Daniel Starch.

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But there is a corresponding paucity of scientific facts regarding
the matter so that we cannot speak with certainty concerning very
many of the factors and conditions that promote or retard develop-
ment of skill in the use of language.

(i) The Acquisition of Ideas. According to the psychological
viewpoint, from which we are here examining the language process,
the first and most fundamental element is the acquisition of ideas.
How this may be done our present psychological knowledge gives
no specific directions other than the common-sense advice of
gaining as great a variety of ideas as possible through direct per-
sonal experiences and contact with environment and through
extensive reading. The extent to which such varied experiences
and wide reading will be profitable depends mainly upon the extent
to which the experiences and facts are assimilated and retained.
Next to the experiences and ideas themselves, excellent retentive
capacity, or memory is a very essential factor. Re-thinking the
experiences and facts is likely to be a most helpful exercise in
making new ideas a part of one's mental machinery.

(2) The Acquisition of "Words and Forms of Expression. The
next important element is the acquisition of extensive vocabulary
and phraseology. On this point also little more can be said at
present than what, on the basis of general experience rather than
on the basis of demonstrated facts, common sense and good judg-
ment dictate. Wide vocabulary and precise phraseology can prob-
ably be acquired mainly (a) by reading and hearing language
which employs extensive vocabulary and proper phraseology, and
(b) through definite attempts to express one's thought by means
of these words and phrases. Probably one of the best means of
extending one's vocabulary is to take special account of new words
as one reads or hears them, and to make a special point of using
them on the first, and on every other, appropriate occasion. A
useful plan is to record these new and unfamiliar words in a special
notebook. They must, however, not be kept in the notebook only,
but they must be referred to frequently so as to make them a part
of the mental fabric of connections to be used in thinking, speaking
and writing. Pupils often are required to keep such notebooks,
but usually the words never get farther than the notebook. Special
effort must be made to use the words so that they may gradually
be woven into the automatic association processes of the mind.

Another plan is to make a list of the less familiar or unknown


words that are observed in the language of good writers, speakers
and conversationalists, and to think of as many synonyms and
equivalent phrases as possible so that when occasion for using one
of the words arises, synonymous terms will come up which might
preferably be used instead. Frequent drills and tests might very
profitably be given in accordance with this suggestion. The teacher
could give such a list of words in mimeographed form to the pupils
and then see how many corresponding synonyms in a given time
limit, say 5 or 10 minutes, each pupil can write out. The habitual
use of words is fundamentally a matter of association processes
and these can be built up only by a repeated use of the words to be

For such instruction it would be exceedingly useful to have a
list of the 10,000 most common words employed by the best current
writers. Special drill exercises in the use and meaning of these
words could be devised by the teacher.^

(c) The influence of knowledge of other languages. It has
been generally urged that a knowledge of other languages, par-
ticularly of those from which many English words have been de-
rived, is of much value in extending the vocabulary, in developing
a finer discrimination in the meanings and uses of words, and in
facilitating the writing of English. The objective data thus far
available on this problem have been summarized in the chapter on
transference of training, to which the reader should turn for a recon-
sideration of that evidence. In general the evidence indicates
(i) that the study of Latin seems to increase the size of a pupil's
English vocabulary only slightly when Latin is taught as it ordina-
rily has been taught, or quite considerably when taught with specific
reference to the derivation of English words; and (2) that, when the
differences in the original abilities of pupils are allowed for, the
study of other languages aids either very little or not at all in the
writing of English.

(3) Acquisition of Grammatically Correct English, (a) The
influence of knowledge of grammar. Grammar was introduced into

^ Such a list has been prepared by the writer on the basis of the vocabulary studies
described in Chapter XVIII. The Starch List of 5,903 different words used by ^o
authors was checked up with the Eldridge, Ayres, Jones, and Cook Lists to find all
additional words in them which were not in the Starch List. This made a total of goyg
different words found in 40,000 running words (Starch List) of 40 different high-grade
current magazine writers, in some 43,000 running words (Eldridge List) of newspaper
writing, in some 23,000 running words (Ayres List) of correspondence, in 15,000,000
running words (Jones List) of children's compositions, and in 200,000 running words
(Cook List) of family correspondence.



