grammar


grammar
grammarless, adj.
/gram"euhr/, n.
1. the study of the way the sentences of a language are constructed; morphology and syntax.
2. these features or constructions themselves: English grammar.
3. an account of these features; a set of rules accounting for these constructions: a grammar of English.
4. Generative Gram. a device, as a body of rules, whose output is all of the sentences that are permissible in a given language, while excluding all those that are not permissible.
6. knowledge or usage of the preferred or prescribed forms in speaking or writing: She said his grammar was terrible.
7. the elements of any science, art, or subject.
8. a book treating such elements.
[1325-75; ME gramery < OF gramaire < L gramatica < Gk grammatikè (téchne) GRAMMATICAL (art); see -AR2]

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Rules of a language governing its phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics; also, a written summary of such rules.

The first Europeans to write grammar texts were the Greeks, notably the Alexandrians of the lst century BC. The Romans applied the Greek grammatical system to Latin. The works of the Latin grammarians Donatus (4th century AD) and Priscian (6th century) were widely used to teach grammar in medieval Europe. By 1700, grammars of 61 vernacular languages had been printed. These were mainly used for teaching and were intended to reform or standardize language. In the 19th–20th centuries linguists began studying languages to trace their evolution rather than to prescribe correct usage. Descriptive linguists (see Ferdinand de Saussure) studied spoken language by collecting and analyzing sample sentences. Transformational grammarians (see Noam Chomsky) examined the underlying structure of language (see generative grammar). The older approach to grammar as a body of rules needed to speak and write correctly is still the basis of primary and secondary language education.

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      rules of a language governing the sounds, words, sentences, and other elements, as well as their combination and interpretation. The word grammar also denotes the study of these abstract features or a book presenting the rules.

      A brief treatment of grammar follows. For full treatment, see linguistics.

      Contemporary linguists define grammar as the underlying structure of a language that any native speaker of that language knows intuitively. The systematic description of the features of a language is also a grammar. These features are the phonology (sound), morphology (system of word formation), syntax (patterns of word arrangement), and semantics (meaning) that all native speakers of a language control by about the age of six. Depending on the grammarian's approach, a grammar can be prescriptive (i.e., provide rules for correct usage), descriptive (i.e., describe how a language is actually used), or generative (generative grammar) (i.e., provide instructions for the production of an infinite number of sentences in a language).

      In Europe the Greeks (ancient Greek civilization) were the first to write grammars (Greek language). To them, grammar was a tool that could be used in the study of Greek literature; hence their focus on the literary language. The Alexandrians of the 1st century BC further developed Greek grammar in order to preserve the purity of the language. Dionysus Thrax of Alexandria later wrote a treatise called The Art of Grammar, in which he analyzed literary texts in terms of letters, syllables, and eight parts of speech.

      The Romans (ancient Rome) adopted the grammatical system of the Greeks and applied it to Latin (Latin language). Except for Varro (Varro, Marcus Terentius), of the 1st century BC, who believed that grammarians should discover structures, not dictate them, most Latin grammarians did not attempt to alter the Greek system and also sought to protect their language from decay. Whereas the model for the Greeks and Alexandrians was the language of Homer, the works of Cicero and Virgil set the Latin standard. The works of Donatus (Donatus, Aelius) (4th century AD) and Priscian (6th century AD), the most important Latin grammarians, were widely used to teach Latin grammar during the European Middle Ages. In medieval Europe, education was conducted in Latin, and Latin grammar became the foundation of the liberal arts curriculum. Many grammars were composed for students during this time. Aelfric, the abbot of Eynsham (11th century), who wrote the first Latin grammar in Anglo-Saxon, proposed that this work serve as an introduction to English grammar as well. Thus began the tradition of devising English grammar according to a Latin model.

