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jgx
01-02-2007, 06:39 PM
About a week ago I picked up a copy of The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar and Rhetoric....Understanding the Nature and Function of Language.

And since my job right now is to grab you (the reader's) attention I will dive right in.

1. Society is absorbed, saturated with rhetoric. That is, everybody has an opinion, an argument to state but the two classic subjects that are intended to be taught before one makes rhetorical arguments, grammar and logic, are in very short supply.

2. Grammar in this context does not just mean the dry description of words, sentences...the ability to figure out what is a run-on sentence or what is the correct use of the word "however".

In classical education grammar is the first subject taught and it is simply an education about the nuts and bolts of how language works. Before logic(if A then B) and way before rhetoric (the ways we use language to prove a point) we need to know the essence of the tool we are using and in this case the tool is language, words.

I would love other forum members to drop by this thread and add whatever questions, ideas, information...

The author, now deceased, Sister Miriam Joseph writes in the book that grammar can be thought of as tasting a book; logic can be thought of as eating the book and rhetoric as digesting it.

That is, if you are reading a non-fiction book the first way of getting familiar with the book, and its premises and arguments, is to understand how terms, words, sentences, verbs, paragraphs are used.

Then logic helps you see the larger arguments being made by the words, sentences, paragraphs. If A then B but not C if A.

And the rhetoric of the book is how the author uses language to prove his points or illustrate his thesis. You can write "The President resigned because of a secret exposed by his brother" in many many different ways. And each way would lend it a slightly different meaning. Rhetoric is the study of how this occurs in a piece of writing.

I guess the difference between how we are usually taught grammar and what grammar means in this case is that usually we really are not given much info as to why this is important to understand. But in this book grammar is directly connected to how we want to express our ideas, emotions...We are not learning the difference between a transitive and intransitive verb just because we should know that. We must learn it because the essence of a verb that has an object is fundamentally different then a verb (an action) that does not have a direct object. We are learning the philosophy of grammar...the meaning of the rules so that we are able to use them well.

Anyway, I will stop now and...well...the floor is open.;)

Virgil
01-02-2007, 07:49 PM
A very good post jgx. I have felt that we do not teach grammar correctly in schools, at least in the U.S. Somehow in the last 40 years whoever establishes teaching methodology have decided that we can magically be inpsired to understand grammar. The medevilists had a better approach: drill, drill, drill. It may not be the most imaginative approach, but it was the best approach. Here's a related thread on teaching grammar: http://www.online-literature.com/forums/showthread.php?t=18248

SheykAbdullah
01-02-2007, 08:23 PM
I think it is important to teach grammar in a mathematical way, but not necesarily by drill (I know that most math nowadays is taught in a drill, but I think it is an inefficient system. I learned much better when taught mathematics in a more free-flowing way based on proofs, properties, axioms and postulates and then applying them).

What I mean is that grammar, like math, has certain rules and certain systems that can be plugged into certain other systems and thus create meaning. However, with English we must be careful about what kind of grammar we teach because there is no one accepted school of grammatical thought within English, i.e. unlike Spanish, French, Arabic and many other languages we have no academy to fix grammatical structues, thus learning what place a realtive clause has in a sentence and where direct objects are used, the grammar you were referring to JGX, is more important than when to use 'who' vs 'whom' or 'can' vs 'may.' Grammar, like you said, is a flowing thing that can take many forms and knowing when to use a prepositional phrase, for example, is as important as knowing when to apply, for example, the distributive property, where as learning when to use 'who' or 'whom' has mroe bearing on social acceptibility than clarity in communication, meaning their confusion does not hamper the ability of the listener/reader to understand the syntactical and semantic ordering and point of the sentence.

Redzeppelin
01-02-2007, 10:08 PM
2. Grammar in this context does not just mean the dry description of words, sentences...the ability to figure out what is a run-on sentence or what is the correct use of the word "however".


Cool topic. I have posted elsewhere on the value of grammar. I totally agree that grammar is more than just "mechanics" of language. It really is foundational to being able to manipulate language in an effective manner.

Second, it is absolutely true that our contemporary society has virtually no ability to argue (in the sense of disputation, not in "I'm going to raise my voice at you"), and even if people try, their attempts are less than effective because the basis of the argument (the language) is ill-handled. I wonder what kind of society we would have if students were taught like the old days where rhetoric, grammar and logic were required study.

Silv
01-02-2007, 10:08 PM
I guess the difference between how we are usually taught grammar and what grammar means in this case is that usually we really are not given much info as to why this is important to understand. But in this book grammar is directly connected to how we want to express our ideas, emotions...We are not learning the difference between a transitive and intransitive verb just because we should know that. We must learn it because the essence of a verb that has an object is fundamentally different then a verb (an action) that does not have a direct object. We are learning the philosophy of grammar...the meaning of the rules so that we are able to use them well.


That's actually what caught my attention, the concept of a book teaching you grammar not for no purpose (e.g. drilling, useless memorization), but for the goal of increasing your understanding of the language itself and the role grammar plays in enhancing writing. I think I'll try and pick up a copy of that book, it has piqued my interest. :D

jgx
01-02-2007, 10:46 PM
I thought I would use this thread as a kind of launching pad for all things grammar, rhetorical and logical. Or to put it another way...the book I mentioned in the opening post is quite good but not easy and I figure this as good a place as any to write a bit about what I am reading and see where it goes.

One point that has really stuck with me is the idea of "oral punctuation" That is, the myriad of ways we add meaning when we are speaking. A louder voice, a pause, a gesture with ones hand. We do these all the time. Written grammar is simply describes the ways we can add meaning when we are writing instead of speaking.

I think this is obviously a critical idea here in web land where the words represent some midway point between the immediacy of the spoken word and the more lasting quality of print. I often find that it is this very character of the web that is what attracts so many but also creates such confusion.

You know, the smiley faces and the emoticons are a sort of pop grammar...oh...and the...I don't know the formal term...but abbreviations for longer statements like: omg/lol/lmao/imho...

