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  • You're telling a friend an amazing story,

  • and you just get to the best part when suddenly he interrupts,

  • "The alien and I," not "Me and the alien."

  • Most of us would probably be annoyed,

  • but aside from the rude interruption,

  • does your friend have a point?

  • Was your sentence actually grammatically incorrect?

  • And if he still understood it, why does it even matter?

  • >From the point of view of linguistics,

  • grammar is a set of patterns for how words are put together

  • to form phrases or clauses,

  • whether spoken or in writing.

  • Different languages have different patterns.

  • In English, the subject normally comes first,

  • followed by the verb,

  • and then the object,

  • while in Japanese and many other languages,

  • the order is subject, object, verb.

  • Some scholars have tried to identify patterns common to all languages,

  • but apart from some basic features,

  • like having nouns or verbs,

  • few of these so-called linguistic universals have been found.

  • And while any language needs consistent patterns to function,

  • the study of these patterns opens up an ongoing debate between two positions

  • known as prescriptivism and descriptivism.

  • Grossly simplified,

  • prescriptivists think a given language should follow consistent rules,

  • while descriptivists see variation and adaptation as a natural

  • and necessary part of language.

  • For much of history, the vast majority of language was spoken.

  • But as people became more interconnected and writing gained importance,

  • written language was standardized to allow broader communication

  • and ensure that people in different parts of a realm could understand each other.

  • In many languages, this standard form came to be considered the only proper one,

  • despite being derived from just one of many spoken varieties,

  • usually that of the people in power.

  • Language purists worked to establish and propagate this standard

  • by detailing a set of rules that reflected the established grammar of their times.

  • And rules for written grammar were applied to spoken language, as well.

  • Speech patterns that deviated from the written rules were considered corruptions,

  • or signs of low social status,

  • and many people who had grown up speaking in these ways

  • were forced to adopt the standardized form.

  • More recently, however,

  • linguists have understood that speech is a separate phenomenon from writing

  • with its own regularities and patterns.

  • Most of us learn to speak at such an early age that we don't even remember it.

  • We form our spoken repertoire through unconscious habits,

  • not memorized rules.

  • And because speech also uses mood and intonation for meaning,

  • its structure is often more flexible,

  • adapting to the needs of speakers and listeners.

  • This could mean avoiding complex clauses that are hard to parse in real time,

  • making changes to avoid awkward pronunciation,

  • or removing sounds to make speech faster.

  • The linguistic approach that tries to understand and map such differences

  • without dictating correct ones is known as descriptivism.

  • Rather than deciding how language should be used,

  • it describes how people actually use it,

  • and tracks the innovations they come up with in the process.

  • But while the debate between

  • prescriptivism and descriptivism continues,

  • the two are not mutually exclusive.

  • At its best, prescriptivism is useful for informing people

  • about the most common established patterns at a given point in time.

  • This is important, not only for formal contexts,

  • but it also makes communication easier between non-native speakers

  • from different backgrounds.

  • Descriptivism, on the other hand,

  • gives us insight into how our minds work

  • and the instinctive ways in which we structure our view of the world.

  • Ultimately, grammar is best thought of as a set of linguistic habits

  • that are constantly being negotiated and reinvented

  • by the entire group of language users.

  • Like language itself,

  • it's a wonderful and complex fabric

  • woven through the contributions of speakers and listeners,

  • writers and readers,

  • prescriptivists and descriptivists,

  • from both near and far.

You're telling a friend an amazing story,

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B1 US TED-Ed language grammar spoken linguistic speech

【TED-Ed】Does grammar matter? - Andreea S. Calude

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    吳D posted on 2016/05/07
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