It always surprises me how very little most people seem to understand the structure of language. More so, it surprises me how little they seem to care about their lack of understanding. This is not limited to Americans. I was questioning my Swiss friend about some points of German grammar, and she said that she really did not know how to answer me. She just naturally speaks and reads it. Which I suppose makes sense. That is how most of us interact with our native tongues. I guess it is just that I enjoy writing. And, more than that actually, I enjoy reading well-written work, be it essay or story or novel. My desire both to write better and to grasp why well-written pieces resonate the way that they do has led me to a lifelong fascination with grammar, syntax, and punctuation. And since I am the tyrannical pedagogical overlord of my daughter's education, my obsessions dictate her courses of study. So, we are going to start diagramming sentences in composition. Bwha-ha-ha!
Luckily for me, this modern age of instant and complete gratification almost immediately put into my hands the ultimate sentence diagramming book: Drawing Sentences by Eugene Moutoux. I promise you: I ordered this book before I even knew that the author was a professor of, among other things, German and Latin (derivatives). Must be kismet! We have not started to use it yet (next Monday is the day enclosed with a red heart on my calendar that signals the beginning of our journey); but, after simply thumbing through its awesomeness, I can confidently say that this book has everything you need to learn completely the art of diagramming. He starts with the simplest sentences (e.g. "Ducks waddle.") and moves you systematically through the swirly-twirly grammar forest to such compositional virtuosity as this gem from Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher": During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. Whoa Nelly! Could Poe himself diagram that twister? We ought to be able to by the end of this course.
I am really hoping that this intensive study -- which will probably take us the rest of 4th Grade well into 6th -- will leave Sadie with a thorough understanding of the structural beauty that is possible with our wondrous language. Also, I hope that she comes away from it with more than a nodding acquaintance with the arsenal of structural components available to writers to enrich and enhance their craft. Frankly, that is my hope for myself as well.