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November 27, 2003 - Thanks for the Grammar, Mom! - 2003-11-26

Broadcast on COAST TO COAST: November 27, 2003

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster -- a Thanksgiving Day special.

RS: This is a day for families, so we'd like you to meet one. Harriet and Tom Lloyd live in the small state of Rhode Island and have two daughters. Morgan is twenty-one and Kearsley is sixteen. When they all sit down to their Thanksgiving meal, they'll probably sound like any other American family this holiday. Then again, maybe not.

AA: You see, Harriet Lloyd went to unusual lengths to set a high standard for her daughters in both grammar and speech. These are standards she grew up with, she says, and now serve her as a writer for non-profit organizations.

RS: Mrs. Lloyd also once served on a school board when she lived in New Jersey, and likes to speak out about language. A letter to the editor she wrote to the New York Times caught our attention.

AA: So, what are Harriet Lloyd’s thoughts this Thanksgiving Day?

LLOYD: "One of the things that I'm thankful for is that language has played such a large part in my life and that it is such an art form really, and I feel, you know, I'm rather pessimistic at this moment about it. I mean, I try to be hopeful and I hope there's something to look forward to with the language, but I think that it's an art form that's being forgotten and we're raising a generation of children that do not have clear, organized thought."

RS: "Now are you talking about written or oral speech?"

LLOYD: "I'm speaking about both, and I think the fact that so many schools have dispensed with debate and public speaking -- I mean, I myself have looked for this training for my children and I've had to go to universities and actually get a professor, usually a drama professor, to work with them to be able to make a better presentation at a job interview or to be able to be comfortable at a college interview."

AA: "Why don't you talk a little bit about how you raised your kids in an age of popular culture to have them uphold sort of the more traditional, higher standards."

LLOYD: "I think it was largely consistency. I think it was similar to when a child is misbehaving. When you hear faulty grammar or when you hear a word that isn't pronounced well, just taking the time to make clear to them that it is pronounced a certain way or that you don't want them to say certain words the way they're saying them. And I have found that my children have kind of started in the past to correct each other almost; it becomes a game. And we would do these little exercises sometimes along the roadway in the car, looking at billboards that might have had faulty grammar that caught our eye.

"We had a consciousness-raising exercise often times by doing crossword puzzles together. I remember my parents working with us on the New York Times crossword puzzle. So I used crossword puzzles as kind of a challenge to see how much we could finish each day. And we read newspapers together and, you know, just basically looked at the sentence structure. And if they saw a mistake it was an opportunity for celebration and sometimes a quarter [a coin] to find a mistake."

RS: "How has this made a difference in your family?"

LLOYD: "I think it's made a huge difference for my children in terms of their success in school. And I would say, ironically, that they've been strong in foreign language, where their grammatical skills have actually been useful to them, while many of their peers have had to learn grammar for the first time in order to master a foreign language."

AA: "And why don't you give, just so it's clear what we're talking about when you're sort of defending your children against [the influence of popular culture], why don't you make it clear what you're talking about."

LLOYD: "Well, I'm very upset, I guess, by the lazy and careless language that I see, somewhat symptomatic of a hurried environment, but also that the aesthetics of the language as I have know it are being lost to kind of the -- and I don't want to be disparaging of rap music in particular, but the rap kind of talk and the street kind of talk that has become kind of a culture of anti-intellectualism in the country. And I think that Americans are very savvy, smart people and I don't exactly understand what is being rejected about the language that my generation was raised with."

RS: "One positive step that I've seen lately is that in the college entrance exam, the scholastic aptitude test, they're going to require an essay which my children are, you know, like ... "

AA: "And that was, in fact --

RS: " ... threatened by."

AA: " -- like the University of California system, I believe it was the president, was threatening to stop requiring the SAT unless they did more to bring up some writing. So ... "

LLOYD: "Right."

AA: " ... I think you're seeing that now as -- "

LLOYD: "I think that's a very good sign."

AA: "Now last question, that I have at least, is when you would hear your daughters talk with their friends, did they still apply the sort of higher standards, more formal standards of English, or did they sound like other teenagers?"

LLOYD: "They sounded very much like other kids. And it's very funny, because now that one of them is out of college, I will often now hear that there were so many good things that came out of that type of training."

RS: "We can all understand that! [laughter]"

RS: Harriet Lloyd lives in Shelter Harbor, Rhode Island. And that's Wordmaster for this week.

AA: Our e-mail address is, and visit us at With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.