Novelists and poets simply aren't held to the rules of grammar; what they do is "creative writing," a thing apart. But, again, such a sharp distinction is peculiar to modern English; in Italian and French--as well as in the English written before the nineteenth century--the language of poetry is not exempt from the requirements of correctness, unless the poem has been expressly written in dialect. This disregard for the grammar of poetry and fiction is connected with another curious feature of English-language values: unlike speakers of most Continental languages, we do not hold that there is a single "correct" accent, and we permit each area to set its own pronunciation standards.
The New Yorker who drops his "r"s or the Englishman who pronounces his may be looked down on, but he is guilty only of a social gaffe, like the man who wears a polyester leisure suit. It is inconceivable that a New York City teacher would tell his pupils that pronouncing "horse" to rhyme with "sauce" is "not English," in the way that a Tuscan teacher might tell his pupils that it is "not Italian" to pronounce "casa" as "hasa.
Our linguistic values, being so particular to English, are by no means absolute or immutable. They must change, as they have already changed, along with the social composition of the English-speaking world. It was because of sweeping social changes in the eighteenth century that our present system of values arose. The new values were created in part by the rise of the middle class, with a corresponding increase in literacy; in part by the importation of the German-speaking Hanover court; and in part by the new conception of English as the language that extended over the whole of Great Britain and then the colonies.
An immediate effect of these changes was the emergence of a new intellectual class, independent of aristocratic patronage, which came to cultural authority. If they did not manage to, as they put it, "ascertain" the English language in a fixed form for all time, they did at least succeed in establishing the linguistic ground rules that would hold for the next two hundred years. Unlike their Continental contemporaries, the English grammarians rejected the notion that national institutions should have any role in determining the models of correct usage.
In , Swift had seconded earlier suggestions by Dryden and others that an English academy be established, on the model of the Italian and French ones, and only the fall of the Tory government prevented his plan from being realized. By mid-century, however, the idea was generally opposed, as inconsistent with what Johnson called "the spirit of English liberty.
As Garrick wrote:. For the grammarians of the Age of Reason, the advantage of literary models was that their superiority could be defended by appeals to logic and sensibility. For the first time, a distinction was made between those parts of grammar that could be rationalized--diction, syntax, and the like--and those parts, like pronunciation, that were left to be ruled by arbitrary fashion.
Modern techniques of grammatical argument were introduced in this period: justification by logic, by literary precedent, by analogy, and by etymology. In fact, a good many of the specific dictates of prescriptive grammar were introduced then. It may be either consoling or disheartening to realize that grammarians have been railing for more than two hundred years against usages like It's me, the tallest of the two , and the man who I saw , with no sign of a resolution either way. The grammarians have won some battles over the years-- most notably against the innocuous ain't , which educated speakers now use only in a jocular way.
They have lost others, such as the fight to maintain a distinction between shall and will , which never really caught on outside of England. The basic linguistic values established in the eighteenth century were rarely challenged over the next hundred and fifty years. In Jacksonian America, there was a brief reaction against the imposition of Old World grammatical values, but this was little more than a provincial rebellion, and it subsided, with the rest of such populism, by the Gilded Age.
It was not until the s and s that the traditional doctrines were rejected by a significant part of the cultural elite. In the forefront of the attack were the "structural linguists," as they then styled themselves. The battle culminated in the brouhaha over the publication in of Webster's Third New International , which refused to label usages like ain't and to contact as incorrect or even colloquial.
Despite the fulminations of Dwight Macdonald and Jacques Barzun and Nero Wolfe, who burned his copy page by page , the linguists succeeded in convincing most of the educational establishment of the rightness of their views. But they could not sway the body of educated public opinion; hence the cold war that endures to this day.
Defenders of the grammatical old order often speak of the linguists as a cabal of intriguers who have singlehandedly undermined traditional values. Jacques Barzun wrote that "modern linguists bear a grave responsibility. The linguists could have had so wide an effect on the attitudes of educators only by addressing areas of general concern. In fact, the linguists based their attack on two sound points that appealed to the public's growing respect for science and increased awareness of cultural pluralism.
First, every language is a complex system with an internal logic, the full understanding of which requires scientific investigation. And second, since nonstandard forms of English possess internal logic just as standard English does, they are not inherently inferior; rather, the doctrines of prescriptive grammar reflect covert class prejudice and racism.
I think that linguists have been wrong in their conclusions about the value of traditional grammar. It may be true that only those with technical expertise can begin to understand the workings of language -- and even to them, many of the basic issues remain as controversial as the causes of inflation. Still, it does not follow that the layman cannot decide for himself what is right and wrong.
