In which I am sentimental about diagramming sentences

Enjoyable op-ed in the Times about the history of the soon-to-be-lost art:

By the latter half of the 19th century, chalkboards had become increasingly common in classrooms; for students, the impact of watching a sentence take shape on that large surface as a comprehensible, often elegant, and sometimes downright ingenious drawing must have been significant. It’s hard to believe anyone but the most dedicated pedant could have actually enjoyed parsing, but plenty of students — including me — loved diagramming.

Me too.  It’s funny:  I don’t have any feeling at all that today’s students need to learn the pencil-and-paper algorithm for long division or square root extraction.  But the vanishing of sentence diagrams makes me sad.  Presumably if I were a linguist instead of a mathematician I’d feel the opposite.

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7 thoughts on “In which I am sentimental about diagramming sentences

  1. Noah Snyder says:

    If you enjoy sentence diagramming you might like this puzzle: http://web.mit.edu/puzzle/www/11/puzzles/civilization/part_of_speech/

    Use the sentence diagram to identify a line from a famous speech. The numbers are the lengths of the words.

  2. Richard says:

    This elementary-school skill is completely alien to me – is it solely a north American practice? I’m from Ireland, so even if it was common in Britain, I’m sure I would have heard of it. In our education system, grammar was taught through what is referred to as parsing in the nytimes article.

  3. Jason Starr says:

    I think students should learn how to do long division.

  4. sam says:

    Here’s the perspective of some linguists:

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3868

  5. Bobito says:

    I probably learned a little grammar from having to diagram sentences, but no one even mentioned the subjunctive. I learned a lot more English grammar by studying German than I did by diagramming sentences.

  6. berseliusx says:

    I’d second this. I was much better at grammar than most but never really learned it until I took Latin.

  7. Victor Miller says:

    This book might fuel your nostalgia “Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog”: http://www.amazon.com/Sister-Bernadettes-Barking-Dog-Diagramming/dp/1933633107 . I too remember diagramming sentences with fondness.

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