The Queensland "Coalface" Grammar Dispute

In 2007 the English Teachers Association of Queensland published in their journal Words'Worth a series of eight articles with the general title `Grammar at the coal-face', presented as a `teaching resource'. Two of the articles, `The structural basics' and `Functional elements in a clause', by Dr Lenore Ferguson, give an account of aspects of English grammar concerning the parts of speech, group and phrase classes, and clause structure: These two papers together are here referred to as `the Coalface Grammar'. Unfortunately, the Coalface Grammar contains an exceptionally large number of errors — over sixty in fifteen and a half pages of relevant text — but the author refuses to acknowledge more than half a dozen. This gave rise to a dispute. A number of documents by Rodney Huddleston relating to this dispute are posted here, together with one by Professor Randy LaPolla.

Note that the Coalface Grammar was written primarily from the perspective of Hallidayan functional grammar, but a good number of the errors involve misinterpretations or misrepresentations of that theory.

1. Errors in the Coalface Grammar. PDF format, 41 pages, A4 paper; copyright © by Rodney Huddleston, 28.11.09.

The main part of this document is devoted to a detailed catalogue of sixty-five errors in the Coalface Grammar. It works through the latter page by page, citing pages from the text and explaining the errors in them. It urges that the work should be revised and corrected, or at least withdrawn.

2. Coalface Grammar letter from Australian Linguistic Society President. PDF format; Pt 1: 3 pages; copyright © by Randy LaPolla, 20.07.08; Pt 2: 4 pages; copyright © by Rodney Huddleston, 20.01.10.

Part 1 of this document is a letter written by the then President of the Australian Linguistics Society, Professor Randy LaPolla, to Dr Ferguson, endorsing the criticisms made by Rodney Huddleston in item [8] below. The letter was summarily dismissed by Dr Ferguson and the ETAQ President, Garry Collins, without any discussion of the criticisms; part 2 of the present document, by Rodney Huddleston, deals with these responses.

3. Letter to Queensland secondary school principals about the Coalface Grammar. PDF format, 3 pages, A4 paper; copyright © 2010 by Rodney Huddleston.

Following the refusal by Dr Ferguson and ETAQ to acknowledge and correct most of the errors, Rodney Huddleston wrote to principals of secondary schools in Queensland, warning them that the Coalface Grammar contains a great many errors and providing a link to this website.

4. Reply to Dr Ferguson's response to `Errors in the Coalface Grammar'. PDF format, 9 pages, A4 paper; copyright © by Rodney Huddleston, 30.01.10.

Dr Ferguson's response to `Errors' (item 1 above) was posted on the ETAQ website ( in January 2010 for about three months. ETAQ have declared that they will not publish any further material on the Coalface dispute, so Rodney Huddleston's reply appears here instead.

5. A short history of the Coalface dispute. PDF format, 6 pages, A4 paper; copyright © by Rodney Huddleston, 31.01.10.

A summary account of the main events in the dispute from the initial contact in July 2007 to the posting of `Errors' and Dr Ferguson's response on the ETAQ website in January 2010.

6. Coalface Grammar letter to Garry Collins of ETAQ. PDF format, 13 pages, A4 paper; copyright © by Rodney Huddleston, 06.01.10

This is a set of comments on a first draft of Dr Ferguson's response to `Errors'. She removed a number of personal comments as a result, but the main substance of the final version of her paper remained the same: a refusal to acknowledge more than a few errors and a refusal to consider the evidence presented in `Errors'. The letter also contained an eleventh-hour appeal to the ETAQ Management Committee to withdraw the Coalface Grammar if it was not revised and corrected.

7. Response to `Reflections on Grammar at the Coalface'. PDF format, 9 pages, A4 paper; copyright © by Rodney Huddleston, 30.08.09.

The September 2008 issue of ETAQ's journal Words'Worth included a piece entitled `Reflections on Grammar at the Coalface', containing statements by the Management Committee and the author on what they called the `media attack' in The Australian. The approach to The Australian was said to have been unnecessary and unproductive, and there were critical remarks on the unnamed retired academic responsible  Rodney Huddleston. He in due course submitted a response, but it was rejected without explanation, so it appears here instead.

8. Problems with the Coalface Grammar. Browsable file. PDF format, 17 pages, here., copyright © 2008 by Rodney Huddleston.

This was the first published survey of the errors in the Coalface Grammar, uploaded to the ETAQ website in April 2008, but subsequently removed. The Coalface Grammar was said to be written predominantly from the perspective of Hallidayan functional grammar, though many of the errors involve misrepresentations of the latter. The present paper is divided into three parts: the main focus was on inconsistency, error and confusion in the Coalface Grammar itself, with shorter sections on `Problems with functional grammar' and `Simplifying functional grammar'.

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