Notes from An Alien

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Tag Archives: Proper Grammar

Further Conversation about Grammar . . .


Our discussion about grammar has two previous posts on May 28th & May 30th… Grammar Conversation

You might be able to follow today’s part of the conversation without looking back at those two posts; but, I think you’ll gain a greater awareness of the breadth of opinion about grammar if you take a few minutes and scan them…

Forging ahead…

As is normal practice in our discussions, one comment on any given post’s topic can make the conversation continue; or, your comment might be, “Could we stop talking about __________ and discuss ____________ instead?” :-)

So, to continue, I’ll share portions of the last comment in this discussion ( from May 30th ) and also share my brief responses…

referencing the image in our last post

“In the photo at the top of this post, there’s a sentence ending with chess everyday. There’s no way those words, in that order, make sense grammatically. (Everyday is an adjective meaning ordinary or commonplace, something that happens every day. It’s possible to have everyday chess,but not chess everyday. It would have to be chess every day to work. Whoever graded that paper missed a blatant error. If teachers don’t know what’s correct, how can they teach their students? This is why we can’t have nice things… *sigh*”

I, personally, could accept “chess everyday”, if the sentence was poetic in nature; though, I can’t see what’s said before that particular set of words… Certainly seems to me that something like “My perfect life is simple—chess everyday.” Still, different folks opinions of the grammar in poetry differ far more than their opinions of “everyday” grammar…

quoting a sentence from a previous comment and making further comment

“’Latin no longer changes and I guess that is why its grammar does not either.’

“I would love to know what style guide/set of rules/whatever is being followed by writers who no longer use commas in compound sentences, for example. I’ve searched, and none of the usual style guides even say that such commas are optional, much less that they’re actually incorrect, yet I hear/read that from writers all the time. Where is this coming from?”

Personally, I had no problem understanding the quoted sentence…

And, I’m sure many folks could fruitfully contend that “style guides/sets of rules/ and whatevers” are an “option” for writers, as long as the intended meaning of the words is understood…

again, a previous comment is quoted and response given

“I’ve read (somewhere…) that grammar is ‘potentially’ present in the mind at birth—some feel there’s a proto-grammar that can ‘come forth’ in whatever language the child learns—mapping itself to the lay of the language-land…”

“According to anthropologists, it’s syntax that separates human communication from what all other animals do (yes, dogs certainly have communication, but they don’t have language, because their communication doesn’t have syntax), so I suppose you can say grammar is inherent in the human brain. Unfortunately, some people seem to want to reduce our communication to the level of mere calls (such as birds use — how appropriate) with only the most generalized meaning (‘This is scary’ or ‘Feed me’) and no added complexity of meaning from the order in which the calls are used (no syntax, etc.)”

 

Since I made the quoted comment ( and made it only to stimulate further conversation ), it appears it worked…

So, there we are—yet more divergence of opinion about the role and “texture” of grammar…

There is one last thing I can say with great confidence, since I’ve read widely enough to have experienced it and had endless discussions on the matter with a wonderful variety of folks…

There are a great number of esteemed writers who break most of the “canon” of grammar “rules”; yet, their readers seem to understand them quite well…

So…

Are there unbreakable rules of grammar?

Is it impossible to understand certain writings because they don’t adhere to what experts claim is proper writing?

Is language deep and broad enough to be used in many radically different ways which delight a wide variety of people…?

Is there some other topic in the realms of Writing, Reading, and Publishing you’d rather discuss…?
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More Conversation about Grammar . . .


Grammar conversation

Photo by orijinal on Foter.com / CC BY

The first post in this discussion—A Blog Conversation about Grammar—looked at the word history of “grammar” and revealed that many “rules” of English grammar are actually rules for Latin…

In fact, the trustworthy article about grammar that I excerpted said: “There’s a simple test that usually exposes a phony rule of grammar: If it makes your English stilted and unnatural, it’s probably a fraud.”

So, I was happy when an author I know, from Australia, was kind enough to comment on that last post…

Instead of plunking her entire comment down in one quote, I need to share it a sentence at a time and engage in a discussion with her…

“I absorbed all the grammar I know from reading and from learning a foreign language.”

