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Are you a rebellious grammar student?

  Tags: Linguistics | Grammar
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19 messages over 3 pages: 13  Next >>
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 Message 9 of 19
26 March 2013 at 3:18am | IP Logged 
Detailed grammatical analysis has its place and use, however language learning materials is not it. Reading about a language is the worst way to go about learning it. When learning a foreign language, more than a couple explanatory lines per topic in the instruction language are seldom necessary. It is by ample example and generous exposition of the language itself that you assimilate it. Once learnt, specialized grammar study should be as useful and relevant for your new language as it might be for your own.
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 Message 10 of 19
26 March 2013 at 9:24am | IP Logged 
I'm not sure I agree Juan. Nobody would claim that you don't need exposure to the language itself (and in fact, I don't expect many people would claim exposure to the language isn't the most important part of learning) - that being said, for particularly difficult concepts I find that I (with a linguistic background, albeit not much of one) can pick them up in 5 minutes in my own language where as it might take months for me to get the subtle nuances if I'm only instructed in the target language.
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 Message 11 of 19
03 April 2013 at 5:19am | IP Logged 
I like how the Real academia Espanõla tend to say what is common and what is not, the Brazilian academy is always trying to imperialize the language telling how everyone should speak.
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 Message 12 of 19
03 April 2013 at 6:34am | IP Logged 
Grammar is simply a set of common rules that govern speech within languages as well as
dialects or even social groups. As much some would like to keep language regimented
and stoic, ahem la Academie Francaise..., it is always transforming and evolving. True
native speakers have the 6th sense of knowing when things "sound right" or not. Most
people that get to an advanced level have a semblence of this ability, but will never
had the complete faculty as a native would. I tend to be more utilitarian when it
comes to grammar in that as long as the desired meaning is conveyed, who cares if they
should of used a different tense, etc. (as long as the receiver gets the meaning) But,
I still find myself angry when people get effect/affect wrong, so it's all relative I

For example, in AAVE and some urban white as well as Appalacian dialects that my family
uses, the past continous often will use the third person singular for everything:

Compare: "We were eating dinner when your aunt called."
           "We was eatin' dinner when your aunt called."

           "You were so mad I thought you were going to explode!"
           "You was so mad I thought you were going to explode!"

As well as the use of the infinitive with the sub. pronoun:

           "They are so rude today."
           "They be so rude today."

I used to think this was uneducated when my family would say stuff like this, which can
for certain be argued, but ask yourself if it impededes meaning or communication.
Especially in English where we almost always use subject pronouns with verbs, it's
almost impossible to lose meaning with this verbal change.`

I guess grammar is like a set of rules. Good to know, but only so you can break them

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Super Polyglot
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 Message 13 of 19
03 April 2013 at 10:18am | IP Logged 
A language doesn't have one uniform grammar. Different speakers may represent different dialects, sociolects and historical stages, and even though serious grammar books may inform you about some of these differences they can't possibly cover all the variations. Add to that the right (!) native speakers and advanced learners have to test the limits of any language - including Brazilian Portuguese, French and other languages which formally are under the iron heel of some kind of Academy.

And yes, I do sometimes show some degree of rebelliousnes even in such matters - but as far as possible by supporting tendencies which also are supported by at least a fraction of the native users. For instance I find it idiotic to write ë in Russian when no other accent signs are used outside dictionaries and text books. If all Russians wrote ë then I would also grudgingly do so, but I have seen a fair number of texts without this sign, and then I follow meekly in their footsteps.

However this is another side of rebelliousness than I referred to in my first message in this thread. There I wrote about the attitude to grammars which makes me collect information from several sources and then choose which description I prefer - and quite often this is one I have invented myself because those I have seen weren't quite satisfactory.

