Language And Prescriptive Grammar


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Language And Prescriptive Grammar

  1. 1. Language and Prescriptive Grammar A different way to think about language
  2. 2. For many people, talking about traditional grammar can be stressful. Yikes!
  3. 3. Why so Stressful? <ul><li>Many of us have been told that we don’t know how to talk or write. </li></ul><ul><li>Yet, we seem to be able to make ourselves understood… </li></ul>It’s making me crazy!
  4. 4. What is Language? <ul><li>Language is a very special code that humans use to communicate thoughts between individuals-- </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Speech </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sign </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. Language is Used for Exchanging Ideas Idea Message decoded Message Transmitted Message received
  6. 6. Talking about the Water <ul><li>Talking about language is like talking to the fish about the water: </li></ul><ul><li>It is so ubiquitous that most of the time we don’t even know that there is something to talk about. </li></ul>
  7. 7. It Takes a Smart Person… <ul><li>… to ask why the apple falls down and not up. </li></ul><ul><li>If we just accept the things that seem obvious, we never get to science. </li></ul>
  8. 8. News Flash! <ul><li>Dolphins don’t swim properly! </li></ul><ul><li>Pandas hold bamboo in wrong paw! </li></ul><ul><li>Monkey’s cries in state of chaos! </li></ul><ul><li>Bird’s nests incorrectly constructed! </li></ul><ul><li>Songs of humpback whale known to contain several errors! </li></ul>
  9. 9. Say What? <ul><li>How can something that animals do naturally have “errors?” </li></ul><ul><li>What does it mean to say that an instinctual behavior is “in a state of chaos?” </li></ul><ul><li>How can there be a “wrong” way if there is no “right” way? </li></ul><ul><li>Who made up these rules, anyway? </li></ul>
  10. 10. Examples of Prescriptive Grammar <ul><li>Pick your favorite rule! </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t use a double negative. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ I didn’t go nowhere.” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Don’t end a sentence in a preposition. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Who did you give the candy bar to?” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Don’t split infinitives. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“… to boldly go where no one has gone before.” </li></ul></ul>
  11. 11. Where did These Rules Come From? <ul><li>People thought Latin was the most elegant, logical, well-structured language. </li></ul><ul><li>They tried to make English behave like Latin. </li></ul>
  12. 12. Rules for Latin don’t Work Well for English. <ul><li>English and Latin are very different kinds of languages. </li></ul><ul><li>Latin is a language that relies on case endings (inflections). </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Latin has case ending, not prepositions. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>You can’t split infinitive in Latin because they are a single word. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>English is a language that relies on word order to express roles that words play. </li></ul>
  13. 13. Language is an Instinct <ul><li>Scientists think about language the same way that they think about: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Bats using echolocation. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Spiders building webs. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Geese using stars to navigate. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Salmon returning to spawning beds. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Songs of the humpback whale. </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. Echolocation <ul><li>Not invented (by humans) until WWII. </li></ul><ul><li>Involves very specialized equipment. </li></ul><ul><li>Does a very specific job. </li></ul><ul><li>Locates food (bugs) that is flying around. </li></ul>
  15. 15. What does a Theory of Echolocation Look Like?
  16. 16. What does a Theory of Language Look Like? <ul><li>Descriptive Grammar. </li></ul><ul><li>It’s not what you learned in school. </li></ul><ul><li>Let’s call that prescriptive grammar. </li></ul>
  17. 17. Research on Language <ul><li>Think about language as if we were aliens from another planet. </li></ul><ul><li>What would we notice about this interesting behavior? </li></ul>
  18. 18. When Scientists Study How Language Works… <ul><li>They find: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Everyone knows her own language perfectly and speaks it fluently. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The knowledge of language is not accessible. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What you know about your language is largely unconscious. </li></ul></ul>
  19. 19. Research on Language <ul><li>Language appears to be unique to the human species. </li></ul><ul><li>Babies are specially “tuned” to learn language. </li></ul>
  20. 20. All Children Learn Language <ul><li>Just like: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>All birds learn to fly. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>All spiders learn to spin webs. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>All fish learn to swim. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>All children learn to talk. </li></ul>
  21. 21. Language Timetable <ul><li>There is a “critical period” for language. </li></ul><ul><li>If children don’t learn language by puberty, evidence shows that they never will. </li></ul>
  22. 22. Research on Language <ul><li>Special parts of the brain are involved. </li></ul><ul><li>Stroke affects particular part of brain. </li></ul><ul><li>Patient loses ability to use language. </li></ul><ul><li>Intelligence is usually unaffected. </li></ul>
  23. 23. Speech (or Sign) is Primary <ul><li>Speech (or Sign) is the primary channel that carries language. </li></ul><ul><li>Writing is derived from speech. </li></ul><ul><li>Writing is encoded speech. </li></ul><ul><li>Speech is crucial. </li></ul>Speech
  24. 24. Other Animals don’t Seem to Have Language <ul><li>How do other animals communicate? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>No system close to human language in complexity. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Fixed set of communications that usually concern social hierarchy. </li></ul></ul>
  25. 25. We’ve Tried Teaching it to Apes <ul><li>Animals have been raised with human children. </li></ul><ul><li>They have been taught to use signs. </li></ul><ul><li>Despite much effort, apes aren’t able to acquire human language. </li></ul>