If there was ever a need, even with the above pop linguistic creations, for a deep understanding of how we can express ourselves clearly and with the intended connotations it is now when so much dialouge is occuring here...right here on the monitor you are looking at and the shapes and symbols you are reading to extract meaning from my post.

SheykAbdullah
01-03-2007, 12:58 AM
If you are interested in the phenomenon of linguistics on an abstract level, ie the processing of linguistic data by the mind in formulating meaning, I would recomend you check out Chomsky, the Transformation Grammar and theoretical linguistics. There is a particular book I like called The Language Instinct which is very good, if long. There is a guy around here, Vili, that is really knowledgeable about these kinds of things. By nature and study I am actually an linguist and an anthropologist, though my specialty in linguistics in not theoretical, ie dealing with the nature and process of language, rather I am descriptive and ocasional compartive linguist, concerned with the actual form of language and the interrealtion of various languages.

It is interesting how written language varies so extremely from speech. Even the sentence forms vary quite consderably with written speech, at least among those used to it, being generally more directed and less transgressive. The smiley faces represent an interesting facet of online communication, though as symbols they do not represent a grammar, rather they are symbols representing emotions in a similiar way to the gestures used in everyday speech. I think it will be interesting to see how this emotional abbreviation develops in the future as I believe it will inevitably become more complex as typing gains importance in communication.

My one question to you, JGX, is what do you mean by 'written grammar'? Do you refer simply to punctuation? Because written grammar is essentially the same as spoken grammar, the only difference being written grammar may take place at a higher register of speech.

vili
01-03-2007, 11:42 AM
Approaching this issue from a theoretical linguist's point of view, I must point out that on the basic linguistic level language is not logical, and therefore the study of language or grammar per se is not really going to lead you to better argumentation or even better language use. This is basically also why analytic philosophy has attempted to distance itself from natural language, and has concentrated on dealing with the world with the help of formal logic.

But I think that this is somewhat beside the point that jgx's original post is actually making. What he and most others in this thread are referring to as "grammar" is what we theoretical linguists tend to call "school grammar", i.e. not a representation of the way the language actually works, but a popularised view of this process, and one that is usually argued to be rather mistaken in most of its assumptions.

"School grammars" in fact tend to be prescriptive, i.e. they tell us what is considered correct and what is not. However, one should remember that they don't actually teach us language (humans don't need to be taught their mother tongue, as we simply acquire it when we are young), but instead simply a standard way of using it. To take a typical example, there is nothing inherently ungrammatical about something like double negation ("I didn't see nobody"), but for some reason a large part of the post 18th century English speaking world has decided that it is non-standard. This is a social contract, and one that in the end has very little to do with our linguistic abilities.

The point I am therefore trying to make is that it is not the teaching of language but rather the impact of language that I think we are really talking about here. As was mentioned in the first post, something like "The President resigned because of a secret exposed by his brother" can, indeed, be expressed in a number of ways, but we must bear in mind that the impact that those different ways have is not only dependent on the words and grammatical constructions chosen, but also to a very large degree on the contexts in which they are uttered.

To give a short example, "Good afternoon, Sir" is an utterance that bears more or less the same informational content as does "Yo, bro!" (that is me pathetically trying to sound hip :p). Obviously, depending on their contexts these utterances will have very different impacts, as well as meanings. For, when uttered in the "appropriate" contexts they are in many ways equivalent, but try saying "Yo, bro!" to the King of Denmark, and I think the interpretation will not be the same as is the case in "Good afternoon, Sir".

What I then ultimately want to say is that if we really wish to become more capable in our use of words, it is not the natural grammar or even the school grammar that we should turn to. Instead, what we need is some sort of linguistically relevant cross-cultural awareness, and the understanding that goes with it. (And when I write 'culture' I refer to communities rather than nations.)

Finally, let me also add that while Pinker's The Language Instinct that SheykAbdullah recommended is a fascinating and rather well-written book, to get both sides of the argument I would suggest that you also take a look at Geoffrey Sampson's The 'Language Instinct' Debate. While Pinker's book takes the Chomskyan point of view according to which our language abilities are innate, Sampson's book is basically a long counter-argument against this widely held belief.

jgx
01-03-2007, 12:09 PM
My one question to you, JGX, is what do you mean by 'written grammar'? Do you refer simply to punctuation? Because written grammar is essentially the same as spoken grammar, the only difference being written grammar may take place at a higher register of speech.

Hey, ask as many questions as you want. I actually started this thread because the book is quite a challenge and the more opportunities I have to try and answer questions and ask questions the better my reading and comprehension of the book will be.

Now...I guess I never actually stopped and thought of it in the way you present it. But now I see it. There are always 'subjects' and 'predicates' in either speach or written language, always nouns that are concrete or nouns that are abstract.

And so, yea, I guess it is the punctuation that is different. I think one of my goals here is to gain as much facility with the written word as I have when I am speaking. Which, by the way, is quite a bit. I am a rather powerful speaker, or so I have been told. ;)

jgx
01-03-2007, 12:26 PM
"
School grammars" in fact tend to be prescriptive, i.e. they tell us what is considered correct and what is not."

It's kind of funny. I have a book called Mindful Learning which is a wonderful and short...almost an essay...on the harm a top-down....just listen to the teacher kind of education can do and has done to many many students. And she suggests quite a few rather insightful suggestions as to changing this.

And then there is a very dry, quite long, book written by a Catholic nun on Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric.

My stuggle is precisely what you have been writing about. I want to understand all the tools available to me when I am writing so that I can use them instead of the rules using me...or misusing me.

And yet, your example is perfect. I have known for a long time that there is nothing wrong with "I didn't see nobody". In fact, not only is nothing wrong with it but it may be the perfect sentence to use in a movie or story or novel or poem or memoir or whatever.

My fear is that if I lean too far towards the logical, rational, "correct" school then I could make it more difficult to 1) just write any damn way I want to without some dread that I will be judged or criticized 2) I do not want to loose the ability to write in many different ways depending on the specific situation I am in both in terms of the context and in terms of my intention.

On the other hand I sense a need to have a deeper understanding of language and how it is used so that I have all the information at my disposal when I want to convey a specific thought or emotion in a specific way.

