Posthumanist Grammar 1.3

“A posthumanist approach to grammar is a grammar that humans just happen to be a part of. It is not universal. Fine, but what exactly is your definition of grammar? (And don’t you dare say that it depends on context. That’s a cop out.) And more important: why is it necessary to have a posthumanist approach?”

The definition of a posthumanist grammar does change depending on its context. That is the nature of posthumanist grammar. Grammatical rules change significantly when humans converse with each other in different contexts, and when machines, animals, and/or deities get drawn into the picture, entirely new complexities emerge. Nevertheless, your question is fair, and I sense that you have grown impatient with our discussions of posthumanism (though there is a great deal more that needs to be discussed). You would like to see the conversation turn away from the adjective posthumanist and turn toward the noun grammar. Like you, I’m a writing teacher. I’m a theorist and a practitioner, and the primary reason that I became interested in studying grammar was to help my students improve their writing.

“But the study of grammar does not improve a student’s writing. George Hillocks, James Williams, John Bean, and many others have been arguing that for years.”

Yes, but I would point out that Williams argues that it is the traditional study of grammar that does not improve a student’s writing. Many teachers have used his statement to argue (incorrectly) that grammar has no place in a writing classroom whatsoever. In fact, in The Teacher’s Grammar Book, Williams makes a compelling case as to why teachers should have an in depth knowledge of the history, form, styles, and uses of grammar in order to effectively help students understand the complexity of their communicative acts. In other words, one cannot understand rhetorical usage (and this applies to posthumanist usage as well) without understanding the grammatical principles which underlie usage. So what is my definition of grammar? Again, I would like to leave the option open for keeping that in flux as we approach new contexts, but for the most part Williams’ definition serves our approach quite well: “Grammar is the formal study of the structure of a language and describes how words fit together in meaningful constructions” (2).

Your second question–“Why is it necessary to have a posthumanist approach?”–deserves its own post. And I’m afraid I will have to take that up later. Like you, I have papers to grade this morning.


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