Teaching Punctuation as a Rhetorical Tool

John Dawkins
1995 College composition and communication  
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more » ... unication. one of the "mechanics" of writing, after all-is perhaps not the first thing you turn to after checking the CCC table of contents, but you are here now, so let me try to keep you here by announcing, quickly, the not unimportant claims to be made. First, manuals of style and college handbooks have it all wrong when it comes to punctuation (good writers don't punctuate that way); there is, I propose, a system underlying what good writers, in fact, do; it is a surprisingly simple system; it is a system that enables writers to achieve importanteven subtle-rhetorical effects; it is, even, a system that teachers can teach far more easily than they can teach the poorly systematized rules in our handbooks and style manuals. It takes only a little study of the selections in our college readers to realize that the punctuation rules in handbooks and style manuals are not sacred texts for a great many good writers. Fragments and comma splices, violations of the coordinate clause and elliptical coordinate clause rules for commas, and inconsistencies in use of the comma with introductory word, phrase, and clause-these and other failures to follow the rules are frequent enough to raise questions about the rules themselves. Quirk et al. have examined statistical data on the use of the comma to mark coordination and concluded: "These results show we are dealing with tendencies which, while clear enough, are by no means rules. In such cases, it is probable that the general truth that punctuation conforms to grammatical rather than rhetorical considerations is in fact overridden" (1060). John Dawkins, an instructor in the Language and Literature Department at Bucks County Community College (Pennsylvania) and English Department at Manor Junior College, has been an editor and author of elementary and high school instructional materials. He began thinking about punctuation because graduate-level courses in linguistics at the University of Chicago encouraged him to ask questions about language performance. CCC 46.4/December 1995 533
doi:10.2307/358327 fatcat:uwgrt6zetzek7glyepqmjbymdy