I suppose it is the two sides to art....the technical information and then the ability to apply the information versus the creative element whereby you now know how to drive the car with confidence and so you can drive fast, slow, make large turns slowly or small turns quickly.

Any thoughts folks might have on this inherent tension/dialectic are welcome.

jgx
aka
ghideon:thumbs_up





there is nothing inherently ungrammatical about something like double negation ("I didn't see nobody"), but for some reason a large part of the post 18th century English speaking world has decided that it is non-standard. This is a social contract, and one that in the end has very little to do with our linguistic abilities.

vili
01-03-2007, 03:34 PM
I suppose it is the two sides to art....the technical information and then the ability to apply the information versus the creative element whereby you now know how to drive the car with confidence and so you can drive fast, slow, make large turns slowly or small turns quickly.
I think you have hit the nail on the head here.

Like you, I have for years struggled to come to understand the tools that are at our disposal as writers. And in the end, I think, it is a lost battle. There is no way we can fully control the reader so as to guide him or her to understand our meaning in the way that we would intend. Of course, this does not mean that we shouldn't fight back.

One of my favourite authors is the Australian novelist Patrick White, who is often considered overly pompous and unnecessarily ambiguous, indeed a writer of "verbal sludge" as one influential critic who shall remain unidentified once so kindly pronounced. (This was, of course, before White won the Nobel Prize.)

At one point I became really interested in the internal mechanics of White's novels, and especially their metaphorical systems, which are extremely complex to say the least. I went through his lesser known (and I perhaps wrongly presumed also less complex) work The Tree of Man, mapping its metaphors and attempting to understand how they functioned within the 500-page piece as a whole.

What I learnt, or at least think I learnt, was something about how White manipulates his readers through his writing. He serves us empty metaphors, and pompous and even prophetic statements that he quickly refutes, but they all seem to serve a purpose -- for the lack of a better explanation (and I am a linguist after all), they activate certain metaphorical mappings or conceptual links in your brain, which he then makes use of later on in his work. The way he thus manipulates the reader's expectations works primarily on a level unconscious to the poor reader. I believe that there is much to be learnt about this from White and other writers like him.

SheykAbdullah
01-03-2007, 06:28 PM
As an interesting note on written language, it need not be any different than normal speech for comprehension, meaning in order to understand something puncuation is not needed and there are several languages that do not use it. Traditionally neither Arabic nor Persian use puncuation, no periods, commas, question markes, semi-colons, nothing. Reading it is sometimes confusing to a non-native speaker, especially not used to unpunctuated script, but it is still comprehensible.

vili
01-03-2007, 06:49 PM
As an interesting note on written language, it need not be any different than normal speech for comprehension, meaning in order to understand something puncuation is not needed and there are several languages that do not use it. Traditionally neither Arabic nor Persian use puncuation, no periods, commas, question markes, semi-colons, nothing. Reading it is sometimes confusing to a non-native speaker, especially not used to unpunctuated script, but it is still comprehensible.
Well, one must remember that writing has relatively little to do with language. It is just a way of recording it, and is therefore more of a technology than a linguistic device.

That said, I do love seeing cultural differences in punctuation. Just take a look at how quotation marks (") differ in different written standards, from English to Japanese, Finnish to Hungarian... All very similar, but each one slightly different than the other.

SheykAbdullah
01-03-2007, 09:19 PM
That said, I do love seeing cultural differences in punctuation. Just take a look at how quotation marks (") differ in different written standards, from English to Japanese, Finnish to Hungarian... All very similar, but each one slightly different than the other.

Most certainly, but as an addition to the curios of punctuation, the Spanish sometimes and the Arab script languages use much larger quotation marks and sine the Arabic script is read opposite to Latin all the question marks are reversed.

blp
01-07-2007, 10:12 PM
To pick up on a small point, 'I didn't see nobody' literally means the opposite of 'I saw nobody.' So it means, 'I saw somebody.' But of course, we all know what is really meant by someone saying 'I didn't see nobody.' Not only that, but in Italian and Spanish, the double negative construction is the correct grammar for conveying a negative.

Even so, vili, what you rather damn as 'school grammar' has an elegant functional logic to it that I'm in no hurry to dismiss. I work a lot as a copy editor and my understanding of grammar has served me well in unravelling serious knots and identifying severe lacunae in other people's writing. I may not constantly be referring to these problems in grammatical terminology any more than a professional musician is necessarily constantly counting off the beats, but I learned the rules once and they inform everything I do. The great discovery for me has been that poor grammar usage is almost always inseparable from poor thought. Knowing this may not guarantee that I become as good as Patrick White, but it at least gets me a foot in the door.

I'm also learning German at the moment and, as in the various examples quoted above, the grammar is significantly different from English grammar. But that's an argument for knowing grammar, not binning it. My knowledge of English grammar gives me a jumping-off point that's invaluable in understanding the new material. If I didn't know what a verb or a conjunction were, I'd be lost when I learned that in German, the verb goes to the end of a clause that begins with a conjunction other than 'and' (und) or 'but' (aber).

jon1jt
01-08-2007, 03:56 AM
wasn't the rules of grammar started by pompous artistocrats, just like their rules of etiquette?

jon1jt
01-08-2007, 03:58 AM
and wasn't it those "books" that started all the "thou shalt..."?? ugh.

vili
01-08-2007, 05:41 AM
Even so, vili, what you rather damn as 'school grammar' has an elegant functional logic to it that I'm in no hurry to dismiss. ...
I would not dismiss school grammar, either, and that was the point that I attempted to make earlier on in this thread (but seem to have failed in doing so, for which I apologise :)). School grammar has its place, especially so in formal writing, which you may, depending on what you are a copy editor of, be very familiar with. "Formal writing" is, after all, nothing but another sub-culture that uses language in a specific way. But considering how dependent our culture is on such writing nowadays, it is an important variant of your mother tongue to master.