the schools as a scientific study of the structure of the language
with the belief that this knowledge would aid in the acquisition of
correct usage of the language. To what extent is this belief jus-
tified? All definite investigations of this problem tend to show
that knowledge of technical grammar is of much less service in
developing use of correct English than has always been supposed.
This experimental evidence was reviewed in Chapter XIV on the
transference of training, to which the reader should turn, and
hence it will not be restated here. Furthermore, the studies by
Charters ('15) on grammatical errors in oral and written language
indicate that a relatively small number of grammatical rules is con-
cerned in ordinary language. In accord with these results, the
amount of time devoted to the study of grammar has been mate-
rially reduced in recent years and a great many of the topics have
been entirely eliminated. The amount of grammatical knowledge
which functions directly in establishing correct usage is relatively
small. For example, the Iowa Committee on Minimum Essentials
recommended in 19 15 the elimination of the following topics:

"The exclamatory sentence; the interjection; the appositive; the
nominative of address; the nominative of exclamation; the objective
complement; the adverbial objective; the indefinite pronouns; the objec-
tive used as a substantive; the classification of adverbs; the noun clause;
conjunctive adverbs; the retained objective; the modes (except possibly
the subjunctive of 'to be'); the infinitive; the objective subject; the
participle, except the definition and the present and past forms; the
nominative absolute; the gerund nominative absolute; sentences for
analysis and parsing that involve subtle points of grammar; formal
parsing; conjugation; diagramming; person of nouns." (After Betts, '17.)

(b) The function of imitation. These investigations imply that
linguistic forms and expressions are acquired very largely through
imitation, both conscious and unconscious, perhaps especially the
latter, of the forms and expressions read or heard, particularly
those heard in one's customary environment. Language forms are
psychological habits which become deeply ingrained in the human
psycho-physical system through constant repetition. To hear
and say, from birth on, "good" for "well" in such expressions as,
*'Do it good," or "I don't feel good," establishes such strong chains
of associated bonds that, in spite of better knowledge, such expres-
sions will continue to be used and not be overcome by pages of
grammatical knowledge.


The factor of conscious, intentional imitation is probably em-
ployed far too little in the development of ability in composition.
Students of art learn to paint by copying the great masterpieces.
Students of composition are shown great masterpieces and asked
to read them but are told not to imitate them as that would pre-
vent the development of originality. Is this not incorrect proce-
dure, psychologically? Why would it not be excellent practice
in acquiring vocabulary, diction, style, and even ideas to have
pupils read and study, for example, a description of a landscape
and then to ask them to write one of a real landscape in their
environment by making it just as similar to the masterpiece, in
plan, diction and phraseology, as the actual landscape permits.
Or why should not such a plan as the following be really elTective
in acquiring the use of words. Have the teacher take such a descrip-
tion as the following one of George Washington: ^^H

"When Washington was elected general of the army he was forty-
three years of age. In stature he a Htlle exceeded six feet ; his limbs were
sinewy and well proportioned; his chest broad, his figure stately, blending
dignity of presence with ease of manner. His robust constitution had
been tried and invigorated by his early life in the wilderness, his habit of
occupation out of doors, and his rigid temperance, so that few equalled
him in strength of arm or power of endurance. His complexion was
florid, his hair dark brown, his head in shape perfectly round. His broad
nostrils seemed formed to give expression and escape to scornful anger.
His dark blue eyes, which were deeply set, had an expression of resigna-
tion and an earnestness that was almost sad."

Let the teacher select all the important descriptive words and
phrases from it and put them in a list, such as this:

stature rigid temperance

sinewy endurance

well-proportioned complexion

stately florid

blending dignity nostrils

ease of manner scornful

robust resignation

invigorated earnestness

The pupils should first study these words and phrases to make
sure that they thoroughly understand them; then they should
write a description of some person of their acquaintance who may


also be known to the teacher, using as many of these phrases as
may be appUcable to this person. The pupils in this case should
not first read or hear the description from which these words were
taken. After they have written their own composition, they should
then compare it with the masterpiece so that they could check up
their own use of words with the possibly better use in the model.

Such a plan would seem to be worth while experimenting with
to ascertain its proficiency in developing language ability. How
can a pupil acquire proper words to be used in describing a human
being if he does not know, and has no means of finding out, what
such words are? Such a plan would seem to have on a priori
grounds two distinct advantages: First, it would make conscious
use of imitation which is unquestionably a potent factor in the
acquisition of language; and second, it would tend to make the
learning of language definite and concrete. The great difficulty
in learning composition is that the advice and suggestions given
by the teacher are too vague and indefinite. The pupil is told
that he lacks organization, that he must develop a better vocabu-
lary, or that he lacks imagination. But how is any child specif-
ically and concretely to know how to improve in these respects?
How may a child know that such words and phrases as "stature,"
"stately dignity," "florid complexion" might be the most appro-
priate to use when describing certain persons? When the child
learns addition or spelling he knows more precisely what he has to
learn. Instruction in composition can possibly not be particular-
ized as fully, at least not as easily, but that should not prevent as
much particularization as possible.

