Sentence diagramming in Britain

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16th-19th centuries: Lily’s Grammar of Latin in English

  • First published 1542, authorized by Henry VIII as the only such grammar permitted in ‘his’ schools
  • Continued to dominate till mid 19th century, when it was replaced by Kennedy’s Latin primer
  • Included general grammar applicable to English as well as peculiarities of Latin
  • Was taught to seven-year olds, including William Shakespeare, Isaac Newton and William Wordsworth
  • By the 1709 edition it included a diagramming system with superscript ‘a’ and ‘b’ linking governor and dependent:

 Lily's diagramming system

19th-20th centuries:

  • Parsing
    • For syntactic (not morphological) analysis of individual words.
    • Uses a method invented in the 6th century (!!) by grammarians Priscian (Luhtala 1994, in Encyc of Lang and Ling).
    • Classifies each word according to a fixed set of parameters (class, number, tense, etc)
  • Analysis
    • For syntactic analysis of the parts of a single clause.
    • Introduced into the UK (according to Walker, 200 Years of Grammar p. 48) by Daniel Morell in 1852, on the basis of work by the German grammarian Karl Ferdinand Becker. His system used a table:
    • Mason, English Grammar including the principles of grammatical analysis (1858, pages 122-123) offered a systematic format for presenting sentence analysis using a row for each element (later turned into columns in a table).
    • John Meiklejohn, the first Professsor of Education at St Andrews University offered:
      •  a one-dimensional ‘tree’ made of arrows (in The Standard Grammar (1882), page 20, via Richard Lewellen):
      • a two dimensional ‘tree’ (from “The English Language”, 1886, page 109, reproduced in Sampson and Babarczy “Grammar Without Grammaticality“, 2014, page 3):
      • another ‘tree’, presented as a way of ‘mapping out’ a sentence before analysing it (from English Language, page 100):
      • the actual analysis, presented as a list of words in the sentence, with a prose description of each (page 101):
      • the actual analysis presented as a table with a column for each element of the clause (page 102):
    • A similar (but not identical) table is found in Nesfield, Manual of English Grammar and Composition (1891), page 5:

  • The Parallel Grammar Series on English Grammar (1902) contains yet another variation on the table (page 26):
  • The same book (page 25) also offers a simple way of presenting sentence analysis (i.e. analysis into clauses) using indentation:
  • The Memorandum on the teaching of English (1926) contains both a table and a Reed and Kellogg ‘tree’  (page 7-8):

At least in state schools, both parsing and analysis disappeared from the curriculum in the 1960s, and from practice during the next few decades. It would probably be safe to say that they never happen now, though they may possibly continue in a few independent (i.e. private) schools.


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