What I and all linguists I know would refrain from, however, is judging pure language or one's ability to think based solely on school grammar and regardless of what the context of the language use actually is. Like both you and I have mentioned, the meaning and grammaticality of something like "I didn't see nobody" is dependant on the context (or "sub-culture") in which it is used. In for example formal academic writing, it would indeed either be ungrammatical or have the meaning "I saw somebody". In certain other contexts, it would have a meaning equivalent to "I saw nobody". (And for Heidegger, of course, it would be a very important philosophical dilemma, which I think he got himself into just because he tried to approach language as he would logic.)

School grammar type of grammar certainly becomes very useful also when learning another language, especially after the so-called "critical period" when children seem to be able to acquire a language far more easily than do adults. It may not describe a language correctly, but it does help one to make use of the limited time that one usually has to acquire a language in a second language learning setting. While there are differing views in language pedagogy (which I do on the side in addition to my more theoretical interests) as for how much grammar actually should be taught in a foreign language learning situation, I personally think that teaching school grammar has its place there as well.

So, I wouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water. I would just not equate language with language use and/or thought.

vili
01-08-2007, 05:55 AM
wasn't the rules of grammar started by pompous artistocrats, just like their rules of etiquette?
It depends on what you mean by "rules of grammar". We all as native speakers of one language or another have acquired rules of grammar all by ourselves, without any pompous aristocrats needing to make house-calls when we were young. :)

Descriptive grammar (i.e. describing how languages seem to work), meanwhile, has a tradition that goes back millennia. The earliest surviving accounts we have of language description come from Indian Vedic texts.

Prescriptive grammar (i.e. someone telling you how you should use your mother tongue) on the other hand probably goes back to as far as does language. There, it in a sense indeed has often been the aristocrats (with various degrees of pompousness, I would imagine) that have influenced language change. Due to various social and economic reasons, emulating the speech of the members of society who have political and social influence has been beneficial, and therefore something to aspire to. They have also been the people who are in a position to publish and run things, and therefore obviously have had more linguistic influence than does, say, a potato farmer who lives in the middle of nowhere.

In the past half a century, however, this has been changing somewhat. We do not seek to emulate the kings or the prime ministers anymore, but much of the influence to language change comes from the media, and especially so music and films. Even the Queen of England doesn't these days really speak the "Queen's English" any more, as even her language has adapted under the media's influence.

jon1jt
01-08-2007, 06:55 AM
i tend to think rules of grammar-Think are inseparable from the stifling writing that entertains it; like the ridiculous five paragraph essay form that's grounded in inductive analysis, leaving the writer the mere task of assembling the pieces, not painting a landscape with words, imagination. such is reserved for "creative writing" courses, another snotty endeavor for the formalistic story-teller.

SheykAbdullah
01-08-2007, 10:11 AM
i tend to think rules of grammar-Think are inseparable from the stifling writing that entertains it; like the ridiculous five paragraph essay form that's grounded in inductive analysis, leaving the writer the mere task of assembling the pieces, not painting a landscape with words, imagination. such is reserved for "creative writing" courses, another snotty endeavor for the formalistic story-teller.

Grammar, speech and dialect all are important markers that differ depending on the context in which speech is used. A strict, rigid formalistic usage of language is appropriate under certain contexts (the five paragraph essay, while useless and scripted, is not really grammar) and slummy slang is appropriate during others. Registers of speech vary significantly based on what sociological context you use them in. I would certainly agree that in regular speech 'stuffy' grammar doesn't really have a place if one is to commuinicate freely, but in a more formalistic context it is important in oder to have your ideas communicated effectively.

SheykAbdullah
01-08-2007, 10:16 AM
I would add to Vili's post that while many languages could be said to be structured by stuffy aristocrats their efforts (especially appearant in the Academie Francaise) are usually not very significant in impacting the actual spoken language. The rules they perscribe are often strange, arcane and unnatural, based not on linguistic development but linguistic reationism as often as not, and as a result their rules do not gain common currency and are used only by a certain few people (such as bureaucrats) and only in very formalistic writing (such as government pamphlets and papers). As such, it is often said that Frnech is a language with so many rules that almost no one ever learns them all, but that is mostly pomposity on the side of the Acadamie and three quarters of those rules are totally superfluous to actual communication.

jon1jt
01-08-2007, 10:57 AM
Grammar, speech and dialect all are important markers that differ depending on the context in which speech is used. A strict, rigid formalistic usage of language is appropriate under certain contexts (the five paragraph essay, while useless and scripted, is not really grammar) and slummy slang is appropriate during others. Registers of speech vary significantly based on what sociological context you use them in. I would certainly agree that in regular speech 'stuffy' grammar doesn't really have a place if one is to commuinicate freely, but in a more formalistic context it is important in oder to have your ideas communicated effectively.


the voices of robert frost and raymond carver, for example, whose use of language is clear and concise, conveys even the most abstract ideas, cutting across contextual fields. so i'm not sure whether there is necessarily a need for the formalistic, let alone a strict, rigid brand other than to embellish one's sense of refinement (i.e. snobbery). every society has a form of it---and people especially use religion to exert it---because while religion is a belief system, it's also a language system, which is why a hierarchy of power developed for each: to interpret, exhort, synthesize and simplify for mass consumption. no surprise the clergy imposed their divine kings notion on interpretation and thereby denied the masses the book. thankfully luther drove that nail in the door, or didn't he? :)

jon1jt
01-08-2007, 11:04 AM
Vili said:
And for Heidegger, of course, it would be a very important philosophical dilemma, which I think he got himself into just because he tried to approach language as he would logic.)

I'm not sure where you get this idea from. Heidegger was probably one of the most poetic of the ontologists. he's the one that said, "Language is the house of being," but that didn't mean logical argument. Being and Time and From Enowning are works of poetry as much as they are conceptual assertions. they're not to be construed as "systems" for even heidegger himself made that clear.

Whifflingpin
01-08-2007, 11:20 AM
"no surprise the clergy imposed their divine kings notion on interpretation and thereby denied the masses the book. thankfully luther drove that nail in the door, or didn't he? "

Off topic in this thread, but, no.
I presume that you are using "Luther" loosely, to stand for the Reformation in general. Certainly, in England, the monarch who argued most strongly for the divine right of kings was James I (or James VI of Scotland) who was a Calvinist.

