usage, than traditional grammar, or than no grammar at all (p. 96). In fact, the non-grammar group of students who participated in an experiment was not only achieving comparable results during testing but also represented a more positive

20 attitude towards learning English. Students in grammar-oriented strands, on the other hand, complained about grammar and performed at a similar level in testing language skills. Constance Weaver was also interested in the effectiveness of grammar on students writing performance. She suggested that educators should possess explicit knowledge of grammar in order to teach writing effectively. She claimed that students learning of grammatical concepts needed special attention during the stages of revision and editing in order to improve their writing skills. Weaver (1979) observed that students who have had considerable amount of practice with [sentence-combining] tend to show improved control of sentence structure in their free writing (p. 86). She therefore advised the teachers to make these important decisions before introducing sentence-combining to the students: 1. Which kinds of exercises are appropriate for the students level of development; 2. Whether such exercises should cover a variety of syntactic constructions or only a few; 3. Whether the sentence-combining should be done apart from normal writing, in conjunction with it, or both; 4. Whether such exercises should be written or oral or both; 5. Whether such exercises should be structured, unstructured, or both; 6. And whether to use technical terminology in the exercises or whether to teach mainly by example. (pp. 86-87)

21 In 1991 Rei Noguchi questioned the effectiveness of formal grammar instruction in improving student writing. He suggested that concentrating on grammar in composition classes may be counterproductive for teaching writing due to already limited classroom time and diminished focus on organization and content. His study had three main goals. First, Noguchi wanted to scale down the amount of formal grammar instruction by spotting problematic areas (where writing and grammar overlap) and applying necessary grammar treatment. Second, he hoped to reduce formal grammar in classroom because native speakers already had internal knowledge of some grammar concepts and finally, he wanted to integrate the pre-owned, yet still unconscious knowledge of native speakers with style, organization, and content of writing. Noguchi (1991) claimed that the main goal for the composition teachers was not to teach all the basics of grammar but rather to focus on a minimal set of grammatical categories and to use these categories to treat a maximum number of the most serious stylistic errors (p. 34). He narrowed the list of grammatical concepts necessary for successful writing to a sentence, modifier, subject, and verb and stated that although these four units may at first seem woefully inadequate to hard-working grammar teachers, [they are] the bare bones set because of their potential utility in identifying and correcting the more frequent and more highly stigmatized stylistic errors (p. 33). His position on the use of grammar in writing was clearNoguchi described writing and grammar as uncomfortable partners and he remained consistent in arguing that formal grammar instruction failed to produce any meaningful improvement in student writing. Noguchis position is clearly at odds with Ferdinand de Saussure (1916) who indicated that in language every element is important for the balance of the whole system and

22 therefore one cannot single out a minimal set of grammar features to be taught to the students. Seventeen years from her initial study on the role of grammar in teaching writing, Constance Weaver came up with some new conclusions. She implemented her previous research and stated that grammar taught in isolation brought little or no effect on learning how to write. She compared behavioral and cognitive approaches in teaching grammar and explained that neither teaching functional grammar nor completely rejecting it from curriculum was the right solution for successful writing. Instead, Weaver (1996) recommended that composition teachers should use a minimum of grammar for maximum benefits because what all students need. . . is guidance in understanding and applying those aspects of grammar that are most relevant to writing (p. 16). She proposed a scope-not-sequence chart, which covered five major concepts in teaching grammar: 1. Teaching concepts of subject, verb, sentence, clause, phrase, and related concepts for editing; 2. Teaching style through sentence-combining and sentence generating; 3. Teaching sentence sense and style through the manipulation of syntactic elements; 4. 5. Teaching the power of dialects and dialects of power; Teaching punctuation and mechanics for convention, clarity, and style. (p. 17) Weaver also suggested that composition teachers should pay attention to their students individual needs and provide them with adequate help and guidance. She stated