Well…

I tried to learn French and Latin; but, my brain seemed to want to eternally linger in English—reading, though… Omnivorous…

“Reading books taught me what worked and what didn’t in English sentences and I never gave a thought that those sentences were actually following a set of rules.”

I’ve read (somewhere…) that grammar is “potentially” present in the mind at birth—some feel there’s a proto-grammar that can “come forth” in whatever language the child learns—mapping itself to the lay of the language-land…

This is why I think, “…what worked and what didn’t in English sentences…”, is a perfectly reasonable response to reading—we innately, intuitively “know” whether the grammar in the sentences we read is “correct”. Naturally, this capability matures over time, and more fruitfully, when a person exposes themselves to many different texts…

Children learn to talk without needing a complex set of rules—not at all strange to say because the child would need to already have learned how to use words before they could internalize a set of rules…

“To me the only point of a well wrought sentence is that it conveys its meaning beautifully and powerfully.”

She said: “…well wrought…”.

Here’s the word history of “wrought”:

mid-13c., from past participle of Middle English werken (see work (v.)). Wrought iron (1703) is that which is malleable and has been brought into some form.

So… using good grammar in writing is taking certain “malleable” ideas and bringing them “into some form”—a form that is “beautiful” and “powerful”…

Here’s the remainder of her comment:

“Grammar is evolving all the time because most modern languages are evolving…Latin no longer changes and I guess that is why its grammar does not either. What will be the biggest influence on grammar in the future ? I am gonna guess texting…. :-) “

I’m gonna guess that she’s joking about texting—only because I see it as a temporary phenomenon that will disappear when digital talking is completely verbally rendered—no more amazingly trained digits speeding over a keyboard…

Yet…

English grammar will transform, as our collective human mind evolves—taking that which is malleable and bringing it into some form…

The next conversation post is this coming Monday and it only takes one more comment to keep this topic going :-)
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A Blog Conversation about Grammar . . .


Blog Conversation about Grammar Our last discussion here—A Blog Conversation about Book Promotion—had a very short life due to a lack of reader comments; but, having exercised my blogging muscles for seven years; and, to avoid talking to myself, I’ll begin a new conversation about “Grammar”…

Plus, I’ll start by going full-on Writing-Geek; then, I’ll calm down and share my own thoughts and feelings…

Here’s the complete word history of the term “grammar”:

late 14c., “Latin grammar, rules of Latin,” from Old French gramaire “grammar; learning,” especially Latin and philology, also “(magic) incantation, spells, mumbo-jumbo” (12c., Modern French grammaire), an “irregular semi-popular adoption” [OED] of Latin grammatica “grammar, philology,” perhaps via an unrecorded Medieval Latin form *grammaria. The classical Latin word is from Greek grammatike (tekhne) “(art) of letters,” referring both to philology and to literature in the broadest sense, fem. of grammatikos (adj.) “pertaining to or versed in letters or learning,” from gramma“letter” (see -gram). An Old English gloss of it was stæfcræft (see staff (n.)).

A much broader word in Latin and Greek; restriction of the meaning to “systematic account of the rules and usages of language” is a post-classical development. Until 16c. limited to Latin; in reference to English usage by late 16c., thence “rules of a language to which speakers and writers must conform” (1580s). Meaning “a treatise on grammar” is from 1520s. For the “magic” sense, compare gramary. The sense evolution is characteristic of the Dark Ages: “learning in general, knowledge peculiar to the learned classes,” which included astrology and magic; hence the secondary meaning of “occult knowledge” (late 15c. in English), which evolved in Scottish into glamour (q.v.).

grammar-school (late 14c.) originally was a school for learning Latin, which was begun by memorizing the grammar. In U.S. (1842) the term was put to use in the graded system for a school between primary and secondary where English grammar is one of the subjects taught. The word is attested earlier in surnames (late 12c.) such as Robertus Gramaticus, Richard le Gramarie, whence the modern surname Grammer.

