The history of grammatical study of the English language

  Brill, E. and Mooney, R. J. (1997), An overview of empirical natural language processing', in AI Magazine, 18 (4): 13-24. Chomsky,

The history of grammatical study of the English language

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Министерство образования Республики Беларусь

Учреждение образования

«Гомельский государственный университет

им. Ф. Скорины»


Филологический факультет









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Студентка группы К-53

Ковалева Т.Е.







Гомель 2006




1 English language

2 History of grammatical study





"Grammatica quid est? ars recte scribendi recteque loquendi; poetarum enarrationem continens; omnium Scientiarum fons uberrimus. * * * Nostra atas parum perita rerum veterum, nimis brevi gyro grammaticum sepsit; at apud antiques olim tantum auctoritatis hic ordo habuit, ut censores essent et judices scriptorum omnium soli grammatici; quos ob id etiam Criticos vocabant."--DESPAUTER. _Praf. ad Synt_, fol. 1.

Such is the peculiar power of language, that there is scarcely any subject so trifling, that it may not thereby be plausibly magnified into something great; nor are there many things which cannot be ingeniously disparaged till they shall seem contemptible. Cicero goes further: "Nihil est tam incredibile quod non dicendo fiat probabile;"--"There is nothing so incredible that it may not by the power of language be made probable." The study of grammar has been often overrated, and still oftener injuriously decried. I shall neither join with those who would lessen in the public esteem that general system of doctrines, which from time immemorial has been taught as grammar; nor attempt, either by magnifying its practical results, or by decking it out with my own imaginings, to invest it with any artificial or extraneous importance.

I shall not follow the footsteps of Neef, who avers that, "Grammar and incongruity are identical things," and who, under pretence of reaching the same end by better means, scornfully rejects as nonsense every thing that others have taught under that name; because I am convinced, that, of all methods of teaching, none goes farther than his, to prove the reproachful assertion true. Nor shall I imitate the declamation of _Cardell_; who, at the commencement of his Essay, recommends the general study of language on earth, from the consideration that, "The faculty of speech is the medium of social bliss for superior intelligences in an eternal world;" [51] and who, when he has exhausted censure in condemning the practical instruction of others, thus lavishes praise, in both his grammars, upon that formless, void, and incomprehensible theory of his own: "This application of words," says he, "in their endless use, by one plain rule, to all things which nouns can name, instead of being the fit subject of blind cavil, _is the most sublime theme presented to the intellect on earth. It is the practical intercourse of the soul at once with its God, and with all parts of his works!_"--_Cardell's Gram._, 12mo, p. 87; _Gram._, 18mo, p. 49.

Here, indeed, a wide prospect opens before us; but he who traces science, and teaches what is practically useful, must check imagination, and be content with sober truth.

"For apt the mind or fancy is to rove Uncheck'd, and of her roving is no end."--MILTON.

Restricted within its proper limits, and viewed in its true light, the practical science of grammar has an intrinsic dignity and merit sufficient to throw back upon any man who dares openly assail it, the lasting stigma of folly and self-conceit. It is true, the judgements of men are fallible, and many opinions are liable to be reversed by better knowledge: but what has been long established by the unanimous concurrence of the learned, it can hardly be the part of a wise instructor now to dispute. The literary reformer who, with the last named gentleman, imagines "that the persons to whom the civilized world have looked up to for instruction in language were all wrong alike in the main points," [52] intends no middle course of reformation, and must needs be a man either of great merit, or of little modesty.

1. English language


The English language may now be regarded as the common inheritance of about fifty millions of people; who are at least as highly distinguished for virtue, intelligence, and enterprise, as any other equal portion of the earth's population. All these are more or less interested in the purity, permanency, and right use of that language; inasmuch as it is to be, not only the medium of mental intercourse with others for them and their children, but the vehicle of all they value, in the reversion of ancestral honour, or in the transmission of their own. It is even impertinent, to tell a man of any respectability, that the study of this his native language is an object of great importance and interest: if he does not, from these most obvious considerations, feel it to be so, the suggestion will be less likely to convince him, than to give offence, as conveying an implicit censure.

Every person who has any ambition to appear respectable among people of education, whether in conversation, in correspondence, in public speaking, or in print, must be aware of the absolute necessity of a competent knowledge of the language in which he attempts to express his thoughts. Many a ludicrous anecdote is told, of persons venturing to use words of which they did not know the proper application; many a ridiculous blunder has been published to the lasting disgrace of the writer; and so intimately does every man's reputation for sense depend upon his skill in the use of language, that it is scarcely possible to acquire the one without the other. Who can tell how much of his own good or ill success, how much of the favour or disregard with which he himself has been treated, may have depended upon that skill or deficiency in grammar, of which, as often as he has either spoken or written, he must have afforded a certain and constant evidence.[53]

I have before said, that to excel in grammar, is but to know better than others wherein grammatical excellence consists; and, as this excellence, whether in the thing itself, or in him that attains to it, is merely comparative, there seems to be no fixed point of perfection beyond which such learning may not be carried. In speaking or writing to different persons, and on different subjects, it is necessary to vary one's style with great nicety of address; and in nothing does true genius more conspicuously appear, than in the facility with which it adopts the most appropriate expressions, leaving the critic no fault to expose, no word to amend. Such facility of course supposes an intimate knowledge of all words in common use, and also of the principles on which they are to be combined.

With a language which we are daily in the practice of hearing, speaking, reading, and writing, we may certainly acquire no inconsiderable acquaintance, without the formal study of its rules. All the true principles of grammar were presumed to be known to the learned, before they were written for the aid of learners; nor have they acquired any independent authority, by being recorded in a book, and denominated grammar. The teaching of them, however, has tended in no small degree to settle and establish the construction of the language, to improve the style of our English writers, and to enable us to ascertain with more clearness the true standard of grammatical purity. He who learns only by rote, may speak the words or phrases which he has thus acquired; and he who has the genius to discern intuitively what is regular and proper, may have further aid from the analogies which he thus discovers; but he who would add to such acquisitions the satisfaction of knowing what is right, must make the principles of language his study.

To produce an able and elegant writer, may require something more than a knowledge of grammar rules; yet it is argument enough in favour of those rules, that without a knowledge of them no elegant and able writer is produced. Who that considers the infinite number of phrases which words in their various combinations may form, and the utter impossibility that they should ever be recognized individually for the purposes of instruction and criticism, but must see the absolute necessity of dividing words into classes, and of showing, by general rules of formation and construction, the laws to which custom commonly subjects them, or from which she allows them in particular instances to deviate? Grammar, or the art of writing and speaking, must continue to be learned by some persons; because it is of indispensable use to society. And the only question is, whether children and youth shall acquire it by a regular process of study and method of instruction, or be left to glean it solely from their own occasional observation of the manner in which other people speak and write.

The practical solution of this question belongs chiefly to parents and guardians. The opinions of teachers, to whose discretion the decision will sometimes be left, must have a certain degree of influence upon the public mind; and the popular notions of the age, in respect to the relative value of different studies, will doubtless bias many to the adoption or the rejection of this. A consideration of the point seems to be appropriate here, and I cannot forbear to commend the study to the favou

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