From the point of view of modern linguistics, Fowler knew very little about the mechanics of grammar, but he had exquisite intuitions about what sounded right and, more important, the capacity to reflect on these intuitions in a reasoned way. It is not important that he was unsuccessful in formulating general rules that would specify exactly when everyone must be followed by he , and when a plural verb should follow a collective noun.
When grammar consists of nothing but such rules, in fact, it becomes frozen and useless, because there are always cases that the rules do not cover, or in which two rules contradict each other. Should we say We have each taken his coat or It is he whom I was going to see or Only the ear knows. What Fowler does teach is an approach to grammatical problems that can be cranked up anew for each situation.
In the end, that is what all good writers rely on. Linguistics can help here; it provides a language for talking about language a "meta-language," in the trade , which is much more precise than the mysterious and dimly remembered classifications of traditional grammar. Terms like "predicate nominative" may have a limited applicability to Latin, but they were not very useful for talking about English even in the days when educated speakers were presumed to have some familiarity with the classical languages.
But we should no more ask linguistic scientists to tell us what sounds best than we should ask economists to tell us which distribution of property will be fairest; those matters are for us to decide. Until the 20 th century grammarians rarely criticized the speech of the working classes; they simply assumed their readers knew better than to talk like that. Minority and working-class children must, as a purely practical first measure, learn the speech habits that happen to have been adopted by the middle class.
What linguists have not understood, however, is that standard English and good English are different things. It is still possible to distinguish in principle between the crass hypocrisy that leads us to try to get ghetto children to talk like the children of stockbrokers and the higher and more arduous calling that leads us to try to get the children of stockbrokers to write like James Baldwin. But it is only so long as we bear that distinction in mind--so long as attacks on the "slovenliness" of ghetto English still raise our hackles--that we are entitled to try to resuscitate the enterprise of grammar with a clear conscience.
We can revive grammatical values only if we can make them consistent with our other social values, so that we can argue from moral principles that are as unexceptionable and familiar to us as the etiquette for addressing servants was to Fowler's original readers. There is no point in my trying to justify a usage to my students by an appeal to some musty, Arnoldian ideal of culture.
They will listen politely and forget the whole matter before they log onto the computer to write their next term papers. They have nothing to be nostalgic about, and I can't make a good case for any sort of attention to grammar unless I am willing to accept the universe that they quite contentedly inhabit. In the first place, we have to recognize that literature has lost the kind of public importance that it had in Johnson's or Arnold's day. Although more people than ever are functionally literate, few are literate in the high sense of the word, and those who are can't expect other people to be.
There is an old joke about the days when the British universities were thoroughly corrupt, and a dissolute young aristocrat could pass his exams by answering the question "Now then, Lord Arthur, who dragged whom around the walls of what? It is not that people don't read novels and such. They do, probably more than ever, but only for the pleasure of it. There is no canon--no books that everyone expects everybody to have read, or to be able to pretend to have read--that can serve as a common reference point in discussions of social values.
The effects of all this on the way we think about and use the language are by now irreversible. Take the way we talk about character. People who used to be vain, wrathful, self-reliant, sullen, or driven are now narcissistic, hostile, secure, passive-aggressive, or obsessive more or less.
To know what the old words meant, we went to Jane Austen and Thackeray; to understand the new ones, we take psychology courses. The extent to which the new order has become established was brought home to me by a sentence in a recent article in Commentary on delinquency. The author ridiculed the jargon with which social workers describe delinquents, then concluded: "In short, he is what the layman would call a sociopath.
Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms
Orwell's Politics and the English Language is the most widely cited of all 20th century essays on the language. The declining importance of literature is tied as well to the changing role of written language as a medium of public information. When the eighteenth-century grammarians insisted that writing, not speech, must be the model for good usage, they were on solidly democratic ground, for a spoken model could be familiar only to a small group of people connected by personal ties and could be broadcast only inefficiently, through plays and sermons.
Written models could reach a much larger public. But now, thanks to radio and television, the spoken language has once again become the medium of the broadest public discussion, especially as regards the political and civic aspects of our lives. If we hew to the same democratic principles that led the eighteenth-century grammarians to insist upon the primacy of writing, we will accord more importance to the spoken language.
Writing is not about to wither away, to be sure. The doomsayers who see in television the death of literacy sound very much like the nineteenth-century critics who thought that photography would be the end of painting. But television and radio are now the principal means for disseminating political information to a large public.
