Monday, June 18, 2007

Fragment 618

Notes towards a pedagogical grammar

"The combination of the simple present tense with action processes expresses what are often called habitual or timeless actions -i.e. actions which are repeated regularly over a period of time including now."
Graham Lock: 'A Functional English Grammar'

"The esential characteristic of the present simple is that it expresses the speaker's view of the event as a timeless fact. Paradoxically, not only is the present simple not about present time, but it is not about time at all."
Michael Lewis: 'The English Verb'

"How shall I answer the question whether Euclidean Geometry is true? It has no sense!... Euclidean Geometry is, and will remain, the most convenient".
Poincare


A grammatical explanation is neither true nor false. It is only more or less convenient. Teaching been as an irregular participle of go might appal grammarians, but it helps the student towards easy utterance of sentences such as I have been there before.

A pedagogical grammar would only include explanations of language that helped the learner towards more accurate and fluent production. This would necessarily involve much simplification, and perhaps the jettisoning of many categories (and jargon) considered essential to the prescriptivist and descriptivist alike: adverbial/prepositional distinctions, tense/aspect distinctions, predicate/complement distinctions.

These distinctions might more usefully be replaced with a series of disparate spectra describing the underlying pragmatic values and meanings of certain grammatical contrasts: general-specific; past-non-past; functional-descriptive; real-unreal.

The overall aim would be to avoid creating a comprehensive, regularised structure. A pedagogical grammar must not become a separate, secondary structure that requires study, but must be a toolkit to help the user build the primary structure, that of the language itself.

3 comments:

KeyLawk said...

"...with a series of disparate spectra...to help the user build the primary structure."

Perhaps one of the reductionist "phallacies" about Words is that they are part of a meaningful "structure". Perhaps Words have a utility, and a Meaning, quite independent of any Superficial/Deep Structure. This search for meaningful structure is the Sysyphian Stone which even Chomsky has stopped rolling.

Murr said...

Perhaps. But if you put any two words together in a meaningful way (not simply at random), that is a structure.
In my view, with Lakoff, the Deep Structure of language is the underlying conceptual framework.
But I do agree that most words have a utility which is greater than their meaning. Their utility is a kind of shorthand which establishes conventional meanings between giver and reciever.
Iris Murdoch said:
Only simple things can be said without falsehood: ( she means phrases such as pass the milk) The whole language is a machine for making falsehoods.

Murr said...

Perhaps. But if you put any two words together in a meaningful way (not simply at random), that is a structure.
In my view, with Lakoff, the Deep Structure of language is the underlying conceptual framework.
But I do agree that most words have a utility which is greater than their meaning. Their utility is a kind of shorthand which establishes conventional meanings between giver and reciever.
Iris Murdoch said:
Only simple things can be said without falsehood: ( she means phrases such as pass the milk) The whole language is a machine for making falsehoods.