Many school children had shed buckets of tears during grammar classes all throughout history, and not just in one country or in one language. Grammar, it seems, is such a difficult and strict subject worthy of tears and pain (from teacher’s stick). Here now is our take on grammar – without tears.
First, the not-so formal definition of grammar.
Grammar is a field of linguistics that involves all the various things that make up the rules of language. Subfields of linguistics that are considered a part of grammar include syntax, phonetics, morphology, and semantics.
Grammar is also used as a term to refer to the prescriptive rules of a given language, which may change over time or be open to debate.
Again, from a layman’s point of view, most people think of grammar as simply a matter of arbitrary pronouncements, like defining “good” or “bad” language. Samples would be the word “ain’t” and such declarations as “Never end a sentence with a preposition.”
Linguists do not subscribe to this dictatorship, nor are they interested. They believe that grammar is simply the collection of principles defining how to put together such things as a sentence.
Once in a while, there are declarations that such-and-such a language does not have grammar. However, that is far from the truth.
Every language on earth has restrictions on how words must be put together to construct a sentence. These restrictions are the principles of syntax, and every language has one.
For instance, every language has rules in constructing sentences that asks questions needing a yes or a no, like “Can you hear me?” Or questions that invites other answers, “What did you see?” Other sentences express commands “Drink the water.” Or sentences that declares or makes assertions. “Whales eat plankton.”
In formal terms this time, the syntactic principles of a language sometimes insist on some order of words or may allow other choices.
In English, for instance, sentences must have swords in the order of subject-verb-object. In “Whales eat plankton,” whales is the subject, eat is the verb and the object is “plankton.”
In Japanese, sentences allow the words to be in several possible orders. Of course, the normal sequence is subject-object-verb. In the Irish language, the order is verb-subject-object.
You may have noted that even if the language allows several orders of the phrases in the sentence, there is still a system that regulates the choice.
Not only do languages have syntax, there are also similar principles of syntax found all over in many languages in the world. English, Swahili, and Thai have similar word orders, even if they are totally unrelated in any way. Sentences in Maori, Irish, Masai, and ancient Egyptian are remarkably similar, too.
Another aspect of grammar where languages differ more radically is morphology, the principle that governs the structure of words. For instance, the English word “undeniability” which is a complex noun from the adjective “undeniable” which came from the adjective “deniable” and formed from the verb “deny.”
German and Eskimo languages permit more complex word-building than English. Others like the Chinese and Vietnamese do not.
In another language aspect, English have different pronouns for use as Object or Subject in a sentence (they or them). In Chinese, there is no variation of shapes of words.
In any case, we have just skimmed through some grammar lessons in our grammar without tears. Is anyone crying yet?
About the Author