Consequently, it is increasingly important for people to know how to listen critically and how to evaluate spoken arguments. Yet here again, the public-school curriculum and grammar books are largely unchanged. Nowadays, it is common to throw all linguistic vices into the same hopper.
The typical state of-the-language essay begins by citing a misuse of disinterested and then jumps to an example of bureaucratic jargon or of faulty verb agreement, as if each error consigned the writer to the same circle of hell. But the eighteenth-century grammarians were careful to distinguish among several different types of linguistic vices and, by implication, of linguistic virtues.
In particular, they set off barbarisms , expressions that could not legitimately be used in serious writing; solecisms , which were offenses against their ideas of logic; and improprieties , or mistakes in diction. Barbarisms seem at first to have been a diffuse class, which included the use in polite discourse of foreign expressions, of archaisms, of "low cant" and "provincial idioms," and of the newly coined jargon of philosophers and theologians, a category later expanded to include the language of the sciences, both real and self-styled.
What all barbarisms ostensibly had in common was that they offended against the idea that good usage must be "reputable, national, and present," as the great eighteenth-century rhetorician George Campbell put it. But some words that fail to meet these criteria have always escaped the epithet. It is only in our discourse about certain topics that we have objected to the importation of words from communities outside the general literate public. Take French expressions, until recently a matter of great concern. There are certain cultural categories that we insist on defining for ourselves, but when it comes to the arts of cooking, dance, and love, we readily defer to the authority of the French.
The barbarisms that concern modern critics are quite different from those that bothered Campbell or Fowler. No one now troubles over the use of archaisms like peradventure and anon , for the language is scarcely threatened by an unwholesome excess of gentility, as it was in the nineteenth century. And the use of an unassimilated French word is at worst regarded as an annoying affectation, in part because French culture is not as important a model as it once was, and in part because the practice is no longer intimidating--not only do people not know French but they are not even ashamed of not knowing French.
One type of barbarism that does rile modern critics is borrowings from technical usage--one aspect of the tendency to refashion the language on the model of scientific discourse. For the most part, the borrowing is natural and inevitable--what else would you call a minicomputer or a quasar? And no one objects to the use of terms from economies like money supply and productivity.
But we raise the roof when bureaucrats and administrators introduce verbs like prioritize, source, implement , and input as if their procedures were as technically intricate and as inaccessible to common understanding as the workings of computers or the money market. And now that we justify linguistic values in political terms, we find no offense so heinous as the use of jargon by politicians, who call invasions "incursions" and tax increases "revenue enhancement"--the sorts of usages that so bothered Orwell.
Why is it all right for a politician to use capital-intensive , but not revenue enhancement? Critics would be wise to say nothing about true slang, the special language of linguistically disenfranchised groups like the young, the minorities, and the underworld.
Traditional (School) Grammar: Definition and Examples
Epstein has hit on the sensibility that underlies the current use of life-style, but his argument leaves an important question unanswered: what is wrong with having the word? After all, there really are life-styles. Some people choose to have split-level houses and Ford station wagons, while others have condos with wet bars and drive Porsches, and if that isn't a difference of style, what is it?
Would anyone object if we talked about "the Southern California style of living"? The difference is that in giving a one-word name to a category, we make it into a kind of primary concept, which is presumed to have a basic place in our overall scheme of things. That is the intimation about life-style that bothers Epstein--and me. If the word life-style manages to survive for another generation, it is unlikely that anyone will still be bothered by it. I loved it. Here are some points of view and comments to this very intriguing subject.
I believe that the learning of grammar is not the most important element in learning to communicate correctly in the English language. When a mother teaches her child to speak, and what subsequently becomes the mother tongue first language , she would hardly have given any thought or advice on grammar and the rules that follow the language. This should come when the student is more comfortable in the correct spoken form. The student should develop the confidence to speak comfortably and fluently, rather than know the rules of the language.
To enjoy speaking the language and being able to speak fluently has little relationship to knowing the grammar and its rules. It is more important to learn phrases and study and review phrases, in the context that they are used. Sorry for the lenght. Thank you. Cheers Ajit. Hello Leo and everyone else. I was glad to read your article as it reinforces my views regarding teaching grammar and the role it should take during lessons.
I strongly feel I must not despise the importance of grammar rules once they may shed light on a better understanding of how language has been encoded and should ideally, perhaps, be used. However I am much more convinced and satisfied when I collect examples of how a certain word or phrase has been used by native speakers in different countries and different contexts to grab a sense of real life language that goes beyond academic books and decisions. Nevertheless, keeping this belief may be quite a challenge, once students still overrate grammar and may lack confidence in their output and even in their teacher's competence when grammar points are not exhaustively uttered, in a very conservative and traditional explanatory approach.
