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The English Patient: English grammar and teaching in the twentieth century

  • DOI:
  • Published online: 15 November 2005

In the first half of the twentieth century, English grammar disappeared from the curriculum of most schools in England, but since the 1960s it has gradually been reconceptualised, under the influence of linguistics, and now once again has a central place in the official curriculum. Our aim is not only to document these changes, but also to explain them. We suggest that the decline of grammar in schools was linked to a similar gap in English universities, where there was virtually no serious research or teaching on English grammar. Conversely, the upsurge of academic research since the 1960s has provided a healthy foundation for school-level work and has prevented a simple return to old-fashioned grammar-teaching now that grammar is once again fashionable. We argue that linguists should be more aware of the links between their research and the school curriculum.

Corresponding author
Department of Phonetics and Linguistics, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, U.K. E-mail:
University of Bielefeld, Postfach 100131, 33501 Bielefeld, Germany. E-mail:
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The first part of the article's title refers to a film, popular around the turn of the millennium, whose plot turns on the identity of a wounded combatant who turns out to be less English than his speech suggested. We argue that the fate of grammar-teaching has been linked to the crisis of identity through which the subject called ‘English’ has passed during the last hundred years. We should like to thank Andrew Philp, Ron Carter and Janet White, as well as two anonymous JL referees, for helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper.
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Journal of Linguistics
  • ISSN: 0022-2267
  • EISSN: 1469-7742
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-linguistics
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