- Many under-privileged children, even in high school, don’t know how to use basic conjunctions like for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so, and basic connectors like although and despite, and that the remedy includes teaching them the parts of speech.As it happens, I've been thinking about "although" and "despite" for months now: I've been thinking about "although" and "despite" ever since reading William Robinson's 1995 article "Syntax and Grammatical Dependency in Adverb Clauses."
As for although and despite, while it’s possible that these specific words don’t figure much in the everyday speech of socio-economically underprivileged children, how likely is it, if you said something like “Although the hurricane won’t hit for a couple of days, you should start getting ready for it now” or “Despite the fact that we haven’t lost electricity yet, we might still lose it later,” they wouldn’t understand what you meant? Has anyone even bothered to test this?
I'm very interested to hear how the passage below jibes with Katharine's knowledge of language development.
I want to focus on ... the assumption that our students need to write fewer simple sentences and more compound and complex ones ....As far as I can tell, people virtually never use the words "although" and "even though" in conversation. (See, e.g.: Serving chili and A sample stretch of talk.)
[Kellogg Hunt] (Grammatical Structures Written at Three Grade Levels) examined the grammatical features of the writing of students at grades 4, 8, and 12 and, for comparison, articles (not fiction) in Harper's and The Atlantic. Among the schoolchildren, Hunt found that the 4th graders produced 37% more compound sentences than the 12th graders and the 12th graders 23% more dependent clauses than the 4th graders. So far, this would indicate that while increased compounding at the sentence level is not desirable, the increased use of dependent clauses is. However, the "superior adult" writers, as Hunt termed them, wrote only 5% more compound sentences than the 12th graders and only 6% more dependent clauses. In short, the high school seniors were using coordination and subordination at al most the same rate as professional writers of superior ability.
Despite showing that 12th graders use dependent clauses at about the same rate as do superior writers, Hunt provides some interesting data in the details of the kinds of clauses they use. To introduce their adverb clauses, they rely overwhelmingly on three words, if, whenr and because. While both the 4th and 12th graders use because at about the same rate, the 4th graders use many more when clauses and the 12th graders many more if clauses (82). But dependent clauses of contrast and concession are virtually absent from the writing of both groups. Although and even though appeared 2 times in the writing of the 4th graders (when appeared 101 times and if 30 times) and 5 times in that of the 12th graders (where when appeared 53 times and if 73 times). The contrastive whereas appeared only twice among the 12th graders and not at all in the earlier grades, and while appeared 13 times in the writing of the 4th graders and 5 times in that of the 12th graders, an indication that it was probably being used to indicate time rather than concession or contrast.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, I'm thinking meteorologists and New Jersey governors don't use "although" and "even though" sentences, either.
(I cracked up reading Katharine's hurricane sentences -- "Although the hurricane won’t hit for a couple of days, you should start getting ready for it now." Believe it or not, I now possess an entire page of sentences transcribed from one of the weather people on TV the night of Hurricane Sandy. Great minds think alike.)
Back on topic: my experience of "basic writers" jibes with Kellogg's findings.
In my experience, "basic writers" don't use "concession words."
How well basic writers understand concession words inside academic prose, I don't know. I'm certain my students would understand Katharine's hurricane sentences.
The "although" sentences students write at New Dorp (2nd page - scroll down) sounded like a great idea to me the minute I read about them -- but, in line with Katharine's observations, possibly for different reasons from the school's.
I have the impression that New Dorp requires students to write "although" sentences in order to give them practice writing sentences with subordinate adverbial clauses.
In my experience, Basic Writers have very little difficulty (if any) writing subordinate adverbial clauses. My impression is that Basic Writers have very little experience learning how to punctuate adverbial clauses, either, but I could be wrong.
As far as I can tell, Basic Writers don't write "although" sentences because they aren't used to qualifying their statements or to conceding points. They aren't used to writing academic prose or thinking academic thoughts.
In fact, just before I read Peg Tyre's article I had arrived at the (tentative) conclusion that my students would profit from consciously and purposefully writing "although" sentences as thesis statements -- a subject for another post.
In the meantime, check out this beautiful two-sentence pair written by one of my students.