If there was one person in England who did most to ensure that kings of England remained subject to the law, rather than acting as if they were divine, then that was probably Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury in the twelfth century, four hundred years before Luther.

I could be wrong, but I do not think you'll find much support for your proposition in the histories of any of the countries of northern or western Europe, except, possibly, Spain.

jgx
01-08-2007, 12:27 PM
wasn't the rules of grammar started by pompous artistocrats, just like their rules of etiquette?

you mean "weren't" the rules...

jgx
01-08-2007, 12:35 PM
i tend to think rules of grammar-Think are inseparable from the stifling writing that entertains it; like the ridiculous five paragraph essay form that's grounded in inductive analysis, leaving the writer the mere task of assembling the pieces, not painting a landscape with words, imagination. such is reserved for "creative writing" courses, another snotty endeavor for the formalistic story-teller.

jon1...hmmm....we have spent quite a bit of time here in lit land. I have to say that you present a bit of a paradox...but that is good...we all do.

You seem to be both "let it go with the wind" and also rather conservative in certain respects.

After reading many of your posts I have to admit that your lack of correct spelling and grammar gets in the way. In the way of what, someone asks? In the way of hearing you. Hearing? I thought this was about writing? Yes but as we all know there is more to writing then just the words on the screen. There is all sorts of static, implication, rhetorical jousts, connotations...

In your case, I want to take your opinions and thinking seriously. I sense that you want them to be taken seriously. Not everybody here does to the same degree. Some are here to just kick it and share some tea. But when the gentleman stands and makes a statement concerning culutre, music, art, politics, philosophy, morality...like it or not the audience will pay close attention to everything about the fellow. Now in person-person life there is body language, facial expression...here we have none of that and so the language, diction, grammar means even more.

I do want to add that I may very well fit into the same box as the one I am delicately building here for tuo. Takes one to know one.

blp
01-08-2007, 01:07 PM
I refer all contributors to this thread to Strunk and White's classice grammar primer, 'The Elements of Style' - especially you, jon1jt, from whom, frankly, I expect better.

As the title suggests, they see good grammatical practice as intrinsic to good style. This is largey a matter of entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem - Ockham's razor (Entitles should not be multiplied beyond necessity). Like a good joiner who uses only as many nails as are strictly necessary, and only in the places where they'll be most effective, a writer with good access to the toolbox of grammar doesn't waste words. I've seen the unintelligible tangles people get themselves into without this understanding and it's not pretty: overlong, unbeautiful conjunctions such as 'In the first instance', constant confusions of subject and object, misleading repetitions of the same point in different language, verbless sentences and on and on. These people are not freed for poetic flights by their basic lack of facility with language, they're absolutely restricted, to the point of barely being able to communicate a coherent thought, let alone being able to sound human in the process. Far from making them sound more 'formal', vili, basic knowledge of grammar would pull the rod out of a lot of these people's verbal arses. Far from being elitist, as you seem to imply, jon, grammar seems to me to be a basic skillset to which everyone in a free society deserves access. The modish idea, in England at least, that teaching grammar is somehow unfair to children, has left a lot of people unfairly disadvantaged.

Conversely, I've been amazed at the effect of diligent tidying and pruning on weak prose. Not only does it confer and sometimes force a clarity that was previously lacking, it can deliver the much hoped for beauty that no amount of florid sentence decoration achieves. I'm not much up on Carver's biography, but the idea that a writer of his economy wasn't concerned with issues like this seems highly unlikely. I do know he used to sit with his writing teacher making minute decisions about his word usage.

Grammar is a system, but it's a remarkably ergonomic and unrestrictive one. A bit like Democracy, it provides a set of guidelines that are nevertheless internally accommodating to debate about its own structure and a multiplicity of individual voices. It is not like etiquette, which I completely agree is an arbitrary system of conventions, used largely for intimidation and social exclusion. Where etiquette wants to tell you to say 'How d'you do?' rather than 'Hi there!', grammar is only concerned with making sense - and offers multiple ways of doing so. You can argue for its arbitrariness by pointing to the different systems at work in different languages, but this is to ignore the ways in which individual rules form part of an interlocking whole: where one might use a complex set of declensions and cases to distinguish subjects and objects, another might rely more on word order, even when the basic communicative intent may be very similar. For all the differences, it's hard to imagine a language devoid of certain of the elements we tend to take for granted - verbs for instance.

To those who still insist that grammar's a way of formalising language and restricting self-expression: look, for ****'s sake, who have you been reading? There's barely a decent writer alive or dead who doesn't use good grammar, and even the ones who break the rules usually do so with clear strategic intent. It's a testament to grammar's flexibility that two writers as different as Bukowski and Charlotte Bronte both use it and yet read so differently. And really, I could have picked almost any two other famous writers to make the same point. I could have said it differently too: '...to such differing stylistic ends.' Among other possibilities (to use a verbless sentence of my own). Anyway, we're all using the stuff constantly every day, on this forum and beyond. If you want to reject it out of hand, go ahead, but what are you going to be left with? It would be like putting a kid in a car without any instruction and saying, 'Don't worry, just do what comes natural.'

I will admit that Joan Didion, frequently cited as a great prose stylist, said recently, 'I never learned the rules of grammar.' But then, I think she sort of did - through extensive reading - because her usage is as good as her erudition is manifest. She's one of the few writers I've ever seen observe the subtle (and, in fact, debatable) difference between 'which' and 'that'.

vili
01-08-2007, 03:19 PM
I would add to Vili's post that while many languages could be said to be structured by stuffy aristocrats their efforts (especially appearant in the Academie Francaise) are usually not very significant in impacting the actual spoken language.
I am not so sure if this is applicable across history. While historical linguistics is not really my field, I think that the shift from Old English to Middle English, and then to (Early) Modern English was largely the result of the Normans taking over administration in England. These days the situation may be different.

vili
01-08-2007, 03:31 PM
Vili said:
And for Heidegger, of course, it would be a very important philosophical dilemma, which I think he got himself into just because he tried to approach language as he would logic.)

