the grammar tag/category

June 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

Thanks to tag surfer application on this here wordpress blog,  we can find out what other bloggers have to say on the various topics under discussion here. Many of the blogs that share the tag grammarwith *b-ling* are styleguides, or is that style guides or even style-guides delivered not in a weighty volume but in handy blogpost-sized chunks. Much of the advice is meritorious and meticulous, scrupulously outlining the practices and virtues of the APA or some other beloved style guru.

Many of these style blogs are charming, well written, and  enjoyable to read even for a descriptivist linguist like myself. Yes, I know there are times and places for prescriptive views  on  language, but I doubt that I will ever pen one.  So perhaps for my own selfish interests only I call on those who happily tag and categorise their entries  with the label, grammar,  could we all please make a distinction between grammar and punctuation. Grammar is about the contruction of words and sentences, or in more fancy parlance or register, syntax, morphology and mophosyntax. Punctuation is about the rules of usage of those pesky points and dashes and apostrophes. Punctuation is about dividing the stream of words (or joining them!) into manageable chunks and disambiguating that which may be ambiguous in writing, but not in speech. Indeed, punctuation is a concern in written language, and I applaud those who valiantly explain the rules of apostrophe usage and know a comma splice when they see one. But to call this a concern of grammar, I think, is misguided. It trivialises grammar to these surface issues. After all, no one on hearing its or  it’s has any trouble understanding which form is being pronounced because the syntactic structure the form appears in will  point us to its meaning.

I am not saying leave grammar to the experts. As a descriptive linguist I am interested in the way all speakers construct and use language  and as a sociolinguist I am interested in people’s beliefs about their language as well as the language of others.

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