23 that grammatical concepts often diminish from students memory and, therefore, need to be retaught again: Teaching grammar in the context of writing will not automatically mean that once taught, the concepts will be learned and applied forever after (p. 18). While investigating the most effective tools in teaching writing, Weaver observed that teachers obtain the best results from incidental teaching and through inductive learning (often in the form of mini lessons or extended mini-lessons). She believed that incidental lessons were useful for casual introduction of grammatical concepts because learning would happen during the discussions on students writing or literature. On the other hand, Weaver praised inductive lessons because those made students come up with generalizations about grammatical patterns on their own. A more recent study of Fogel and Ehri (2000) took a different approach in using grammar for education. The scholars decided to work with a group of 8/9-year-old African American students who were using Black English Vernacular (BEV) and started pondering on how to prepare dialect instruction so that it could become effective in teaching Standard English (SE). Three training procedures (Exposure only (E) procedure, Exposure/Strategies (ES) procedure, and Exposure/Strategies/Practice (ESP) procedure) were designed for the purpose of teaching the children six Standard English syntactic forms. In the first procedure the students only listened to the stories that contained standard forms. The second procedure was enriched by the teachers emphasis on the standard forms. Finally, the third procedure demanded some hands-on work from children who were asked to translate BEV phrases into SE (after listening to standard forms and after the instructions from their teachers). The results of this study confirmed the ESP procedure to be the most

24 effective in teaching 8-year-olds to write in Standard English. In fact, what the study revealed was more pedagogical than grammar baseddifferences between BEV and SE are grammatical issues, but it is not until such differences are understood and then practiced in writing that they take the effect (Andrews et al., 2006, p. 47). Most probably the same could be said about ambiguities and the reasons for knowing grammar when it comes to writingwithout knowing the mechanics people are not really able to consider ambiguities. Edgar Schuster (2003) noticed that the outdated definitions might often be the direct reason for resisting grammar. He decided to liberate the writers by revising grammar definitions, the rules of usage, writing, and punctuation. Still, Schuster stressed that before breaking the rules, both teachers and students should know them first. He devoted his research to teaching the new rules, which would be easier to retain and which would refer to students intuitive knowledge of grammar. Moreover, he questioned the myth rules used in classrooms and pointed out why they didnt work and what could be done to make them work. His list of 27 commonly misused words requires special attention in this thesis since the author recognized some of the difficult words as reasons for ambiguity in composition. Lists of such words may be found in nearly all textbooks and handbooks, and on websites as well. Some of these sources offer useful advice; many are virtually useless. In textbooks, particularly, rare is the list that gives more than a minimum of information, usually couched in technical jargon (Schuster, 2003, p. 77). Some scholars saw sentence-combining as a useful and effective technique in improving writing. Andrews (2006) defined sentence-combining as a teaching technique

25 for splicing together simple sentences to make compound or complex ones (p. 42). He mentioned that sentence-combining often included embedding and that the two processes could work in reverse. More importantly, he stated that the main point that distinguishes sentence-combining and its associated techniques from traditional formal grammar teaching is that the former is practical: a technique used in specific situations. The latter is abstracted from practice and usage, formulated into rules, and then applied. We are not saying, by the way, that teachers of writing may not need to know about formal grammar; they may, indeed need to draw on such knowledge in order to help their pupils to make appropriate choices in the act of composing. (p. 48) Andrews described a couple of important studies talking about the effect of sentence combining on written composition. He pointed out OHares (1973) study as the first to prove that sentence-combining techniques improve syntactic maturity of the students. OHare analyzed a sample of 83 subjects who were randomly assigned to two control and two experimental groups. After the latter ones were taught different sentencecombining techniques, they were tested on three writing samples (narration, description, and exposition) by means of pre- and post-tests. Six different factors of syntactic maturity were used in the studywords per T-unit (main clause along with one or more subordinate clauses that go with it), clauses per T-unit, noun clauses per 100 T-units, words per clause, adverb clauses per 100 T-units and adjective clauses per 100 T-units. The results from this comprehensive and reliable study reflected significant growth of the experimental group within all six categories of syntactic maturity. In fact,