I'm not sure where you get this idea from. Heidegger was probably one of the most poetic of the ontologists. he's the one that said, "Language is the house of being," but that didn't mean logical argument. Being and Time and From Enowning are works of poetry as much as they are conceptual assertions. they're not to be construed as "systems" for even heidegger himself made that clear.
I must admit that I am not very well read in Heidegger, and may be too influenced by Carnap's reading of him, so probably I should not be making any strong comments about Heidegger. But doesn't Heidegger in "What is Metaphysics?" take "nothing" to be an entity in itself (rather than the negation of one), and then start wondering what it means to say that "Nothing is outside of the door" (or something along those lines)?

I have nothing (no pun intended) against Heidegger, but I just thought this to be somewhat strange. That said, I may be totally mistaken, as my knowledge of the subject matter is rather limited, and it has been ages since I read the little Heidegger that I have read.

vili
01-08-2007, 04:12 PM
Far from making them sound more 'formal', vili, basic knowledge of grammar would pull the rod out of a lot of these people's verbal arses. Far from being elitist, as you seem to imply, jon, grammar seems to me to be a basic skillset to which everyone in a free society deserves access.
I can only repeat what I have said earlier: we must make a distinction between "grammar" (our linguistic abilities) and something like "school grammar" (a standard way of communicating in a given context). We all have the first, but may lack in the second. Imposing a certain way of communication on someone is not elitist, but claiming that those who cannot master it lack in cognitive abilities does sound like that to me.


Where etiquette wants to tell you to say 'How d'you do?' rather than 'Hi there!', grammar is only concerned with making sense - and offers multiple ways of doing so.
This is probably not really relevant to what you wrote, but in any case note that not all grammatical sentences make sense. Chomsky's famous "Colourless green ideas sleep furiously" is an example of a sentence that is grammatical but meaningless. The sentence "Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo" is meanwhile both grammatical and has a meaning, but generally seems to produce too many processing problems for a native English speaker's brain to really understand it.

As a contrast, "We is hungry" is for most native English speakers an ungrammatical sentence, but perfectly understandable.


For all the differences, it's hard to imagine a language devoid of certain of the elements we tend to take for granted - verbs for instance.
So-called polysynthetic languages have actually sometimes been analysed without a reference to verbs. These are languages where sentences tend to be composed of only one word: the canonical example is the Inuit "tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq":

tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq
tuntu -ssur -qatar -ni -ksaite -ngqiggte -uq
reindeer -hunt -FUT -say -NEG -again -3SG:IND
'He had not yet said again that he was going to hunt reindeer.'

However, I personally think that if we assume languages to have verbs, polysynthetic languages have them as well, but they are simply manifested as morphological pieces (as you can see in the gloss above) rather than phonologically individual words.

As for whether our linguistic system actually makes a basic distinction between word classes is something that has been debated in theoretical linguistics at least in the past decade or so. An approach called Distributed Morphology has posited that word classes are not really part of our linguistic system, but are rather simply epiphenomenona of the system itself (the argument is rather complex, so I won't go into it). Again, this is not really that relevant in terms of school grammar, which as I have said does not describe language but a socially accepted way of using it (which is related to a given context). The reason why I am mentioning all this is to once again try to show that grammar, logic, thought and semantics are, while interrelated, not as straightforwardly linked as is commonly thought.

The bottom line is that I more or less agree with everything that has been said in this thread, but have simply wanted to note that "language ability" and "proper language use" are different things. The former is a cognitive ability that we all have, and which may or may not be innate to human beings. The latter, meanwhile, is a social contract (which does not make it any less significant).

Since I seem to be repeating myself quite a bit in my posts, so I think I will leave this issue now. :) I have taught enough first-year linguistics students to know that this is not really an issue that people tend to accept very easily.

jgx
01-08-2007, 04:26 PM
I do not think that we can easily distinguish our thoughts about prescriptive grammar from our school days experience when it was, I assume, taught to the youth we were.

Ya know the picture, dry, memorization , memorization, more dry babble, more memorization.

In this case the form, how the grammar was taught, made as significant an impact as the content, what we were taught.

Prescriptive grammar taught in a prescriptive educational system. One does not demand the other.

I am familiar with Strunk and Whites classic and I would defend it as an important guide to correct writing. It does not make one a writer. I do not know what does. It gives clear specific rules to follow and lo and behold when the rules are applied to the disarray of much prose all of a sudden there is arrangement and clarity. Want to write well? Read the rules and apply them. It seems too good to be true. It is.

One of my concerns is whether or not there is another message being taught when a book of rules is used to write. While the content may be dead on the tendency to accept proscribed rules from an authority and to then uncritically apply them reflects a "I just want solutions not knowledge" perspective that is pervasive in this US society.

I have thought about taking The Elements Of Style and breaking each one. What if I wrote three pages using nothing but the passive verb? What if I wrote an essay describing my favorite park and used as many adjectives and adverbs as I could find? If the rules were taught as what they actually are, suggestions, and if they were taught in such a manner that students learned the suggestions as well as the thinking, values behind the suggestions then I believe our nation's citizens would understand grammar more deeply, would not have such negative memories of those darn grammar classes and would be able to understand that every rule expresses a value and as such are open to valid critical analysis.

This post was written by a middle aged ex New Yorker as he stumbled, bumped, and grumped his way through the warm, wake up and smell the coffee Monday morning. Or rather, the warm, wake up, smell the coffee Monday grumped its way on him. Poor soul.:yawnb:

SheykAbdullah
01-08-2007, 06:03 PM
I am not so sure if this is applicable across history. While historical linguistics is not really my field, I think that the shift from Old English to Middle English, and then to (Early) Modern English was largely the result of the Normans taking over administration in England. These days the situation may be different.

I think the influence of French on English was more something that happened as opposed to something that was forced, which is how the French Academy operates.