      The modistae, grammarians of the mid-13th to mid-14th century who viewed language as a reflection of reality, looked to philosophy for explanations of grammatical rules. The modistae sought one “universal” grammar that would serve as a means of understanding the nature of being. In 17th-century France a group of grammarians from Port-Royal were also interested in the idea of universal grammar. They claimed that common elements of thought could be discerned in grammatical categories of all languages. Unlike their Greek and Latin counterparts, the Port-Royal grammarians did not study literary language but claimed instead that usage should be dictated by the actual speech of living languages. The 20th-century linguist Noam Chomsky has called the Port-Royal group the first transformational grammarians.

 By 1700 grammars of 61 vernacular languages had been printed. These were written primarily for purposes of reforming, purifying, or standardizing language and were put to pedagogical use. Rules of grammar usually accounted for formal, written, literary language only and did not apply to all the varieties of actual, spoken language. This prescriptive approach long dominated the schools, where the study of grammar came to be associated with “parsing” and sentence diagramming.

      The simplification of grammar for classroom use contrasted sharply with the complex studies that scholars of linguistics were conducting about languages. During the 19th and early 20th centuries the historical point of view flourished. Scholars who realized that every living language was in a constant state of flux studied all types of written records of modern European languages to determine the courses of their evolution. They did not limit their inquiry to literary languages but included dialects and contemporary spoken languages as well. Historical grammarians did not follow earlier prescriptive approaches but were interested, instead, in discovering where the language under study came from.

      As a result of the work of historical grammarians, scholars came to see that the study of language can be either diachronic (its development through time) or synchronic (its state at a particular time). The Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (Saussure, Ferdinand de) and other descriptive linguists began studying the spoken language. They collected a large sample of sentences produced by native speakers of a language and classified their material starting with phonology and working their way to syntax.

      Generative, or transformational (transformational grammar), grammarians, such as Noam Chomsky (Chomsky, Noam), of the second half of the 20th century have studied the knowledge that native speakers possess which enables them to produce and understand an infinite number of sentences. Whereas descriptivists like Saussure examined samples of individual speech to arrive at a description of a language, transformationalists first studied the underlying structure of a language. They attempted to describe the “rules” that define a native speaker's “competence” (unconscious knowledge of the language) and account for all instances of the speaker's “performance” (strategies the individual uses in actual sentence production). See generative grammar; transformational grammar.

      The study of grammatical theory has been of interest to philosophers, anthropologists, psychologists, and literary critics over the centuries. Today, grammar exists as a field within linguistics but still retains a relationship with these other disciplines. For the most part, however, the development of grammatical theory has had little impact on the content of the grammar taught in schools or on how it is taught. For most people, grammar still refers to the body of rules one must know in order to speak or write “correctly.”

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Universalium. 2010.

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  • Grammar — Gram mar, n. [OE. gramere, OF. gramaire, F. grammaire Prob. fr. L. gramatica Gr ?, fem. of ? skilled in grammar, fr. ? letter. See {Gramme}, {Graphic}, and cf. {Grammatical}, {Gramarye}.] 1. The science which treats of the principles of language; …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • grammar — [gram′ər] n. [ME gramer < OFr gramaire < L grammatica ( ars, art) < Gr grammatikē ( technē, art), grammar, learning < gramma, something written (see GRAM1): in L & Gr a term for the whole apparatus of literary study: in the medieval… …   English World dictionary

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  • grammar — ► NOUN 1) the whole system and structure of a language or of languages in general, usually taken as consisting of syntax and morphology. 2) knowledge and use of the rules or principles of grammar: bad grammar. 3) a book on grammar. 4) the basic… …   English terms dictionary

  • Grammar — Gram mar, v. i. To discourse according to the rules of grammar; to use grammar. [Obs.] Beau. & Fl. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • grammar — is the system by which words are used together to form meaningful utterances. It denotes both the system as it is found to exist in the use of a language (also called descriptive grammar) and the set of rules which form the basis of the standard… …   Modern English usage

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  • grammar — I (New American Roget s College Thesaurus) Mode of speaking and writing Nouns 1. grammar; accidence, syntax, analysis, synopsis, praxis, punctuation, syllabi[fi]cation; agreement. See speech, language, writing. 2. a. part of speech; participle;… …   English dictionary for students

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