26 eight graders observed by OHare were writing as twelfth graders on five or the six measures. They also performed better in their writing, especially in the areas of narrative and descriptive composition. OHare concluded that teachers of writing surely ought to spend more time teaching students to be better manipulators of syntax (Andrews et al., 2006, p. 49). The practical application of sentence-combining was proven to be effective in enriching young writers in syntactic alternatives. Another significant study described by Andrews was done by Sadler and Graham (2005), who questioned the effectiveness of sentence-combining, paired with peer instruction, on sentence construction. The researchers assumed that facility in generating sentences activated more cognitive supplies for other aspects of composition. After 44 students between the age of 9 and 11 were chosen randomly, they were paired in couples and exposed to sentence-combining and grammar interventions. The study proved that sentence-combining instruction positively affected sentence-combining skills as well as improved writing quality of the first version and the subsequent revisions. The researchers concluded that findings from the current study replicate and extend previous research by showing that a peer-assisted, sentence-combining treatment can improve the sentence construction skills of more and less skilled young writers. . . and that such instruction can promote young students use of sentence-combining skills as they revise (Andrews et al, 2006, p. 49). Their study, together with the previously described research by OHare is considered to be the most credible in terms of the highest weight of evidence in relation to the effectiveness of sentence-combining.

27 So far, the researcher has described selected studies pertaining to the role of grammar in teaching writing. The research showed that some scholars saw the purpose behind employing grammar in teaching writing while others rejected it from curriculum. Modernizing Grammar: Self-Correcting Exercise Edgar Schuster not only revised many grammar rules but also proposed their modern replacements in order to improve students knowledge of grammar. His concept of modernizing grammar is related to the self-correcting exercise used within this thesis. The nature of self-correction is already clear in its name. Attardo (2010) quoted Montessoris idea of an activity that cannot be completed successfully unless it is performed correctly (Handout, 2010). The purpose of a self-correcting exercise is to develop and check the metalinguistic knowledge of grammar. The difference between the traditional and selfcorrecting exercise is that in the first instance, the student is passive because the feedback comes from the teacher, and he/she is told what the right answer is while in the second instance, the student is active and he/she figures out the right answer on his/her own. This exercise is innovative. Its design was supposed to attract students attention and motivate them to read the instructions. The fact that there are no grammar exercises in the form of the star forces the students to figure out how to solve the exercise; they cannot rely on known strategies such as fill-in-the-blanks. The purpose of this thesis is to investigate whether a self-correcting exercise is effective in triggering metalinguistic reflection among students. If it could be proven that the design of that exercise works better than the traditional one, it might be used for as

28 the basis for arguing in favor of teaching grammar in the classroom. If as a result of the self-correcting exercise, students would improve their metalinguistic knowledge of grammar, then maybe this knowledge could be used for the improvement of writing. Montessoris concept of self-correction had a predecessor in linguistics though it was the matching cloze mechanism. The study of Beldauf and Propst (1979) analyzed the matching cloze mechanism, which was initially used to help ESL students with reading comprehension. The authors were interested in the following approach of work of Kenneth Goodman, who argued that readers used graphophonic, syntactic, and semantic information as they engaged in the act of reading: Goodman points out that good readers are constantly engaged in an editing process as they read, asking themselves whether what they are reading makes sense in terms of meaning and in terms of the syntactic rules of the language. Even good readers, at times, find that this editing process tells them that what they are reading is not making sense or that it does not conform to their knowledge of the syntactic rules of the language. At this point, good readers realize they have made a mistake in sampling the text and they then reread (i.e., regress) in order to correct their previous tentative hypotheses. This editing then actually facilitates, or is a part of, the comprehension process. (p. 5) The students could then use self-correcting exercises to facilitate the learning of grammar. They could use heuristics, too. Heuristics are discovery procedures. They differ from the rules because they accept failure. For example, if one uses a heuristic for verb recognition (words ending with ed are verbs) with the word Ted, he/she will fail.

29 Both heuristics and self-correcting exercises are examples of scaffolding. Scaffolding is defined as the provision of sufficient support to promote learning when concepts and skills are being first introduced to the students. Some similarities to Attardos heuristics could be observed in DeBeaugrandes research on teaching grammar. De Beaugrande (1984) stated that as long as the students have easy techniques for spotting and fixing problems, the whole act of writing becomes less stressful and anxious (p. 367). The scholar noticed that school grammar was delivered in vague or technical terms and that it was too difficult for students to comprehend. His hypothesis then was that the grammar of talk contained all the categories needed for the grammar of writing: Until someone puts grammar to use in a discourse, many aspects are rather fuzzy, that is indeterminate or approximate. For instance, whether a given word can be assigned to one part of speech depends on how it gets used. A word like last may belong to any of the four classes of content words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs). But in a statement, theres seldom any doubt which class the word belongs to. Thus, if we attack grammar as something the student does, we escape the fuzziness of grammar in the abstract. The act of use defines the categories we need. (p. 360) Forbes, Poparad & McBride (2004) concluded that self-monitoring and selfcorrecting are strategic processes that may lead to metacognitionan awareness characteristic for older, proficient readers (p. 567). It may still be difficult for this study to determine if a self-correcting exercise is indeed more effective than the traditional one.

