Testimonial Rhetoric in Nineteenth-Century Composition
Chapter Two Testimony of the Tongue: Grammar, Aspirational Pedagogy, and the Cult of Correctness in Long-Nineteenth-Century Composition (Russel K. Durst)
russel k. durst
A great deal of the history of composition in America seems to be a clumsy shuffle-dance of grammar with rhetoric, with first one and then another leading. It will not end soon, for the wish for certainty and algorithmic closure represented by the one struggles always with the desire for originality and creativity represented by the other. So long as language is part science, part art, and part magic, the grammarians and the rhetoricians will be struggling with each other to lead the dance.
—Robert J. Connors, “Grammar in American College Composition: An Historical Overview” (1986, 136)
This quotation from a now thirty-five-year-old essay feels as dated as the nineteenth century texts its author was surveying. Grammarians are seldom seen in current rhetoric and composition circles, let alone struggling to lead the field. A glance at recent journal articles, book publication lists, conference programs, and even course syllabi shows a lack of circulation of grammar-related ideas and texts. To take but one prominent example, not a single article in the field’s leading journal, College Composition and Communication has focused primarily on grammar since an error analysis essay in the June, 2008 issue. “Mistakes are a Fact of Life: A National Comparative Study,” (the title comes from a Nikki Giovanni poem), by Andrea Lunsford and Karen Lunsford, analyzed college students’ ←49 | 50→ written errors and their teachers’ marking practices. The absence of grammar studies in CCC now approaches a decade and a...
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