UNIT 0 -INTRODUCTION

What is
Grammar
?
How would you define "Grammar"?
College Student 1
Student on her first day in an upper-level English Course

“Grammar is a technical description of a language.”

How would you define "Grammar"?
College Student 1
Student on her first day in an upper-level English Course

"A broad terminology used to encompass syntax, usage.”

How would you define "Grammar"?
College Student 2
Student on his first day in an upper-level English Course

“Grammar is what you use to decide how to talk to your parents versus how to talk to your friends.”

How would you define "Grammar"?
College Student 1
Student on her first day in an upper-level English Course

“Grammar is the rules of writing correctly.”

How would you define "Grammar"?
College Student 2
Student on his first day in an upper-level English Course

“I see grammar as sort of the ‘government’ of words. It contains rules and regulations that help words get along with each other.”

How would you define "Grammar"?
College Student 1
Student on her first day in an upper-level English Course

“Grammar is the correct usage of the English language.”

How would you define "Grammar"?
College Student 2
Student on his first day in an upper-level English Course

“Grammatical sentences are easier to understand than ungrammatical ones.”

How would you define "Grammar"?
College Student 1
Student on her first day in an upper-level English Course

“Grammar is the structure and content of language. It varies according to language (English, Russian, …), regions, individuals, and environments (workplace, home, bar). Includes sounds, punctuation, word choice, word order, etc.”

Francis' Take on these Divergent Definitions
College Student 2
Nelson W. Francis, 1958, p. 222
The structure of American English

"When two people talk about grammar, they may actually be discussing two different areas of subject entirely; they may be as much at cross-purposes as a Russian and an American discussing democracy, or a fashion-designer and a literary critic discussing style."

The reason for this divergence in the definition of grammar is that at least four different conceptions of grammar contribute to our modern understanding of this term. As a result, it is used in a number of different, and often mutually exclusive, senses.

Rationale

A. “Grammar exists mainly to clarify meaning … there is … a morality of language: an obligation to preserve and nurture the niceties, the fine distinctions, that have been handed down to us.” (Simon, 1978, p. 91)

Let's consider Passage A, which makes a specific use of the term "grammar."

The term grammar in passage (A) refers to a prescriptive and proscriptive system of rules – a catalog of do’s and don’ts – that one is expected to follow in speaking and writing the most prestigious variety of language. These rules arbitrate questions such as the acceptability of It is me and between you and I. This conception of grammar originated in eighteenth-century English and has come to be known as prescriptive grammar. It is also known in some circles as “normative” grammar or “school” grammar. Prescriptive grammar is essentially linguistic “etiquette” – the study of elegant or proper usage within a specific language.

The conception of "grammar" in Passage A

B. “Since grammar is a science, it must describe and analyze the basic facts of speech, and explain and interpret the laws governing the behavior of language.” (House & Harman, 1950, p.11)

Let's consider Passage B, which makes a specific use of the term "grammar."

The term grammar in passage (B) refers to a set of generalizations that describe the building blocks of sentence structure. For example, a prepositional phrase consists of a preposition (e.g., in) followed by a noun phrase (e.g., the car). This conception of grammar began to take root in nineteenth-century Europe but did not become widespread in the United States until the early twentieth century. It has come to be known as descriptive grammar, but is also known as “structural” grammar. This brand of grammar is essentially linguistic “botany” – the classification of phrase and sentence types. The fundamental goal of the descriptive grammarian is to describe the various types of structures found in a specific language.

The conception of "grammar" in Passage B

C. “Any interesting … grammar will be dealing … with mental processes that are far beyond the level of actual or even potential consciousness … Thus, … grammar attempts to specify what the speaker actually knows ….” (Chomsky, 1965, p.8)

Let's consider Passage C, which makes a specific use of the term "grammar."

The term grammar in passage (C) refers to the unconscious knowledge of language that humans are born with, regardless of the language they eventually speak. For example, speakers seem to know without reflection or instruction that a phrase can be moved rightward within a clause but not out of that clause.

The conception of "grammar" in Passage C
  1. 1.a [That a book [about Hillary] has just come out] is exciting
  2. 1.b [That a book has just come out [about Hillary]] is exciting
  3. 1.c *[that a book has just come out] is exciting [about Hillary]

This conception of grammar began developing around 1950 and is known as generative grammar or "transformational" grammar. It is essentially linguistic "biology" - the study of the representation of language in the mind. The fundamental goal of the generative grammarian is to describe the unconscious linguistic knowledge of the speaker, especially the knowledge common to speakers of all languages.

D. “Structural units of clause or sentence are not necessarily the most important units for language study … beyond the tidy and well-pruned bonsai trees of syntax lies the jungle: menus, road signs, advertisements, propaganda … and the like…. [grammar and] situation… are interrelated.” (Stubbs, pp. 5-6).

Let's consider Passage D, which makes a specific use of the term "grammar."

The term grammar in passage (D) refers to the effect of context and/or realtime limitations on the way speakers process language. For example, let's consider the following discourse consisting of just two sentences.

The conception of "grammar" in Passage D
  1. The haystack was important. The cloth had ripped.

This discourse is easier to understand and remember if you know that it occurs in a passage entitled "Sky Diving." This conception of grammar developed as an alternative to generative grammar and might be termed performance grammar. It is also known as "rhetorical" grammar or "discourse analysis" and is essentially linguistic "psychology" - the study of language processing. The fundamental goal of the performance grammarian is to describe the effect of context (linguistic and nonlinguistic) on the way people produce and interpret language.

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