Chapter 4 EMPIRICAL STUDY: VERB DETECTION AND AMBIGUITY DETECTION Methodology Pre-testpost-test methodology was used for the study. It is a commonly used method in pedagogical research. It consists of a pre-test used to establish a base line, the administration of an intervention under study, and the administration (at the later time) of a post-test to establish if learning occurred. The research was reviewed and approved by the Texas A&M University-Commerce Institutional Review Board. Subjects. Two groups of students (traditional and self-correcting) were created out of four first-year composition classes from Texas A&M University-Commerce. Each group (about 30 students) had to participate in pre-test, the test (either traditional or selfcorrecting) and the post-test. All students had to sign a consent form, indicating that they were 18 years of age. They also had to be native speakers of English. Because participation was voluntary, one student refused to take the tests. Two students could not participate in the study because of being underage. Hypothesis. The self-correcting exercise was expected to be more effective in triggering metalinguistic reflection than the traditional one. If that was the case, subjects would perform better in their post-tests and therefore the improved performance would demonstrate better grammar.


31 Procedure. Pre-test. The pre-test was designed as a fill-in-the-blanks text, and it was the same for both groups. Within the pre-test, there were 17 tensed verbs to be recognized; the choice of the verbs was deliberate in order to create categorical ambiguity (due to the presence of nouns, gerunds, and infinitive forms; see Appendix A for the pre-test). The tests (traditional and self-correcting). There were two different layouts of the tests administered after the pre-test: traditional test and self-correcting test. The traditional test was a typical fill-in-the-blanks exercise, with sentences designed to create categorical ambiguity between nouns and verbs. There were 6 pairs of sentences where the word of interest would be categorized once as a noun and once as verb. The sentences were distributed randomly to avoid clues due to systematic choices (see Appendix B for the traditional test). The self-correcting test was laid out on both sides of a single sheet due to the graphic elements of its design. Each side of the sheet contained a single star, which included 6 ambiguous sentences. Altogether, there were 12 verbs at the end of the stars points (see Appendix C for the self-correcting test). The sentences selected for the self-correcting exercise were exactly the same as the ones used in the traditional test. Post-test. The post-test was designed as a fill-in-the-blanks text, and it was the same for both groups. Within the post-test, there were 18 tensed verbs to be recognized; the choice of the verbs was deliberate to create categorical ambiguity due to the presence of nouns,

32 gerunds, and infinitive forms, which could cause ambiguity (see Appendix D for the posttest). The administration of the pre-tests and the tests. Both pre-tests and the tests (traditional and self-correcting) were given to the subjects during one regular class period. The traditional group had 10 minutes for the pretest and 10 minutes for the test. Similarly, the self-correcting group had 10 minutes for pre-test and 10 minutes for the test. Students were asked to read the instructions carefully, make their choices, and turn the test over after they were done. Even though the time period designed for each test was 10 minutes, both groups were finished with the pre-tests and the tests (traditional and self-correcting) in 8 minutes or fewer. Participants were timed without their knowledge on the iPhone timer, which was lying on the instructors desk. Both groups seemed relaxed, willing to take the tests, and curious about their purpose and results. After the pre-test and the test were finished, participants were provided with the answer keys. They spent about five minutes analyzing the answers on the Elmo projector. The study procedure was kept the same in both groups to avoid environmental discrepancies, which might have affected the participants behaviors and the experiment results. The administration of the post-tests. During the subsequent class meeting, the post-test was administered to determine if retention occurred among the students of each group. The traditional group got 10 minutes for the post-test and so did the self-correcting group. Students were asked to read the instructions carefully, solve the test to their best knowledge, and reverse the test and

