The history of grammar theory

Early (Prenormative) Grammars. Until the 17th century the term "grammar" in English was applied only to the study of Latin.

The history of grammar theory


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There does not appear to exist a generally accepted periodization of the history of English grammars, so we shall roughly divide it into two periods of unequal length, according to the general aims or objectives of the grammars appearing within these periods. The first is the age of prescientific grammar beginning with the end of the 16th century and lasting till about 1900. It includes two types of grammars which succeeded each other.

The first type of grammars in the history of English grammars are the early prenormative grammars of English, beginning with William Bullokar's Bref Grammar for English (1585).

By the middle of the 18th century, when many of the grammatical phenomena of English had been described, the early English grammars gave way (to a new kind of grammar, a prescriptive (normative) grammar, which stated strict rules of grammatical usage, condemning those constructions and forms which it considered to be wrong or "improper", and setting up a certain standard of correctness to be implicitly followed by learners of English. The grammars of the second type still constitute the only kind of grammar in use in the practical teaching of English.

By the end of the 19th century, when the prescriptive grammar had reached its highest level of development, when the system of grammar known in modern linguistics as traditional had been established, the appearance of new grammar, the scientific grammar, became possible.

In contrast with prescriptive grammars, classical scientific grammar (the third type of grammar), according to the explicitly stated views of its founders, was both descriptive and explanatory. As Sweet's grammar appeared in the last decade of the 19th century, we may take 1900 as the dividing line between the two periods and the beginning of the second period, the age of the scientific grammars of English (including three new types of grammars). During the first half of the present century an intensive development of this grammar has taken place. Classical scientific grammar has accepted the traditional grammatical system of prescriptive grammar, but, as has been mentioned, now we witness the final stage of its existence, for since the 1950's no new grammars of the scholarly traditional type seem to have appeared. The new types of English grammars, which appeared since the fifties are the fourth type of grammar - structural or descriptive, which, in its turn, is becoming obsolete and is being supplanted by the fifth type of grammar - the transformational generative grammar. The linguistic theory represented by the last mentioned type of grammar is considered by many modern linguists to be the most fruitful approach to the description and explanation of the grammatical system of English, especially in the field of syntax.





Early (Prenormative) Grammars. Until the 17th century the term "grammar" in English was applied only to the study of Latin. This usage was a result of the fact that Latin grammar was the only grammar learned in schools ("grammar" schools) and that until the end of the 16th century there were no grammars of English. One of the earliest and most popular Latin grammars written in English, by William Lily, was published in the first half of the 16th century and went through many editions. This work was very important for English grammar as it set a standard for the arrangement of material and thus Latin paradigms with their English equivalents easily suggested the possibility of presenting English forms in a similar way, using the same terminology as in Latin grammar. A striking example of the two approaches to the description of English is the divergence of views on the problem of English case system. Though Bullokar mentioned 5 cases and in a grammar published in 1749 and reprinted as late as 1819 (Th. Dilworth, A New Guide to the English Tongue) the number of cases both of nouns and adjectives is said to be 6 (as it is in Lily's grammar), in two grammars which appeared during the first half of the 17th century, Ben Jonson's and Ch. Butler's English grammars, the number of cases is two, while in J. Wallis's Grammatica Linguae Anglicanae (1653), which was written in Latin, in spite of the author's intention to break entirely with Latin tradition, the category of case is said to be non-existent and the 's form is defined as a possessive adjective. This view was supported by an early 18th century grammar, attributed to John Brightland. The authors of the second half of the 18th century seemed to prefer the two-case system, which was revived at the end of the 19th century in scientific grammar. In 19th century school grammars a three-case system prevailed.

The treatment of the problem of case shows that even in the early period of the development of English grammars the views of grammarians were widely divergent, a fact which may be explained by two different approaches toward the description of English grammatical structure. The grammarians who desired to break with Latin grammatical tradition were not always consistent and still followed the Latin pattern in some of the chapters of their grammars.

By the middle of the 18th century the main results of the description of the English grammatical system, as it was presented in the prenormative grammars, were as follows:

Morphology. The Latin classification of the parts of speech, which included eight word-classes, differed from the system adopted by modern grammars in that the substantives and adjectives were grouped together as two kinds of nouns, while the participle was presented as a separate part of speech. In the earliest English grammars, where this system was reproduced, the parts of speech were also divided dichotomically into declinable and indeclinable parts of speech, just as in Lily's grammar (W. Bullokar), or words with number and words without number (Ben Jonson), or words with number and case and words without number and case (Ch. Butler). The first of these groups, declinable words, with number and case, included nouns, pronouns, verbs and participles, the second indeclinables adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and interjections. Ben Jonson increased the number of parts of speech in his classification, introducing the article as the ninth part of speech.

Later, at the beginning of the 18th century, another scheme of classification appeared in J. Brightland's grammar. This author reduced the number of parts of speech to four, rejecting the traditional terminology as well. The four parts of speech were: names (i. e. nouns), qualities (i. e. adjectives), affirmations (i. e. verbs) and particles, which included the four so-called indeclinable parts of speech. In this scheme the adjective was classed as a separate part of speech, owing to the influence of the philosophical or universal (logical) grammars of the age, which in their attempts to discover the universal laws of the structure of languages pointed out the difference between the syntactic functions of the two varieties of "nouns".

Syntax. In Brightland's grammar we likewise find an important innovation in the study of English syntax the introduction of the notion "sentence" into syntax. Latin grammar was not concerned with the structure of the sentence, the principal object of the syntax of modern grammar. Though definitions of the sentence, mostly logical (pointing to its function as an expression of a complete thought, a judgment or proposition), already existed in the ancient period, grammarians understood syntax etymologically as a study of the arrangement, i. e. the connection of words. Thus, Lily briefly stated the three concords of Latin: of the nominative and the verb, of the substantive and the adjective and of the relative pronoun and its antecedent.

Ben Jonson applied this analysis to English syntax and devoted a large part of his grammar to the description of the "syntax" of a noun with a noun, of a noun with an adjective, with an article, with a verb, etc. As the rules of concord and government were few in English, the author paid much attention to a specifically English means of connection of words word order. The sentence was mentioned only in the chapter on punctuation, which was based on the theory of rhetoric (i. e. stylistics) created by ancient authors. The principal unit of rhetoric was the period, which, like the sentence, was defined as an expression of a complete thought. The expression of a complete thought in rhetoric was not confined to the bounds of a single sentence. It could be expressed by a group of closely connected sentences, but early English grammarians identified the period with the sentence, so that the marks of punctuation (named after the parts of the period which they divided, such as the comma, the least part of the period, the colon, a member of the period, and the period itself, which denoted the mark of punctuation pointing to its completion) were at the same time intended to divide sentences and their parts, which as yet had no special names. As some colons were rather long, another mark of punctuation was added, the semicolon (a half-member), which was so named by analogy with the already existing terms.

It was only in Brightland's grammar that the concept of the sentence was included in syntax proper. In Brightland's grammar sentences are divided dichotomically into simple and compound. The simple sentence is defined as containing one affirmation (verb) and one name, signifying the subject of the affirmation expressed or understood. The compound sentence consists of two or more simple sentences.

Alongside the logical terms introduced in

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