  26. 26. Language is not Intelligence <ul><li>Consider the case of Homer Simpson. </li></ul><ul><li>Having language doesn’t make you smart. </li></ul>
  27. 27. Language is not Intelligence <ul><li>Children with William’s Syndrome are often hyperfluent (have higher than normal language skills), but accompanied by profound cognitive delays. </li></ul><ul><li>Even typically developing toddlers can’t tie their own shoes, add, subtract, multiply, drive a car, or vote. </li></ul>
  28. 28. Intelligence doesn’t Get You Language <ul><li>Apes are smart, social, and good at solving problems… </li></ul><ul><li>… but they don’t have the equipment to learn language the way that humans do. </li></ul>
  29. 29. Language is not Intelligence <ul><li>Language depends on such specialized, unconscious knowledge, e.g., grammar, it doesn’t play that big a role in determining intelligence. </li></ul>
  30. 30. Language does not Equal Thought <ul><li>Do Eskimos really have 100 different words for snow? </li></ul><ul><li>Not exactly. </li></ul><ul><li>They have about as many words for snow as we have. </li></ul>
  31. 31. Research Shows that Language is Complex <ul><li>SEMANTICS </li></ul>S y n t a x Phonetics Morphology pHOnoLoGy Pragmatics
  32. 32. Try building a Computer that Understands Language <ul><li>No machine has yet been able to understand speech produced in a natural context. (But not for lack of trying.) </li></ul>
  33. 33. The Acquisition of Language <ul><li>Language is learned very fast by most children. </li></ul><ul><li>Children learn language with what seems to be almost no effort. </li></ul>
  34. 34. Writing is Secondary <ul><li>No humans have ever existed without speech. </li></ul><ul><li>Lots of languages have never had a writing system. </li></ul><ul><li>Learning language (speaking) occurs long before learning to write. </li></ul>
  35. 35. Writing is Learned <ul><li>Unlike language, writing and reading are laboriously and painfully learned behaviors. </li></ul><ul><li>Whereas language comes as a part of our original design, literacy is an additional part that must be bolted on after we leave the factory. </li></ul>
  36. 36. Grammar is Innate <ul><li>Some significant part of our knowledge of language is in our genes. </li></ul><ul><li>This innate knowledge has evolved over millions of years. </li></ul><ul><li>This pre-existing knowledge is what allows babies to acquire language with such ease. </li></ul>
  37. 37. From a Linguist’s Perspective <ul><li>The word “English” itself has at least two separate meanings: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>It may refer to a dialect that is dominant within a country. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>“ English is the language of the U.S.” </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>It may also refer to a group of related dialects, none of which has the status as the standard “language”. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>“ English is spoken in many parts of the world.” </li></ul></ul></ul>
  38. 38. “ Language” is a Fuzzy Concept <ul><li>This is not an unusual situation in science: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Is Greenland a large island or a small continent? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Is light a particle or a wave? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Is Pluto a planet with a large orbit or an asteroid with a small orbit? </li></ul></ul>
  39. 39. Language vs. Dialect <ul><li>In China, there are many dialects. </li></ul><ul><li>Some dialects are not mutually intelligible. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Mandarin-Cantonese: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>46.5% mutual intelligibility </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>( www. glossika .com ) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Yet, we still call it all the “Chinese” Language. </li></ul>
  40. 40. Language vs. Dialect <ul><li>When we compare German and Dutch, the boundaries between languages are not so clear. </li></ul><ul><li>Eastern Dutch and Low German have dialects that have very high mutually intelligibility. </li></ul><ul><li>Yet, we call them separate languages. </li></ul>
  41. 41. Dialects in the U.S.
  42. 42. From a Linguist’s Perspective <ul><li>The distinction between “dialect” and “language” is largely not scientific. </li></ul><ul><li>Linguists don’t spend their time establishing which dialects get to be called “a language”. </li></ul><ul><li>Such distinctions are essentially a political decision. </li></ul>
  43. 43. Linguistic vs. Political <ul><li>Linguists answer this problem by assuming that everyone speaks a dialect. </li></ul><ul><li>A dialect may also happen to be “language”. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Language” is label that usually gets associated which the dialect that has the most power. </li></ul>
  44. 44. How Does a Dialect Become a Language? <ul><li>They become the most important dialect for certain activities: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Business </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Education </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Government </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Religion </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Some dialects acquire high status for cultural reasons. </li></ul>
  45. 45. Standard American English (SAE) <ul><li>Is a dialect. </li></ul><ul><li>Is the dominant dialect in the U.S. </li></ul><ul><li>SAE is a dialect with the full backing of the state. </li></ul><ul><li>Thus, we call it a “language.” </li></ul><ul><li>A “language” is a dialect with an army and a navy. </li></ul>
  46. 46. What does it mean when someone tells you… <ul><li>… you shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition? </li></ul><ul><li>It usually means someone who speaks a different dialect is telling you to stop using your own dialect. </li></ul>
  47. 47. But… <ul><li>People can master different dialects. </li></ul><ul><li>And there may be good reasons for doing so. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Participation in business. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Academic work. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>To be perceived as in the mainstream. </li></ul></ul>
  48. 48. Conventions are Important <ul><li>It makes sense to have some kinds of standards. </li></ul><ul><li>American Psychological Association </li></ul><ul><li>Modern Language Association </li></ul><ul><li>Chicago Style Manual </li></ul>