33 put it at the edge of the desk once they had finished it. Even though the time period designed for each test was 10 minutes, both groups were finished with post-tests in 8 minutes or fewer. Participants were timed without their knowledge on the iPhone timer, which was lying on the instructors desk. Both groups seemed relaxed, willing to take the tests, and curious about their purpose and results. After the experiment was over, the researcher answered participants questions about the purpose of the experiment, and further discussion was held in the classroom. Results And Discussion Data were compiled from two groups of subjects. For data to be included, a student had to take the pre-test, the test, and the post-test. Those students who did not take the post-test were excluded from the sample. The first group of subjects took a pretest, followed by a traditional test, followed by a post-test. Thirty-nine students began the study, but because of absences, only thirty-four students completed all of the tests. The second group of subjects took a pre-test, followed by a self-correcting test, followed by a post-test. Thirty-five students began the study, but because of absences, only twenty-six students completed all of the tests. One reason for the high attrition in the self-correcting group was a job fair scheduled for the same time as the class meeting. Both groups received identical pre-tests and post-tests. The pre-test was designed to provide a baseline. The scores on the pre-tests allow the experiment to factor in differences inherent in the two subject groups. Out of seventeen verbs to recognize, the average number of incorrect responses on the pre-test for the self correcting group was 5.85 while the average number for the traditional test group was 7.06. Based on this information, slightly higher scores on the post-test by the

34 self-correcting group may be attributable not to the exercise at issue but rather to inherent differences in the test groups. The scores on the traditional and self-correcting tests are telling. On the selfcorrecting test, 100% of the subjects scored every question perfectly as was to be expected. On the traditional test, subjects missed an average of 2.32 of the questions asked, meaning they gave incorrect answers 19.4% of the time on the traditional tests twelve questions. Because the major emphasis of the experiment was to determine the effectiveness of the self-correcting exercise on improved student performance, the primary analysis concerns the results of the post-tests. Table 1 shows the results of the post-test identifying the number of incorrect responses in each group. Both the raw number of students and percentages are listed. Figure 1 presents the same data in a form of two histograms (see next two pages).

35 Table 1 Comparison of the Results of the Post-tests Traditional Test Sample Group Number of incorrect responses 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 >9 Total Number of students 4 4 6 5 4 3 1 3 1 3 0 34 Percentage Self-correcting Test Sample Group Number of students 3 4 5 1 4 4 2 2 0 1 0 26 Percentage

11.8% 11.8% 17.6% 14.7% 11.8% 8.8% 2.9% 8.8% 2.9% 8.8% 0% 100%

11.5% 15.4% 19.2% 3.8% 15.4% 15.4% 7.7% 7.7% 0% 3.8% 0% 100%


&$"!!# &!"!!#








!"!!# ! " # $ % & ' ( ) *

Incorrect answers (Self-correcting Group)

!"!!# ! % & ' ( $ ) * + ,

Incorrect answers (Traditional Group)

Figure 1 Comparison of Traditional vs. Self-correcting Post-tests Although the post-test had eighteen verbs to identify, no student in either group had more than nine incorrect responses. Comparing the number of students with incorrect responses does not yield any obvious conclusions. However, by partitioning the data into groups, some contrasts become evident. For this purpose, the data can be divided into thirds; with one group consisting of students with three or fewer incorrect answers, one group consisting of students with four to six incorrect answers, and one group consisting of students with seven or more incorrect answers. Table 2 (see next page) shows the results of the post-test identifying the number of incorrect responses in each group divided into these tiers.

37 Table 2 Comparison of the Results of the Post-tests by Tier Traditional Test Sample Group Number of incorrect responses 3 4-6 7 Total Number of students Percentage Self Correcting Test Sample Group Number of students Percentage

19 8 7 34

55.9% 23.5% 20.6% 100%

13 10 3 26

50.0% 38.5% 11.5% 100%

It may be possible to draw some conclusions from this analysis. The selfcorrecting test subjects had significantly fewer students scoring in the worst tier. Indeed, the traditional test group had nearly twice as many students scoring in the worst tier as the self-correcting group. Similarly, the self-correcting test group had nearly twice as many students scoring in the middle tier as the traditional test group. The analysis supports the theory that the self-correcting test was effective in assisting those students who would ordinarily fall toward the bottom of their peer groups. Neither exercise did much to improve the scores of the top performing students in either group. Given the small sample size, this conclusion is by no means definitive. But to have the results in the bottom tier to be nearly twice as good in the self-correcting group at the very least merits further study. Even more importantly, to have the results in the middle tier of a self-correcting group to be almost twice as good as in the traditional one