The chief objection b}^ teachers of English to such a procedure
is that they believe it would kill originality and make mere thought-
less, verbal machines out of their pupils. In answer to this point,
however, we must remember that the most original people in the
world are also the ones who use to the fullest extent the work,
methods, and ideas of others. The most original persons are also
the most imitative persons. Ingersoli said of Shakespeare:

"Of course Shakespeare made use of the work of others, and we might
almost say, of all others. Every writer must use the work of others. The
only question is, how the accomplishments of other minds are used,
whether as a foundation to build higher, or whether stolen to the end
that the thief may make a reputation for himself, without adding to the
great structure of literature.

"Thousands of people have stolen stones from the Coliseum to make


huts for themselves. Thousands of writers have taken the thoughts of
others with which to adorn themselves. These are plagiarists. But
the man who takes the thought of another, adds to it, gives it intensity
and poetic form, throb and life, is in the highest sense original.

"Shakespeare found nearly all of his facts in the writings of others and
was indebted to others for most of the stories of his plays. The question
is not: Who furnished the stone, or who owned the quarry, but who
chiseled the statue?" (P. 645, Modern Eloquence.)

Some of the prominent literary ^\Titers have not only pointed
out the importance of conscious imitation in the development of
their own styles of writing, but have described their owai conscious
attempts to imitate other great writers. For example, Stevenson
has said this concerning imitation:

"That, like it or not, is the way to learn to write. It was so Keats
learned, and there never was finer temperament for literature than
Keats's; it is so, if we could trace it out, that all men have learned. Per-
haps I hear some one cry out: 'But that is not the way to be original!'
It is not, nor is there any way but to be born so. Nor yet, if you are born
original, is there anything in this training that shall clip the wings of your
originality. There can be no one more original than IMontaigne, neither
could any be more unlike than Cicery; yet no craftsman can fail to see
how much the one in this time tried to imitate the other. Burns is the
very type of a prime force in letters; he was of all men the most imitative.
Shakespeare himself, the imperial, proceeds directly from a school. Nor
is there anything here that could astonish the considerate. Before he
can tell what cadences he truly prefers, the student should have tried all
that are possible; before he can choose and preserve a fitting key of words,
he should long have practiced the literary scales . . . and it is the great
point of these imitations, that there still shines beyond the student's
reach his imitable model."

"Whenever I read a book or passage that particularly pleased me, I
must sit down at once and set myself to imitate that quality of propriety
or conspicuous force or happy distinction in style. I was unsuccessful
and I knew it, but I got some practice in these vain bouts in rhythm, in
harmony, in construction, and in co-ordination of parts. I have thus
played the sedulous ape to Hazlitt, to Lamb, to Wordsworth, to Browne,
to Defoe, to Hawthorne, to INIontaigne, to Baudelaire, and to Obermann."
(Stevenson, R. L., Memories and Portraits, p. 55.)

Franklin likewise described his attempt to improve his own
style of WTiting by carefully studying a volimie of The Spectator
and developing a style similar to it.


"I read it over and over and was much delighted with it. I thought
the writing was excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it. With
that view I took some of the papers and making short hints of the senti-
ments in each sentence, laid them by a few days, and then, without
looking at the work, tried to complete the papers again, expressing each
hinted sentiment at length, and as fully as it had been expressed before,
in any suitable words that should occur to me. Then I compared my
'Spectator' with the original, discovered some of my faults, and cor-
rected them." To acquire a stock of words and a readiness in recollection
and use of them, he ' ' took some of the tales in the ' Spectator ' and turned
them into verse; and after a time when I had pretty well forgotten the
prose, turned them back again." (Quoted by Bolton, F. E., Principles of
Education, p. 421.)

Brander Matthews in a more general way has pointed out the
relative shares of imitation and originality.

"Consciously or unconscioi:sly every artist is a debtor to the past.
The most original of innovators has made his originality partly out of
himself, partly out of what he has appropriated anrl absorbed from those
who practiced his art before him. Only a few of his separate contrivances
are his own, and the most he can claim is a patent on the combination.

"... The young artist is a weakling if he openly robs any single one
of his predecessors; he is a dolt if he docs not borrow from as many of
them as may have the separate qualities he is striving to combine.

