Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Coffin, Donohue & North: Exploring English Grammar

Exploring English Grammar by Caroline Coffin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There's nothing so practical as a good theory, says Michael Fullan and here we have a very practical approach to a very good theory. Coffin, Donohue & North have started with the practical situation that most people interested in grammar are likely to have already experienced formal or communicative descriptions of English grammar. They proceed to take these people - who are more often than not going to be language teachers - and introduce a model of language (Systemic Functional Grammar) which is likely to be of great benefit to them. Throughout, the approach is a very practical one.

This is an unusual book. It is not a grammar resource book - such as Swan's Practical English Usage - or a comprehensive grammar of English - such as Introduction to Functional Grammar. Instead it is a book about grammar - what it is, why we have it and how we can use it. Unusual as this may be, it is very - yes, you guessed it - practical. Most grammar resource books assume that you know what a grammar is for, and you just what answers to specific questions, while comprehensive grammars rarely have time to look at how you night apply a grammatical explanation or category to a real situation. This book admirably bridges these two needs, so being unusual is not a bad thing here.

Coffin & her colleagues from the Open University introduce the concepts behind grammar through example. They take the reader from an understanding that they already know something about formal grammar, through descriptions of how communicative grammars compensate for the impractical nature of formal grammars, to explaining how a functional grammar - in this case systemic functional grammar - can combine the practicality of a communicative grammar with the theoretical rigour and the explanatory demands of a formal grammar. All of this is done through clear text, highly practical examples of grammatical rules (that I fully endorse), plenty of real-life texts to illustrate, entertain and illuminate, and short exercises to drive the message home.

More details are available on the publisher's page, and there is an extensive online "companion page" which links you to extra exercises, further links, corrections and the Routledge English Language & Applied Linguistics resources page.

Another Goodreads.com review.View all my reviews

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