full transcript

From the Ted Talk by Andreea S. Calude: Does grammar matter?

Unscramble the Blue Letters

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 anoeynd, but aside from the rude itnpiretroun, does your friend have a point? Was your secennte actually grammatically incorrect? And if he still understood it, why does it even matter? From the pniot of view of linguistics, grammar is a set of patterns for how wodrs are put together to form prsahes 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 oecjbt, while in Japanese and many other luanggaes, the oderr is subject, object, verb. Some scholars have tried to identify patterns common to all languages, but apart from some basic features, like having nunos or verbs, few of these so-called linguistic universals have been found. And while any language needs consistent patterns to function, the sutdy of these patterns opens up an ongoing debate between two positions known as prveiitiscsprm and descriptivism. gslsroy simplified, prescriptivists think a given language should follow cnitnosest 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 pelope became more iretcecotnnned and writing gained importance, written language was standardized to allow broader couaionmimtcn 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 deeirvd from just one of many spoken varieties, usually that of the people in power. Language purists worked to eitbslsah and propagate this standard by detailing a set of rules that relcteefd the established grammar of their tmeis. And rules for written garmamr were applied to spoken language, as well. scpeeh patterns that ditveead from the written rules were considered coinouptrrs, or signs of low social satuts, 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 mmeziroed reuls. And because speech also uses mood and intonation for meaning, its structure is often more flexible, adapting to the needs of skarpees and lsiteenrs. This could mean avoiding complex clauses that are hard to psrae in real time, making changes to avoid awkward pronounciation, or removing sounds to make speech fetasr. The linguistic approach that tries to understand and map such differences without dictating correct ones is known as descriptivism. Rather than dicdieng how lggaunae 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 imonrfing people about the most common established patterns at a given point in time. This is important, not only for foraml 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 sutrutrce 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.

Open Cloze

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 _______, but aside from the rude ____________, does your friend have a point? Was your ________ actually grammatically incorrect? And if he still understood it, why does it even matter? From the _____ of view of linguistics, grammar is a set of patterns for how _____ are put together to form _______ 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 ______, while in Japanese and many other _________, the _____ is subject, object, verb. Some scholars have tried to identify patterns common to all languages, but apart from some basic features, like having _____ or verbs, few of these so-called linguistic universals have been found. And while any language needs consistent patterns to function, the _____ of these patterns opens up an ongoing debate between two positions known as ______________ and descriptivism. _______ simplified, prescriptivists think a given language should follow __________ 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 ______ became more ______________ and writing gained importance, written language was standardized to allow broader _____________ 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 _______ from just one of many spoken varieties, usually that of the people in power. Language purists worked to _________ and propagate this standard by detailing a set of rules that _________ the established grammar of their _____. And rules for written _______ were applied to spoken language, as well. ______ patterns that ________ from the written rules were considered ___________, or signs of low social ______, 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 _________ _____. And because speech also uses mood and intonation for meaning, its structure is often more flexible, adapting to the needs of ________ and _________. This could mean avoiding complex clauses that are hard to _____ in real time, making changes to avoid awkward pronounciation, or removing sounds to make speech ______. The linguistic approach that tries to understand and map such differences without dictating correct ones is known as descriptivism. Rather than ________ how ________ 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 _________ people about the most common established patterns at a given point in time. This is important, not only for ______ 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 _________ 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.

Solution

  1. point
  2. sentence
  3. formal
  4. informing
  5. reflected
  6. faster
  7. communication
  8. people
  9. memorized
  10. order
  11. corruptions
  12. status
  13. interconnected
  14. languages
  15. words
  16. structure
  17. language
  18. deciding
  19. annoyed
  20. deviated
  21. object
  22. rules
  23. derived
  24. prescriptivism
  25. speech
  26. grammar
  27. times
  28. speakers
  29. listeners
  30. interruption
  31. grossly
  32. study
  33. nouns
  34. consistent
  35. phrases
  36. parse
  37. establish

Original Text

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 pronounciation, 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.

Frequently Occurring Word Combinations

Important Words

  1. adaptation
  2. adapting
  3. adopt
  4. age
  5. alien
  6. amazing
  7. annoyed
  8. applied
  9. approach
  10. avoid
  11. avoiding
  12. awkward
  13. backgrounds
  14. basic
  15. broader
  16. clauses
  17. common
  18. communication
  19. complex
  20. considered
  21. consistent
  22. constantly
  23. contexts
  24. continues
  25. contributions
  26. correct
  27. corruptions
  28. debate
  29. deciding
  30. derived
  31. describes
  32. descriptivism
  33. descriptivists
  34. detailing
  35. deviated
  36. dictating
  37. differences
  38. early
  39. easier
  40. english
  41. ensure
  42. entire
  43. establish
  44. established
  45. exclusive
  46. fabric
  47. faster
  48. features
  49. flexible
  50. follow
  51. forced
  52. form
  53. formal
  54. friend
  55. function
  56. gained
  57. grammar
  58. grammatically
  59. grossly
  60. group
  61. grown
  62. habits
  63. hand
  64. hard
  65. history
  66. identify
  67. importance
  68. important
  69. incorrect
  70. informing
  71. innovations
  72. insight
  73. instinctive
  74. interconnected
  75. interruption
  76. interrupts
  77. intonation
  78. japanese
  79. language
  80. languages
  81. learn
  82. linguistic
  83. linguistics
  84. linguists
  85. listeners
  86. majority
  87. making
  88. map
  89. matter
  90. meaning
  91. memorized
  92. minds
  93. mood
  94. mutually
  95. natural
  96. negotiated
  97. nouns
  98. object
  99. ongoing
  100. opens
  101. order
  102. parse
  103. part
  104. parts
  105. patterns
  106. people
  107. phenomenon
  108. phrases
  109. point
  110. positions
  111. power
  112. prescriptivism
  113. prescriptivists
  114. process
  115. pronounciation
  116. propagate
  117. proper
  118. purists
  119. put
  120. readers
  121. real
  122. realm
  123. reflected
  124. regularities
  125. reinvented
  126. remember
  127. removing
  128. repertoire
  129. rude
  130. rules
  131. scholars
  132. sentence
  133. separate
  134. set
  135. signs
  136. simplified
  137. social
  138. sounds
  139. speak
  140. speakers
  141. speaking
  142. speech
  143. spoken
  144. standard
  145. standardized
  146. status
  147. story
  148. structure
  149. study
  150. subject
  151. suddenly
  152. telling
  153. thought
  154. time
  155. times
  156. tracks
  157. ultimately
  158. unconscious
  159. understand
  160. understood
  161. universals
  162. users
  163. variation
  164. varieties
  165. vast
  166. verb
  167. verbs
  168. view
  169. ways
  170. wonderful
  171. words
  172. work
  173. worked
  174. world
  175. woven
  176. writers
  177. writing
  178. written