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Book Review

Uncovering Grammar
by Scott Thornbury

(Macmillan Heinemann)

Review by Scott Shelton

Uncovering Grammar, by Scott Thornbury, makes an extremely convincing case for grammar as an emerging process, a process in which the EFL teacher has an essential role; that of one who would aid in activating this innate process, serving as guide, helping to set up appropriate conditions, and interacting with learners to eventually 'uncover' their grammar - ultimately activating the process of generative grammar emergence.

In fact, so convinced is Thornbury of the need to view grammar as a dynamic process, that he has coined a new term so that it can be better expressed in such a way. Make way for: Grammaring!

Aside from being impeccably researched, this book manages to connect the dots in an extremely engaging way, enabling the author to paint a clear picture of his holistic, generative view of language emergence in an easy to follow, even exciting manner, as it challenges concepts that many have long held dear, and paves the way for a paradigm shift in not only the way language acquisition is understood, but also the way language is taught as a second language in our often structurally-heavy, course book-laden-classrooms.

Thornbury takes the reader seamlessly from an introduction of grammar as a process in the first chapter, to 'learning to grammar' whereby the reader is invited to investigate what grammar adds, by looking at where it is not. Several techniques are discussed which are purported to aid in increasing the complexity of a learner's language output while at the same time, nudging them towards an appreciation of viewing grammar as process. In chapter three, a case is made for grammar as an innate mental process (Chomsky's universal grammar?) merely in need of activation, and offers advice on the ELF teacher's role in this learner-centred grammaring process. Noted specifically is that of pointing the learner in the right direction through language activities based on consciousness-raising, the noticing of specific language features, and the impact they have on meaning. Chapter four touches on the connections and implications between metaphors of growth and unfolding, in both current scientific theories of complex systems & processes, and teaching. This results in an outline of a theory of language emergence as a self-organizing system as related to other, non-language based complex systems. In the final chapter of 'Uncovering Grammar', Thornbury looks at the wider implications of a process and emergence view of grammar, and its consequent effect on the practical world of teaching.

In the final three chapters of this book, the reader is treated to a variety of useful photocopiable materials based on the assumptions laid out previously, and which reflect the necessary shift in material design in order to faithfully guide our learners towards activation of their own grammaring process. A useful introduction is included as a preface to each collection of activities, which are separated into three categories: Grammaring tasks, Consciousness-raising tasks, and Grammar emergence tasks. The reader will delight in the simplicity and effectiveness of the activities included, and will no doubt be inspired to create more along the same lines, as you will, (I am sure), by now, be convinced of the value of aiding your learners to begin Uncovering Grammar.

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