For instance I have yet to see a grammar for Icelandic or Russian or other inflectionrich languages which presented articles plus the most common endings of adjectives and substantives together. It could be a matter of space, but I can do it on my 'green sheets' so it is certainly possible. In Greek I see a lot of babble about futures and subjunctives when the reality is that these just are the present form of the aorist with different particles. in a similar vein I have earlier criticized the idea that Russian perfective verbs don't have presents and imperfective don't have synthetic futures, where the reality is that they share the same form but give it different interpretations based on the semantics of the two main aspect categories. In Irish I haven't seen a simple table that clearly shows how masculine and feminie nouns are inflected in complementary patterns - almost as if somebody had drawn a table and then pushed the whole system one step for the feminine forms.

Here I don't try to break rules, but just to find ways of seeing patterns that makes it easier to grasp the system behind the linguistic facts. Some grammarians are good at this game, some less good, maybe because they are too conformist or too preoccupied with petty details, but then I get the chance to learn the system by rethinking the existing descriptions .. within the limits set by my own knowledge.

Edited by Iversen on 25 September 2013 at 1:02am

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 Message 14 of 19
03 April 2013 at 11:19am | IP Logged 
This thread reminds me of Belgians saying "Je ne sais pas venir aujourd'hui" (as opposed
to je ne peux pas"). Is it wrong?

The Academie française would say so. But in Belgium you can get away with this because
it's a part of Belgian French to use savoir over pouvoir to express impossibility (and
not "I don't know").

Iversen, when you mean tables about Russian, that would be like a table of, say, большой

Edited by tarvos on 03 April 2013 at 11:20am

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 Message 15 of 19
03 April 2013 at 2:28pm | IP Logged 
Gallo1801 wrote:
Grammar is simply a set of common rules that govern speech within languages as well as dialects or even social groups. As much some would like to keep language regimented and stoic, ahem la Academie Francaise...

Iversen wrote:
Add to that the right (!) native speakers and advanced learners have to test he limits of any language - including Brazilian Portuguese, French and other languages which formally are under the iron heel of some kind of Academy.

I think that the Académie Française has a bit of an undeserved reputation as prescriptivist boogeymen. Now, I'm a staunch descriptivist, and I don't give two cents for "official" grammar of a language, as opposed to the grammar actually used by the best writers of that language. But I feel compelled to say a few words in defense of the Académie.

The Académie is a group of French writers and speakers elected for their usage of French. In my experience, they:

- Publish an excellent dictionary.
- Try to fix the most egregious irregularities in French spelling (and purge the language of rare irregular verbs that nobody ever gets right).
- Publish an online usage guide which generally describes normal written French, and which is considerably less obnoxious than many usage guides in English.

When I started learning French, I always pictured the Académie as worthy target of well-justified rebellion. Instead, I've enjoyed their dictionaries, appreciated their attempts to regularize French conjugation, and used their grammar advice to clear up various points of confusion.

This may have something to do with the fact the Académie is staffed with real writers, people whose work would in any case help shape the norms of the French language. Sure, nothing prevents a well-respected writer from giving dubious grammar advice. (For example E.B. White, as a writer, wrote beautifully. But the advice he gave in Strunk & White is frequently contradicted by his own excellent prose.) But the Académie itself is probably the most reasonable of all the official bodies who try to shape the French language. If you want to rebel against the iron heel of linguistic authority, there are many worthier candidates in the French-speaking world.
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 Message 16 of 19
03 April 2013 at 3:02pm | IP Logged 
I very much agree with emk, and would just like to make the same case for the Real Academia Española. I think many people are not aware that the RAE is not composed only by linguists, but also well-known and respected authors, like Mario Vargas Llosa, Luis Goytisolo or Soledad Puértolas, and people from other areas. Currently amongst the members there is a biochemist, an architect, a medical doctor and an economist.

Another aspect of the RAE is that they have correspondent members from all Spanish-speaking countries. RAE's funding charter states that one of the main aims of their work is "To ensure the changes that it (the language) undergoes [...] do not break the essential unity that maintains the entire Hispanic sphere."

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