It seems to me that students may feel more comfortable when they listen to long-winded explanations as they are not challenged to contrast, compare and come up with meaningful language. When you mention continuous exposure as a way to grasp meaning, I couldn't agree more. The analytical moment could take place once students have dealt with and somehow witnessed the language in various contexts. My concern is that different students come with different expectations of the way they learnt best, and for many of them prioritising grammar is a belief that has not been beat.
I feel that gradually delivering grammar, bearing in my mind a very practical approach via speech prompts and chunks, is the way to go. I can not lose sight, however, of my students beliefs and somehow be open to negotiate steps so that they do not feel frustrated or confronted. Thank you for your interesting article and the previous comments. It amazes me that that the teaching methods discussed make French schools' class time limits, class sizes, student, parent and administration expectations seem very far from innovations coming out of the UK and so many other countries in the world.
I feel I must lament that most language evaluations- no matter what approach we must or try to use to teach real English - inevitably falls back on testing traditional methods of grammar learning. There are roads to go before I sleep Thanks for this interesting post Leo. I agree with many of your points and you basic stance.
This was most definitely my experience with using both Arabic and Thai!
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I am sorry for neglecting this and not reacting to your comment more promptly. I am glad that my article has provoked some discussion. As Jackson pointed out, it is often the case that students prioritise grammar and expect the teacher to give lengthy explanations of grammar points. Indeed, when I ask even some advanced students who are very fluent and proficient in English why they would like to improve English, they often say that they have problems and need help with grammar when they clearly do not.
Thank you also for mentioning Scott Gardner's article - I will check it out. As regards Huw's comment, I certainly agree that vocabulary or rather lexis, i. See for example my article Revising Lexis: Quality of Quantity - www. I absolutely agree with you. Vocabulary is more important than grammar. If you know grammar well without vocabulary you can"t speak and explain any materials. A beautiful article on the ongoing adaptations in modern English language. It's true that the English we read , speak and teach today is very different from the English we used to be taught in our childhood days.
In short what I can tell is that if Grammar is the body of English, then, definitely Lexis is its spirit! My heartiest good wishes for Mr. Selivan for this insight. Published in: Education. Full Name Comment goes here. Are you sure you want to Yes No. Yassou Gohar. Israa Magdi. No Downloads. Views Total views. Actions Shares. Embeds 0 No embeds. No notes for slide. Traditional grammar 1. Traditional Grammar Presented by: Jessica V. Traditional Grammar is applied to summarize the range of methods found in the pre-linguistic era of grammatical study.
The whole approach of this method emphasizes on correctness, linguistic purism, literary excellence, the priority of the written mode of language and the use of Latin models. Traditional grammarians considered Latin as their model because English is a part of the Indo-European family of languages, and to which Latin and Greek also belong. It did have similar grammatical elements. If you study the form of traditional grammar, the rules of classical languages were followed considering that English did not have grammar of its own.
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And English followed Latin grammar. Besides the parts of speech, traditional grammatical analysis also makes use of numerous other categories, just like 'number', 'gender', 'person', 'tense' and 'voice'. The collection of prescriptive rules and concepts about the structure of language that is commonly taught in schools. Traditional English grammar also known as school grammar is largely based on the principles of Latin grammar, not on current linguistic research in English.
Structural and Transformational Grammars
The chief goal of traditional grammar, therefore, is perpetuating a historical model of what supposedly constitutes proper language. Williams, The Teacher's Grammar Book. Routledge, 6. Mainly because they like the prescriptive approach of traditional grammar rather than the descriptive approach of structural and transformational grammar. Inconsistencies in the style of a newspaper, online news site, magazine or book draw attention to themselves when readers should instead be concentrating on the content.
The work of linguists is essential for making such calls on the best evidence available. Macmillan, 7. Pragmatics, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics. What is the difference between traditional grammar and modern linguistics? All grammar is traditional. There is a difference between formal or written grammar, which insists on certain distinctions, as between who and whom, the appropriate use of subjunctive and the indicative moods and agreement of subject and verb, and informal or colloquial grammar which does not. Modern English grammar, as the description of modern English usage characteristic of people under the age of forty, certainly suffers from the reduction of distinctions, the loss of refinement and the tongue- tied confusion of tenses and moods which is the inevitable result of having its standards set by the most careless speakers rather than by the most careful.