The Three Grammars

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The Three Grammars

  1. 1. Linguists build “descriptive grammars”- describing what rules are in actual languages. Prescriptive vs. Descriptive vs. From these they construct Explanatory Grammar p y “explanatory grammars (i.e., explanatory (i e theories, models)” that tell us why descriptive grammars look the way they do. 1 2 Descriptive Grammar Some Descriptive Rules of English • Attempts to DESCRIBE the phonological, morphological, and syntactic rules that native • Auxilary verbs come before the subject in speakers INTUITIVELY follow. questions – “What has she done?” – NOT “What she has done?” • Form the plural of a noun by adding ‘-s’ – “three books” – NOT “three book” 3 4 Descriptive Grammar Fact of life about language • Attempts to DESCRIBE the phonological, morphological, and syntactic rules that native speakers INTUITIVELY follow. • When a descriptive rule is violated, it is very • The grammars of all languages are constantly apparent to native speakers of the language language. changing. h i Violations usually make a sentence sound very unnatural. • Descriptive rules are followed EFFORTLESSLY by native speakers. 5 6 1
  2. 2. Arbitrariness of Prescriptive A Dirty Little Secret about Many Grammar Cherished Prescriptive English Rules • There have always been people who believe that language change is corruption, and who try One guy in to prevent it from changing by dictating what the England invented “correct” forms are. many of those rules f th l in 1762. • There are even people who actually INVENT rules that they THINK should be followed, even if no one has followed them before. Bishop Robert Lowth 7 8 Prescriptive Grammar Some Prescriptive Rules for English • Attempts to PRESCRIBE what rules people • Don’t split infinitives should follow, according to some ‘authority’. – “to boldly go where no man has gone before” • Don’t end a sentence with a preposition – “What is she talking about?” • Don’t use WHO in place of WHOM – “Who did you call?” Of course, this is how most people talk. 9 10 Prescriptive Grammar One famous example • Attempts to PRESCRIBE what rules people should follow, according to some ‘authority’. • People may violate the rule without even knowing it. Furthermore, the violation may actually improve the naturalness of the sentence sentence. • “This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put.” • Prescriptive rules are EFFORTFUL to follow, (Winston Churchill) need to be taught, and memorized. 11 12 2
  3. 3. Prescriptive or descriptive rule? This is how speakers of some (a tricky example) varieties of English do talk, everyday • D ’t use d bl negation Don’t double ti • “I didn’t do nothing” – “I didn’t do nothing.” • Thus, for speakers of these varieties of English, “Don’t use a double negation” is NOT a descriptive rule of their grammars. May violate prescriptive norms of the majority culture. 13 14 However, in other varieties of Neither way of expressing negation English, people do not talk this way is inherently better than the other • There is nothing inherently ILLOGICAL about using two • “I didn’t do nothing” negatives to express a negative meaning. • Thus, for speakers of these varieties of English, • In math, 2 negatives make a positive, but human “Don’t use a double negation” IS a descriptive rule language does not work like math. of their grammars. • Many other languages, in both their ‘prestige’ and ‘non- • And it is a prescriptive rule for both groups of prestige’ dialects, use 2 (or more) negatives to make a speakers. negative (Spanish, French, Russian). 15 16 Dialects Important Points about Dialects • Definition: Mutually intelligible versions of the • Every group of people speaks a dialect (we all speak same basic grammar that differ in systematic some dialect of English). ways. • From a scientific perspective, no dialect is any ‘better’ or • British English vs. American English vs. Belfast ‘worse’ than another. English • However, we sometimes assign them social values. • African-American English vs. Appalachian English vs. ‘Standard American English’ • The dominant or prestige dialect is often called the ‘standard dialect’. 17 18 3
  4. 4. Dialects of the same language or different languages? • Some mutually intelligible languages are considered different LANGUAGES for social reasons (e.g., religion). But it can be difficult to step out of our – E.g. HINDI and URDU are mutually intelligible, but HINDI is mostly own social context and see the spoken in India by Hindus, while URDU is mostly spoken in Pakistan b Muslims. P ki t by M li scientific equivalence of different • Some mutually unintelligible languages are considered dialects. different DIALECTS, again for social reasons. – E.g. Mutually unintelligible languages spoken in China are thought of as DIALECTS due to a common writing system and culture, and use within a single country. 19 20 4

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