A brief treatise on the English language
Hi, folks --
This was started on LLapp's thread, "Classic Comments on the Quotes." Halfway through, I realized it was turning into a lengthy digression and perhaps merited a thread of its own. Perhaps not, but here goes.
"I am the Roman Emperor, and am above grammar."
— Emperor Sigismund
abra on 2015-05-29 10:03:27
I was thinking about this just yesterday. Many of you know so much about grammar. It's something that changes with time though. I was wondering, when did things become really "rigid'?' At what point were the rules of grammar and punctuation set in stone. I'm guessing probably the early twentieth century, was it earlier than that? I'm curious. I can't find it by googling.
LLapp on 2015-09-04 15:25:10
abra, that's an interesting question; it could be the opening question of a semester-long seminar. I don't know the answer, but here I go anyway.
First: no grammar is unchangeable, so "rigid" and "set in stone" may not be the right terms, but I think you're referring to the fundamental rules of syntax -- you're asking, when did they become "rules"? Of course the answer would be different for every language (since all have developed in varying eras on their own schedules). If you mean English, then I would look to the times when the first lexicographers began to document English in dictionaries -- because syntax was part of what they were documenting -- and I would allow for continual evolution and plasticity of syntax running through to the present day. (Also, you'd have to specify "proper English" for your question, since regional and class dialects have all kinds of fast-changing rules.) For myself, as a writer, my sense of "correct" English grammar goes into lock-down mode after Fowler's "Modern English Usage," published in 1926. I think he nails correct syntax on every point: his logic is exquisite, he respects linguistic roots but holds clarity and elegance above all, and he is a champion of the remarkable elasticity that gives English its greatest strength. I should probably sell his book.
Now, part two of my response is that I recall vaguely from college intro classes that 20th-century philosophy and psychology together attribute the fundamental syntax of ALL languages to an inborn logic in the human mind. Which would mean that another answer to your question is that the rules of syntax were established at the moment of conception of the language -- that syntax is the original DNA from which the language is built. And if you read this far, I'll buy a beer.
marnita on 2015-11-21 13:50:54
I would claim that beer, LLapp, except that I don't like beer. Very interesting discussion.