"The arts are one in reality; and what is true of painting and sculpture
and architecture is true also of literature, of prose and verse. For exam-
ple, there are few men of letters of our time whose prose has been more
praised for its freshness and its individuality than the late Robert Louis
Stevenson; but his was an originality compounded of many samples.
He confessed frankly that he had sat at the feet of the masters, playing
the 'sedulous ape' to a dozen or more, and at last slowly learning how to
be himself. Again, the verse of Dante Gabriel Rossetti has a note of its
own, a note which many younger poets have delighted to echo and re-
echo; but Rossetti told a friend that the exciting cause of his 'Blessed
Damozel ' was the ' Raven ' of Edgar Allan Poe, and Poe's own indebted-
ness to Coleridge is obvious, even if it had not been expressly avowed."

(c) Specific attention to frequently recurring grammatical
errors. Specific attention to, and special drill in, the precise func-
tions to be developed have been shown over and over again by
experiment and experience to be most directly efficacious in pro-
ducing improvement. Several valuable studies have been made
in recent years of the most common types of errors in oral and



WTitten language and of the frequency of their occurrence. Char-
ters and Miller ('15) made a study in cooperation with the teachers
in schools in Kansas City, by keeping a record for one week of all
errors in oral language heard by the teachers in and about the
school, and by collecting all errors in the written work of the
pupils for one month. A similar study was made by H. D. Fillers
('17), at Bonham, Texas, based on results from 900 pupils in grades
three to eight for WTitten language, and in grades two to eight for
oral language.

A third study has been reported by Sears and Diebel ('16) from
Cincinnati based on oral errors of 1,378 children of grades three to
eight which were heard by the teachers during a period of four

A fourth investigation was made by Starch (unpublished) in
which oral errors of pupils in grades one to eight were collected by
the teachers, and oral errors of university students by a group of
special students, and ^vritten errors were collected from some 1,700
themes obtained from eleven high schools. The high schools varied
from very small ones to one ha\'ing more than 1,000 students. The
total number of oral errors collected was 2,916 from grade pupils
and 1,164 from university students. The total number of written
errors collected from the high school pupils was 2,316, making a
total of 6,396 errors. The results of all four studies are sum-
marized in parallel columns in Table loS.

On the whole, the corresponding parts of all four studies agree
sur])risingly well, showing considerable reliability as well as striking
similarity in the types of errors found m different parts of the



Errors in language















Nature of Error

% OK


21 Ru-


% Of

21 Ru-

% OF


% OF


% OF


% OF


% OF Total




hr ics



1. Subject of verb not

in nominative case.

Ex. Me and some

boys went








2. Predicate nomina-

tive not in nomina-

tive case.

E.x. It was not him. .








3. Object of verb or

preposition not in ob-

jective case.

Ex. She appointed

Lynawood and I. . . .









4. Wrong form of

noun or pronoun.

Ex. Theirsclf, hisself.




,i ')





5. First personal pro-

noun standing first in

a series.

Ex. Me and him went





() 1






6. Failure of pronoun

to agree with its noun

in number and gender.

Ex. Nobody can do

what they like





6. 1





7. Confusion of de-

monstrative adjective

and personal pronoun.

Ex. Them weeds,

them things, them










8. Failure of verb to

agree with its subject

in person and number.

Ex. They was brought


1 )









9. Confusion of past

tense and past par-


Ex. I seen him





] 2






10. Confusion of past

and present tense.

Ex. They come along

and took mine











11. Wrong tense form.

Ex. John's dog went












12. Wrong verb.

Ex. Can we stay? . . .











13. Incorrect use of


E\. If you was to be









14. Incorrect compar-

i.son of adjectives.

Ex. The winds are

mucli more cooler . . .







15. Confusion of com-

parative and super-


Ex. Jolliest fof two). .







TABLE loS— Continued



Natxjre of Error

16. Confusion of art
jcclive and adverb
Ex. Will that there

17. Misplaced modi-

Ex. I only went once

18. Double negative.
Ex. I don't have no

19. Confusion of prep
osition and conjunc-

Ex. He looks like he is

20. Syntactical re-

Ex. Where's he at?. .

21. Wrong part of
speech due to similar
ity of sound.

Ex. I would be

22. Failure to put
period at end of sen-

23. Failure to put
question mark at end
of question

24. Failure to put
apostrophe to denote

25. Omission of sub

26. Omission of prcdi

27. Confusion of de
pendent and inde-
pendent clause . . .

28. Failure to begin
sentence with capital

29. Use of wrong ar
ticl e

30. Failure to use quo
tation marks

31. Wrong word or
phrase. Thai for The

32. Words omitted

I been to —

Z3. Miscellaneous.. .

Online LibraryDaniel StarchEducational psychology → online text (page 31 of 41)