Home > 8. The Dragons of Grammar > The Dragons of Grammar

The Dragons of Grammar

Tamatori pursued

I suspect that grammar is often thought of as one of “the dismal arts” (which really isn’t a contradiction in terms), that is, as in the same category as, say, plumbing. And there is no denying that grammar lies somewhere deep in the guts of language–just listen to the names of its components:

1) Morphology; (links to RT’s page on subject)

2) Syntax;

3) Phonology;

 
5) Semantics; and
 

No wonder there’s a glamor issue here. But a recent remark by Wordgathering has inspired me to attempt to make the enterprise a little sexier, a likelier candidate for a tweet or two.

Let’s start by defining the cables and joists of this craft:
  • Morphology: deals with the units of meaning in language: words, parts of speech, intonation/stress, and how they work to build up meaning.
  • Syntax: deals with the way sentences are put together in a language. If a language is highly inflected, its syntax (or word-order) is fairly unimportant to meaning; if a language is not inflected (English, for example), word-order becomes vital to meaning.
  • Phonology: deals with the music of a language, that is, the ways it uses syllables, rythym, gestures, and (oh mi gosh!) rhyme to articulate and enhance meaning. One might think of it as the scientific study of poetry.
  • Phonetics: deals with the actual, physical production of language–how the mouth, sinuses, and throat act during speech. It is concerned with such things as acoustic properties, auditory perception, and neurophysiological issues.
  • Semantics: deals with meaning as it is conveyed through words, phrases, signs, and symbols. It attempts to answer the question, how does language encode and convey meaning?
  • Pragmatics: deals with the way context contributes to meaning. It focuses on such things as talk in everyday situations, implication, and ambiguity.
Wow, I don’t know about you, but this foray into grammar, which I will hazard is the formal study of the way language works, has been a wee bit overwhelming (as in encountering a dragon and living to tell the tale) for me. Thankfully, the lunch bell is ringing….but we will doubtless hear more about this important topic later….     RT
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Image: art, Kuniyoshi; source, WikiCommons.
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  1. December 27, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    Many beautiful things are less pretty when dissected.
    Thinking of the components of the human body,
    the ingredients for cookies,
    the streets of a city,
    a frog!

    • December 28, 2010 at 12:05 am

      To Zahara: I appreciate your comment, but have something to add: To a biologist or a surgeon, the process of cutting — whether to dissect or to heal — has its own beauty. To a baker, there is satisfaction in assembling ingredients on the bench-top. But I’m not sure what to say about the city analogy … but aren’t you fascinated (and a little frightened) by Google Earth?

    • December 28, 2010 at 11:58 pm

      Z: thanks for the reminder…it’ll help me with the next installment… RT

  2. December 27, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    I love it when you talk grammar! You have so aptly distilled the essence of the dragon.

    • December 28, 2010 at 11:43 pm

      xties: thanks for your enthusiasm…this felt like a somewhat difficult foray into (mostly) unknown territory… RT

  3. December 28, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    You can imagine, therefore, my horror as a teacher of literature and composition, to discover not just students who are clueless about grammar but colleagues who have never been taught it. How can one read or write and receive the full richness of language without understanding how it works [which is how I teach both literature and composition]?
    A great book to have on parts of speech, even if one knows them is The Way to Write by Moat and Fairfax — a small book full of clarity and humour.
    Your explanation of each of the above components is beautifully clear, even poetic [okay, maybe only to someone who loves the structure of language]. I love the cables and joists metaphor and look forward to more on the topic from you, as you sound like, having got this dragon by the tail, you might investigate more of it.
    m

  4. December 30, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    maybe one could read Ludwig Wittgenstein on language and non-languages too …

    • December 30, 2010 at 7:22 pm

      frizz:

      Wittgenstein! Whoa, gird up thy loins for battle philosophic… 😉 RT

    • December 30, 2010 at 10:35 pm

      frizz: & thanks for the subscription; i’ve linked to your flicr page. RT

  5. January 1, 2011 at 10:56 am

    I get the impression that some of Wittgenstein s words have been often misused by those unwilling to formulate words.

    Dyslexic and multilingual, I happily reinvent my own grammar.
    May those with good will understand me, the other without real arguments to the topics will use it as their last hope to impress me with their superior ability to be right.

    • January 2, 2011 at 10:29 am

      antiphon: thanks for reminding me of a future post I’m planning: on a linguist who thinks that language & grammar may actually help the brain develop (if I understand his meaning correctly) RT

      • January 2, 2011 at 11:10 am

        As someone who had to face so many times those who felt that grammar was superior to inside meaning to reinforce their pride, I must say, it has develop my brain in the sense of creating strategy’s how to handle some minds who s education was based on division between those who got the golden paper wrapped spell star, and the rest of unworthily humanity.

  6. January 1, 2011 at 11:06 am

    my opinion is, your statement has a relationship to the philosophy of ludwig wittgenstein – I’m so sad, that I have no English version in the moment, what I’ve written on his language philosophy – maybe you have time to translate with babylon my German review at
    http://blogfrizz.wordpress.com/wittgenstein-de/
    greetings: frizztext

    • January 2, 2011 at 10:25 am

      frizz: I don’t know any German, but might try using Babylon and submit the results for your corrections. Philosophy and poetry have much to learn from each other… RT

  7. January 1, 2011 at 11:32 am

    you inspired me to translate one sentence – I would be glad, if you have the time to look at
    http://flickrcomments.wordpress.com/2011/01/01/languages-ludwig-wittgenstein/
    languages …

    • January 2, 2011 at 10:15 am

      frizz: thanks for the sentence–a powerful concept: to speak is to live more completely, to create. RT

      (p.s.–we might be looking at a reason for the universe)

  8. January 2, 2011 at 10:19 am

    there are parallel systems to language syntax: music, body-language, visual signs, photos without comments …

    • January 3, 2011 at 4:38 am

      frizz: to judge by the way that little children speak and write, language syntax seems to be a relatively recent development, that is, not part of basic speech–body language and verbal cues appear to have preceded syntax and encouraged its development… RT

  9. January 3, 2011 at 7:51 am

    as a grandpa of two grandsons (1 and 3) and as an ex-teacher I always watch with great interest the development steps of language, at first the very personal trial and errors of a young human being; very charming errors and mistakes – and we can understand! lyric is a similar way not to talk like the main stream – charming too of course …
    http://flickrcomments.wordpress.com/
    +

    • January 4, 2011 at 5:17 pm

      frizz–spoken like a true poet! & by the way, congratulations on having two grandsons! RT

  10. January 4, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    many years I was attracted by lyric – before I went to philosophy:
    I liked (US:) ferlinghetti, ginsberg, williams, (German:) brecht, jandl, krolow

  11. January 5, 2011 at 12:32 am

    frizz: i don’t know German poetry very well…some Rilke is about it..will have to read Goethe & brecht… RT

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