My English teacher in college told us that what’s handed down as “English grammar” is actually Latin grammar desperately trying to grapple itself to English; and, until about five minutes ago, I never did research on her comment…

There were many articles to choose from; but, perhaps, an excerpt from Most of What You Think You Know About Grammar Is Wrong, in the Smithsonian magazine, will suffice:

“As bloggers at Grammarphobia.com and former New York Times editors, we’ve seen otherwise reasonable, highly educated people turn their writing upside down to sidestep imaginary errors. There’s a simple test that usually exposes a phony rule of grammar: If it makes your English stilted and unnatural, it’s probably a fraud.”

If you read that full article, you’ll find a number of specific “proofs” that most “grammar” that’s forced on eager young learners isn’t “faithful” to actual English grammar.

{{ …the writer of this post is now wondering what a person using the translation widget (up there on the left) is thinking about that last statement… }}

So, where is “actual” English grammar…?

I, personally, find I learn the best grammar by reading the best novels I can find; and, I can only imagine; but, feel it’s more than likely true, that folks using other languages can learn their own grammars the same way…

However, being a life-long maverick, I have been known to use whatever feels right in certain situations…

How does someone choose which novels to read to help their mind easily absorb some grammar…?

Well…

Whatever appeals to you…

If you’ve chosen the wrong books, someone, eventually, will let you know…

Whose books have I used to help me constrain the wilder aspects of my maverickness?

C. J. Cherryh

So…

All it takes for this conversation to continue is a comment from You :-)
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What’s The “Best” Way To Learn “Proper” Grammar?


Everyone who reads regularly knows quite a lot about grammar, even folks who don’t think they do.

Of course, not everyone can state the rules of grammar; and; even those who can might disagree.

Every aspect of language changes over time—it’s a normal consequence of human social evolution.

If a writer were to conceive of a book written in the style of a young woman in the England of 1325, they certainly wouldn’t do their research with a recent book on grammar.

Then, of course, there are the language mavericks who bring consciously purposeful mutations into the flow of language evolution.

Naturally, there are places for “proper” grammar and places it would sound silly—just like wearing a tuxedo to a beach party.

Fiction is one space that lends itself to grammatical mutations.

In that regard, Martha Brockenbrough, in her role as Grammar Girl, explores grammar in fiction (including Jane Austin), noting considerations of each character’s unique expression and knowing the rules so you can break them effectively, in the article Bad Grammar :: Good Fiction. Here’s one cool sentence:

“I’d go so far as to say that correct grammar might even keep aspiring writers from publishing their work, and that correct grammar in the wrong place might diminish the reading experience.”

Then, there’s the consideration of how best to learn proper grammar even if you intend to twist it

One way is to read, as widely and deeply as possible. This supports my opening sentence: “Everyone who reads regularly knows quite a lot about grammar, even folks who don’t think they do.”

Another way is to read grammar books, at the risk of never finishing since you continually fall asleep

I wrote about yet another way in a post back in March, Diagramming Sentences ~ A Lost Art?

If you’ve never seen a diagrammed sentence, check these out:

I quoted Kitty Burns Florey in that March post, from an article she’d written for The New York Times. She’s written a follow-up article, Taming Sentences, where she says, about the first article, that she received, “…more than 300 comments (and close to 100 personal e-mails) in response…”.

Some love it, some hate it. Some saw value in diagramming sentences, some could care less.

Kitty, herself, had a well-balanced view:

“Obviously, I recommend diagramming…”

“…diagramming is not for everyone.”

“…it involves mastering not one skill but two: the rules of grammar and syntax and the making of diagrams…”

“Even if it enlightens us about the parts of speech and how to use them, it teaches us nothing about punctuation, and it can’t help with spelling.”

“Probably the best way to learn the technicalities of language and usage is not to diagram but simply to read books that are full of good sentences.”

And, the real kicker: “…it is like broccoli: it’s good for you only if you can stomach it.”

So

Whether you read voluminously, study grammar books, or learn diagramming, do visit Kitty’s last-linked article, if only to see how she diagrammed this sentence from Henry James’ The Golden Bowl:

“The spectator of whom they would thus well have been worthy might have read meanings of his own into the intensity of their communion — or indeed, even without meanings, have found his account, aesthetically, in some gratified play of our modern sense of type, so scantly to be distinguished from our modern sense of beauty.”
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