SheykAbdullah
01-08-2007, 06:15 PM
I think the important thing that 'perscriptive' grammar does for a people is create a common consesus for communication and in that sense I think you're right JGX, it is important to understand and use. That way we don't let our dialects get too far ahead of us when it comes to mutual intelligibility, but really, as far as linguistics go, at least in the field I am involved in (which is different than Vili's since I am a descriptive and comparitive linguist) just so long as someone else can understand you you're pretty much good.

jon1jt
01-08-2007, 07:32 PM
I refer all contributors to this thread to Strunk and White's classice grammar primer, 'The Elements of Style' - especially you, jon1jt, from whom, frankly, I expect better.

thanks for the primer suggestion blp. i refer all to this thread to an excellent poetry primer, 'The Elements of Poetry" by eric jameson and 'Poetry For Dummies' - especially you, blp, from whom, frankly, i expect better.


After reading many of your posts I have to admit that your lack of correct spelling and grammar gets in the way. In the way of what, someone asks? In the way of hearing you. Hearing?

but for all i agree that it got in the way, you lost that argument. i didn't say it, others did. i just happen to agree with them. ;) majority rules, remember?? :) (and it's funny you don't hold hip hoppers to the same standard! :lol:)


here's food for thought gentleman. is it POSSIBLE that there are people who visit writing forums daily, who in their professional lives are excellent writers, maybe even published writers---english professors, etc., but they want to get away from the academic snobbery and professionalism for a while and just enjoy leaving a post without the scrutiny? fellow members can simply ignore that person's postings if they felt he/she had nothing to add to the discussion, right? rather than insult that person about his lack of grammar, they could focus on their own writings, maybe seek publication, write a book, learn more about grammar.

let me also recommend jacques derrida's 'Of Grammatology', which puts the written word on notice.

jgx
01-08-2007, 09:55 PM
(and it's funny you don't hold hip hoppers to the same standard! )

You have no idea whatsoever what I would write to a member of the hip-hop community if they were in this forum. I am writing to you about you based on my internet connection with you. Do not misrepresent me. Do not misrepresent my words or thoughts. At the very least would you mind, in the future, indicating just where your assertions come from.

As you will read more below, once again you do not seem to be doing a good job of getting away from the very snobbery you dislike.



here's food for thought gentleman. is it POSSIBLE that there are people who visit writing forums daily, who in their professional lives are excellent writers, maybe even published writers---english professors, etc., but they want to get away from the academic snobbery and professionalism for a while and just enjoy leaving a post without the scrutiny?


Yes it is certainly possible. Now I trust that you are speaking honestly here. You are a professional...an english professor in fact. You, by your own assertion, are an excellent writer and have had work published. I trust that you have had work published. I trust that your work was good enough to be published.

Now as far as why you are here. You want to "get away from the academic snobbery and professionalism for a while and just enjoy leaving a post without the scrutiny."

Well go for it. I can not stand the snobbery and professionalism either. But I dare say that by writing that you want to get away from it you at least agree that there are some real problems with The Academy. Now you know this very well because you are a member of The Academy. In fact, you are, from your own admission, a member in good standing...published, excellent writer...

Would it shock you to learn that your writings show just how deeply entrenched you are in The Ivory Tower culture. The snobbery and professionalism that you want to get away from is the very same snobbery that your posts display. Ofcourse how could this not be. We all are impacted by the environments we live in and work in so this should come as no suprise to you.

In fact you could even offer your sincere support for my increasing dislike for the snobbery your posts communicate, afterall you are here to get away from it as well.




fellow members can simply ignore that person's postings if they felt he/she had nothing to add to the discussion, right? rather than insult that person about his lack of grammar, they could focus on their own writings, maybe seek publication, write a book, learn more about grammar

Er....look if you want to take off the gloves then so be it. I have tried here and at the other thread to create a basis for improved communication and understanding between the two of us and you have not responded to my attempts at all. I can only assume that you do not care about building respectful dialouge. And if you do not then it does seem a bit ironic for you to start pointing fingers at supposed insults. As if you seem concerned about how people feel when reading what you write. Do you have any idea how many times I have felt insulted by your writing? And now that you know that does it matter to you at all?

You are difficult to ignore but that is certainly a position I could take. I never said, nor implied that you add nothing to the discussion. In fact what I did write is that I want to take your posts seriously but the grammar represents an obstacle.

As far as what I could be doing instead...seek publication, write a book, learn more about grammar. One, thanks for the advise but it was not all that welcome. Do you think I am not studying grammar? What is the basis for tha assumption. I was the one who started a thread about rhetoric, grammar and logic. Do you think I am not trying to get my writing published or have never had my writing published? Again, what gives you the basis for that assumption. Finally, writing for me is art and I do not look at art as a thing to be published or not published, made into a book or not. I write because it is healthy for me to do so.

One of the reasons I have not written a book is because my deeds are more important then my words. I could write a book about what matters to me but it would seem an act of greed and arrogance. I am more concerned with communicating to people in my day to day life. That includes this community.

I have asked you to write about your life in more detail so that I could have a better understanding. As far as I am aware you never took me up on that and now you blame me for not knowing who you are or why you are here.

jon1jt
01-08-2007, 10:32 PM
You have no idea whatsoever what I would write to a member of the hip-hop community if they were in this forum. I am writing to you about you based on my internet connection with you. Do not misrepresent me. Do not misrepresent my words or thoughts. At the very least would you mind, in the future, indicating just where your assertions come from.

As you will read more below, once again you do not seem to be doing a good job of getting away from the very snobbery you dislike.


?


Yes it is certainly possible. Now I trust that you are speaking honestly here. You are a professional...an english professor in fact. You, by your own assertion, are an excellent writer and have had work published. I trust that you have had work published. I trust that your work was good enough to be published.

Now as far as why you are here. You want to "get away from the academic snobbery and professionalism for a while and just enjoy leaving a post without the scrutiny."

Well go for it. I can not stand the snobbery and professionalism either. But I dare say that by writing that you want to get away from it you at least agree that there are some real problems with The Academy. Now you know this very well because you are a member of The Academy. In fact, you are, from your own admission, a member in good standing...published, excellent writer...

Would it shock you to learn that your writings show just how deeply entrenched you are in The Ivory Tower culture. The snobbery and professionalism that you want to get away from is the very same snobbery that your posts display. Ofcourse how could this not be. We all are impacted by the environments we live in and work in so this should come as no suprise to you.

