Re: grammar and all that

Subject: Re: grammar and all that
From: Jeroen Hendrix <jhe -at- POLYDOC -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 9 Mar 1999 15:37:49 +0100

Damien Braniff added the following to the grammar thread:

****** Snip ******
Re grammar, spelling etc on the list I don't feel that it's that important
nice but not vital;


The problem is that as everybody uses the language it is
sometimes assumed that it "comes naturally" - it doesn't. We learn it like
everything else through lessons and examples. It's a bit like driving a
car -
***** Snip *******

Well yes and no. You do learn your mother tongue in a natural way. That's
clearly demonstrated if you look at the way a child learns its language. -
I'll try to keep it brief and avoid writing a thesis here --

A child doesn't learn its language in a conscious way. You never see a
toddler study on words or learning how to use a transitive verb, it
automatically learns to use its language. Even more, if a child grows up in
a bilingual environment, it has no trouble learning both languages
simultaneously. How older it gets, the more complex the communication.
Provided that there's sufficient input from speakers of that particular
language. Normally, the parents are the prime suppliers of the necessary
input. These parents don't teach their language to their offspring. They
never follow text books or a set program when they provide this input.
Everything goes on the flow, as it has always has gone.
Compare this to all the trouble adults have to go trough when they try to
learn a new language. Adults have to study very hard to comprehend the
different grammar and build up an active vocabulary. Studies have shown
that there is a something like a critical period, in which children learn a
language naturally, just by input. The critical age lies approximately
around twelve, after this the learning requires more and more input.
Furthermore if a child doesn't get any input in this critical period, it
will never be able to really learn a language at all. This shows acquiring
a language cannot be compared to learning how to drive a car.

There are many misunderstandings about what grammar really is. What we need
to understand is that a language is primarily determined by its grammar.
The difference between several languages doesn't lie so much in the
different vocabularies. Vocabularies can change rapidly and even vary per
region or cultural layer. A language is defined in the deepest structures
of its grammar, in this deep structure the differences and commonalties
between languages become apparent. These deep structures determine how a
sentence should be constructed properly in that particular language. These
are rules most of us are never aware off, but do use: everyone will spot an
ill-constructed sentence easily. Only because your internal grammar checker
goes off. Somehow the rules are engraved in your internal linguistic
system. These rules aren't imposed by men, these rules evolved through
evolution, through centuries, millennia of use. And they are still
evolving. Slowly, but still. This is also the difference between grammar
and spelling/punctuation. The latter are imposed rules or conventions. They
have nothing to do with grammar. Spelling rules are agreed upon and are
considered valid in a certain period of time.

So, basically, IMHO, the ongoing discussion is not really about grammar,
but about conventions. Its about whether we should or shouldn't follow
these, and how important they really are in every day use. Grammar is
vital, if you don't follow the grammar, your message becomes
incomprehensible. If you don't follow spelling conventions, readers can get
confused. If you want to avoid confusion, try to adhere to the rules. As
communicators we should always try to avoid confusion, shouldn't we?

Back to work,


Jeroen Hendrix
the Netherlands

Mail to: jhe -at- polydoc -dot- com

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