38 (35.8% to 23.5%) suggests that the hypothesis is right. The self-correcting exercise was not only solved properly by every single student who took it (100% accuracy as is to be expected) but also it improved students metalinguistic reflection. Although the experiment showed an impact on students in the lowest tier, the overall results are quite similar. Table 3 shows the mean, median, and mode for the two subject groups. Table 3 Number of Incorrect Responses: Mean, Median, and Mode Traditional Test Sample Group Mean (average) Median Mode 3 2 3.5 2 3.64 Self Correcting Test Sample Group 3.38

Although the mean (average) number of incorrect responses for the self-correcting test group is slightly lower than that of the traditional test group, this figure may be slightly misleading. One must remember that the self-correcting group scored slightly higher on the Pre-test. Therefore, the fact that the self-correcting group has a better average score may be attributable to inherent differences between the two subject groups. Similarly, the median and the mode do not reveal any significant differences between the scores of the groups as a whole.

39 By looking at specific responses to individual questions, the experiment also shows some interesting differences between the self-correcting group and the traditional group, especially in case of auxiliary verbs. Table 4 Comparison of the Post-test Results Regarding Auxiliary Verbs Traditional Test Sample Group (Incorrect Responses) Auxiliary Verb V1: is V2: is V8: has V16: are Number of students 12 15 11 29 Percentage Self Correcting Test Sample Group (Incorrect Responses) Number of students 8 8 6 20 Percentage

35.3% 44.1% 32.3% 85.3%

30.8% 30.8% 23.1% 76.9%

The self-correcting group had less incorrect responses in recognition of auxiliary verbs like is, are and has. This indicated again that the form of the exercise affected the students and that they performed better than the traditional group. The self-correcting exercise used within the empirical study proved that the students were indeed conscious editors who found out the right answers on their own. After looking at the self-correcting tests the researcher frequently observed in-pen corrections, which indicated that at some point, the students autonomously realized their own mistakes and implemented the necessary corrections. They did not need any instructions or explicit grammar rules (other than the ones which they have already internalized) to do sothe self-correcting exercise simply worked with them. The case

40 was different with the traditional sets where the students often missed the right answer and did not make any changes. Interesting regularities were observed after the analysis of all the tests given to the subjects: 1. All the students in the self-correcting group agreed that the star exercise was more interesting and easier to do than the text exercises (pre- and post-test). One student pointed out that There was nothing difficult about the selfcorrecting exercise because the answers were all outside the star; 2. All the students agreed that the overall level of difficulty was easy. Still, some of them were confused about parts of speech; 3. Some students spotted the ambiguities between nouns and verbs and called them tricky and sly practices used to confuse them; 4. While in the self-correcting set there were no mistakes in verb selection in a sentence such as Going up that mountain looks difficult, the traditional group frequently picked going as the main verb of the sentence; 5. In sentences with two tensed verbs, one of them (mostly the auxiliary verb) was frequently omitted by the students; 6. Very often students would only mark the past participle form as a verb without acknowledging the auxiliary verb next to it; 7. In general, at the stage of pre-tests and the actual tests the vast majority of students ignored the auxiliary verbs (various forms of be and have). Some improvement was noticed after the answer keys were disclosed to the students;

41 8. The most frequently confused words were practice (12 out of 73 students), feel (5 out of 73 students) and plays (4 out of 73 students). This study confirmed the credibility of Brown and Attardos statement about prototypicality of categories (see below, page 10), as the verb run turned out to be more prototypical than the verb has. In the traditional group, the verb run was selected properly by all the 35 subjects taking the post-test, while the same students omitted the verb has 11 times in the very same test. During the discussion that followed the empirical study, most students actually admitted that they didnt hate grammar. Some of them stated that grammar was helpful while writing the school papers and that they felt that it was neglected in high school. Some also mentioned that they hated writing itself because it was less structured than the rules that they could use for writing.