In fact you could even offer your sincere support for my increasing dislike for the snobbery your posts communicate, afterall you are here to get away from it as well.





Er....look if you want to take off the gloves then so be it. I have tried here and at the other thread to create a basis for improved communication and understanding between the two of us and you have not responded to my attempts at all. I can only assume that you do not care about building respectful dialouge. And if you do not then it does seem a bit ironic for you to start pointing fingers at supposed insults. As if you seem concerned about how people feel when reading what you write. Do you have any idea how many times I have felt insulted by your writing? And now that you know that does it matter to you at all?

You are difficult to ignore but that is certainly a position I could take. I never said, nor implied that you add nothing to the discussion. In fact what I did write is that I want to take your posts seriously but the grammar represents an obstacle.

As far as what I could be doing instead...seek publication, write a book, learn more about grammar. One, thanks for the advise but it was not all that welcome. Do you think I am not studying grammar? What is the basis for tha assumption. I was the one who started a thread about rhetoric, grammar and logic. Do you think I am not trying to get my writing published or have never had my writing published? Again, what gives you the basis for that assumption. Finally, writing for me is art and I do not look at art as a thing to be published or not published, made into a book or not. I write because it is healthy for me to do so.

One of the reasons I have not written a book is because my deeds are more important then my words. I could write a book about what matters to me but it would seem an act of greed and arrogance. I am more concerned with communicating to people in my day to day life. That includes this community.

I have asked you to write about your life in more detail so that I could have a better understanding. As far as I am aware you never took me up on that and now you blame me for not knowing who you are or why you are here.

well i didnt mean to insult you in the past, but if it appeared that way then i apologize. but you're the one that corrected my "wasn't for 'weren't,' as if i didn't plant that there. i was just fooling, but grammarians like you descended! no no no, i don't want to take the gloves off, not at all. we have more in common than not. we've had insightful discussions, which included some interesting banter as well. i didnt insinuate that you haven't been published, i meant that for people who loath poor writing should simply ignore those who employ it and harness that energy toward something more constructive, learning grammar, whatever. i'm glad you study grammar, so did i. see that, we have something else in common. and your perspective on writing is interesting, i like it. there you have it.

jgx
01-08-2007, 11:51 PM
well i didnt mean to insult you in the past, but if it appeared that way then i apologize. but you're the one that corrected my "wasn't for 'weren't,' as if i didn't plant that there. i was just fooling, but grammarians like you descended! no no no, i don't want to take the gloves off, not at all. we have more in common than not. we've had insightful discussions, which included some interesting banter as well. i didnt insinuate that you haven't been published, i meant that for people who loath poor writing should simply ignore those who employ it and harness that energy toward something more constructive, learning grammar, whatever. i'm glad you study grammar, so did i. see that, we have something else in common. and your perspective on writing is interesting, i like it. there you have it.

I got a darn grin on my face. I actually were not too sure just what the "wasn't" was doing there since it were so obviously wrongs. You set me up now didn't cha. :)

And I hope that if I ever get to a point in my existence where I loath the fanged monster called poor writing, well, give me an IV of chamomile fast.

I reserve all expressions of loathing for those sins that so warrant, poor wrtiting does not. Those who admire poor writing though, that is another...uh...story...or novel or play...no just another story...but a well written one (geez...I get carried away sometimes)
And have no worries, even if you had mistakenly written "wasn't" it would be a minor sin. Punishment would be to read King Lear and Crime and Punishment again and again for a year. No...that would be extreme. Just watch a bad movie with no popcorn or soda. :p

jon1jt
01-09-2007, 05:50 AM
:lol:
I got a darn grin on my face. I actually were not too sure just what the "wasn't" was doing there since it were so obviously wrongs. You set me up now didn't cha. :)

And I hope that if I ever get to a point in my existence where I loath the fanged monster called poor writing, well, give me an IV of chamomile fast.

I reserve all expressions of loathing for those sins that so warrant, poor wrtiting does not. Those who admire poor writing though, that is another...uh...story...or novel or play...no just another story...but a well written one (geez...I get carried away sometimes)
And have no worries, even if you had mistakenly written "wasn't" it would be a minor sin. Punishment would be to read King Lear and Crime and Punishment again and again for a year. No...that would be extreme. Just watch a bad movie with no popcorn or soda. :p

poor writing done artfully can, in fact, be quite enjoyable. my hero, Jack Kerouac, was blasted by the critics and academicians for mimicking - on one level, human speech; what kerouac called, "spontaneous bop prosody." sentences interrupted, if at all, by dashes, to allow the words to distill, like the end of a jazz riff.

yeah i definitely need my popcorn and soda for good and bad movies! ahhh, gotta love it. :lol:

vili
01-11-2007, 05:03 AM
I think the influence of French on English was more something that happened as opposed to something that was forced, which is how the French Academy operates.
That is, of course, very true.

suastiastu
12-08-2015, 09:51 AM
I have a practical grammar issue on which I would value some views. I have a piece of legislation to interpret. I need to determine the logical meaning of a circumstance where the minister is satisfied that the document is no longer able to be used to facilitate international travel but is not satisfied that it is no longer able to be used as evidence of identity and citizenship. Is the document valid?

an Australian passport ceases to be valid if:

(a) it is damaged; and

(b) the Minister is satisfied that it is no longer usable as evidence of the identity and citizenship of its holder or to facilitate international travel.

North Star
12-08-2015, 10:07 AM
Clearly the 'and' there would mean to a logician that the passport must fill both requirements to cease to be valid. People in logistic are likely to disagree, though. And I wonder how the minister finds the time to check all those passports. My guess is that any significant damage to the passport alone will suffice to make it invalid, and that the Minister has outsourced the control of the usability of the passport as evidence of identity and citizenship of its holder.

Alfonso Espada
02-29-2016, 01:49 PM
The sad part about that permissive methodology is that it was recommended by supposed experts in education.
Sadder yet is their preferring to ignore statistical feedback showing that their method isn't working too well.