If only English Grammar was as easy as ABC! One possible reason why it is a complicated area can be found in its tradition. In this second part of the Grammar Series, we look at the history of English Grammar. Hopefully, all you historians should enjoy this jaunt from the fifth century onwards.
According to Wikipedia:
‘The history of English grammars begins late in the sixteenth century with the Pamphlet for Grammar by William Bullokar. In the early works, the structure and rules of English grammar were contrasted with those of Latin. A more modern approach, incorporating phonology, was introduced in the nineteenth century.’ For more information, see Wikipedia.
This would explain why there are so many words and phrases which are still in use today such as:
- Carpe Diem – enjoy the moment
- Ad Hoc – for this or for this situation (for a particular purpose)
- Bona Fide – genuine, real
- Status Quo – existing state of affairs
- Magnum Opus – great work
Check out these websites for more phrases:
In a paper by Christopher Mulvey called The Development of English Grammar, he looks further back and writes:
‘The story of the development of English grammar involves not only the history of the English language but also the history of England itself. The starting point of the English language is the language we call West Germanic, and the starting point of England is the arrival of West Germanic peoples in Britannia in the fifth century.’
I wanted to stay jargon-free but unfortunately, needs must. The following information is important in understanding how grammar works. Mulvey continues to explain grammar with a quote by a linguist called Daniel Everett whose studies of the languages of the Amazonian Indians helped him to conclude that:
‘Whether we use gestures or sounds, we need more than just words to have a grammar. Since grammar is essential to human communication, speakers of all human languages organize words into larger units – phrases, sentences, stories, conversations, and so forth.
The cries of animals work by establishing a one-to-one relationship between a sound and a thing or a sound and an act………But it appears that only humans have the ability to move beyond the one-to-one relationship of word to think or act. Humans can create relationships between one word and another.
We do that in two ways: by changing the shapes of our words and by changing the order of our words. Grammarians call shape changing morphology. We can take a word ‘dog’ and change its shape by adding an ‘s’ to produce the word ‘dogs’. Grammarians call order changing syntax. We can say ‘The dog bit the man’ or ‘The man bit the dog’. Morphology and syntax together make up what we call grammar, and we can see, at once, that small changes in grammar can result in large changes in meaning.’
For the whole article see English Project
We can now begin to appreciate that it is not just our choice of words that matter, but the order in which we place them. This seems simple enough, yet we can all find these type of errors in everyday life.
I hope you can join me next week when I will looking at examples of some grammatical faux pas. See what I did there? Introduce some French into a Latin-themed article!