Chapter 5 CONCLUSIONS Native speakers of English still struggle with grammar in college. They possess linguistic intuition but lack metalinguistic skills, especially when being challenged to recognize parts of speech. To some college students, the concepts of verbs and nouns are still remote, not to mention the ambiguities associated with these two groups. These concepts might feel abstract because teachers keep using old definitions and oldfashioned exercises. Our study proved that if we change the form of some grammar exercises and enhance them so that they work better with the students, we would be rewarded with some progress among our students. They may develop more grammar skills and in effect, they may be able to use them in composition classes. The empirical study presented in this thesis shows that grammar might be used to improve the writing skills. The self-correcting exercise worked for everyone taking the test. It was 100% accurate. If that modernized grammar worked for teaching, then it could also work for the particular case of writing. For the future research, it might be more efficient to design a more strict procedure, which would control subjects participation or subjects initial selection. Rerunning the empirical study with a larger group and using the conditional tracking would be useful in securing the results. Conditional tracking would help to obtain the necessary data from the subjects who decided to participate in tests but did not take one of them due to unforeseen circumstances.


43 It would be interesting to conduct the same tests with ESL students and see how they perform in comparison to the natives, especially while analyzing the recognition of auxiliary verbs. Also, further study centered on prototypicality of verbs might really be engaging; i. e. verbs could be the subject of the study again, but with different focus point. It would also be useful to design an accurate research experiment that would analyze categorical ambiguity of verbs in context.

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46 Oaks, D. D. (2010). Structural ambiguity in English. An applied grammatical inventory. Unpublished manuscript. OHare, F. (1973). Sentence combining: improving student writing without formal grammar instruction. Research Report No 15, Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. Pustejovsky, J. (1998). The semantics of lexical underspecification. Folia Linguistica, 32, 1-28. Qing-liang, Z. (2007). A discussion on ambiguity in English. US-China Foreign Language, 5, 1-5. Saddler, B. & Graham, S. (2005). The effect of peer-assisted sentence combining instruction on the writing performance of more and less skilled young writers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97, 43-54. Schuster, E. H. (2003). Breaking the rules. Liberating writers through innovative grammar instruction. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Stageberg, N. C. (1958). Some structural ambiguities. The English Journal, 47, 479-486. Stageberg, N. C. (1966). Structural ambiguity: Some sources. The English Journal, 55, 558-563. Stageberg, N. C. (1968). Structural ambiguity in the noun phrase. TESOL Quarterly, 2, 232-239. Stageberg, N. C. (1968). Structural ambiguity for English teachers. In Teaching the Teacher of English: Selected Papers and Addresses Delivered at the Sixth Conference on English Education. Champaign, IL, 29-34.

47 Stageberg, N. C., Oaks, D. D. (2000). An introductory English grammar. Fort Worth: Harcourt College Publishers. Teddiman, L. (2008). Proceedings of the annual conference of the Canadian Linguistics Association: Verb or noun? Word conversion and frequency effects in English. Weaver, C. (1979). Grammar for teachers. Perspectives and definitions. Urbana, IL: NCTE Weaver, C. (1996). Teaching grammar in context. Portsmounth, NH: Boyton/Cook. Weaver, C. (1996). Teaching grammar in the context of writing. English Journal, 85, 1524. Yule, G. (2003). The study of language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


Appendix A Pre-Test



Appendix B Traditional Test



Appendix C Self-Correcting Test




Appendix D Post-Test


57 Vita Sylwester Zabielski was born in Ostroleka, Poland, on November 11, 1980, the son of Jadwiga Zabielska and Jozef Zabielski. Mr. Zabielski attended the Academy [College] of Agrobusiness in Lomza, Poland, and obtained an Inzynier degree in 2003. Following graduation, Mr. Zabielski worked in the deans office of his former college. A year later, he moved to London, where he worked for about three years as a retail supervisor. In 2006, he enrolled at Texas A&M University-Commerce as an undergraduate. In two years he graduated cum laude and received his Bachelor of Science degree. As a Texas A&M University-Commerce undergraduate, Mr. Zabielski earned an A in every class he took. In 2006, after gaining professional experience by teaching various levels of students, Mr. Zabielski enrolled in the Graduate School of Texas A&M University-Commerce, where he broadened his teaching skills and developed a deep interest in linguistics. He hopes to be awarded the Master of Arts degree in December 2010. United States address: 2430 Victory Park Lane Apartment 2209 Dallas, TX 75219