Monday, 18 May 2020

The Rules

You may have noticed in my last post that I used the word "should." This brings up the vexed question of who decides what a grammar rule is and when it should be relaxed or changed.

F.G.Sykes et. al.

We all obey rules, otherwise cars would crash into each other far more often than they do! We stop for red lights, drive on the left of the road (in the UK) and signal when we are about to turn. Most people do these things without arguing about them and may make other drivers very angry when they don't.

Of course the consequences of disobeying rules of the road are much more dangerous than anything you say or write!

You will hear some people say there are no "rules" in language, just conventions. Nevertheless they follow most of these conventions or their speech and writing would be gibberish.

The main thing is that these rules or conventions have been formed with Standard British English in mind, not dialects or creoles or patois. They relate to formal written English and, to a lesser extent, formal written English. You can't decide to flout or bend them but it's easier to do this when you know what they are and can demonstrate your mastery of them.

It's difficult to find illustrations of grammar!

Most linguists take "grammar" to be made up of "morphology" and "syntax." Don't be put off by these words. Morphology is the form of a word, which in English is not usually variable. It changes far more in inflected languages like Italian or German. In English "the" is always "the," regardless of the gender or number of the word that follows. But we do have a few different forms for verbs:

read
reads
reading

for example.

Syntax is the way in which words are organised to give meaning in a sentence. You know instinctively that
'reading easy is' is not the right order, unless you are Yoda.

So for one aspect there is not much to learn and for the other you know most of it already.

Grammar is easier than you realise.

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