Re: Grammatical ontology

Subject: Re: Grammatical ontology
From: Shelley Hatfield <hatfield -at- QUADRALAY -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 25 Apr 1995 11:55:33 -0500

Hi there,

> As I understand, quite a few of the grammatical prescriptions came out of
> rather than English grammar. For the most part, English grammar isn't based
> anything but it's own historical development. It's the prescriptivists that
> suggested we not split infinitives, not place prepositions at the end of
> sentences, and not use double negatives. They might have spoken standard
> London English, but the rules they used were based on an odd mixture of
> mathematical logic (double negatives) and Latin (the other stuff). Wasn't
> Bishop Louth (or Loathe, something like that) the first person to write a
> prescriptive usage manual? I've also heard, however, that American
> were largely responsible for proliferating those ideas. As I understand, some
> locutions (such as "ain't") were in usage in the Elite registers in Britain
> until the mid-1930s.

Yes. A lot of the "grammar" is based on Latin principles. A close
look at the history of English shows us that a lot of "German" usage
really, in many areas, persisted and dominated. That's part of my point.
After all, strictly speaking, if grammar doesn't reflect the spoken
language to some reasonable degree, then it's not really English, is it?
Oh, and the double negative doesn't stem from Latin at all (Spanish,
French, etc use double negatives like nobody's business). That's some
weird "logical/rational" idea that grammarians came up with fairly
recently (last 200 years or less, I'd say).

The Americans, too, but the standard did evolve from London English
originally. The elite formed societies and the like aimed at the
preservation of the language. English was changing so quickly in
the 18th century that Milton feared no one could read his poetry
before long because the pronunciation was changing so fast (and
hence, losing the rhyme).

> The other point is more of a question. I've studied German for a few years,
> but I've never had much exposure to colloquial German, so I'm not familiar
> with some of the locutions you mention. I don't remember the reflexive
> you note, but if you could provide some examples, I'd like to see them. I
> think I 've seen the use of postpositions (I think, vaguely). Is that like
> using <<hinein>> or <<heraus>> at the end of a sentence? Got some examples
> handy? I always like these little linguistic bits.

Some are more "logical", like "Ich habe mich den Bart rasiert." I shaved
my beard [myself]. Ich erinnere mich daran = I remember that. (Literally,
I remind myself of that.)

Prepositions at the end of the sentence. We do that all the time, and
there's an "easier" relationship between the languages there:

In German, a preposition can be associated with a verb, which changes
or heightens the meaning. That's called a "separable-prefix" verb, but
it is a preposition, in many cases.

Ich gehe mit. I'm going along (with someone).
Ich spreche sie an. I'm addressing her. an-sprechen is the verb.
(Although, in other tenses, the preposition is not necessarily
at the end of the sentence -- Ich habe sie angesprochen. The
word is joined.)

In English we say "That's not much to draw on." As an example.
We probably look at this as more colloquial, but I think that
these preposition-verb combinations have a pretty clear history.

Postpositions are a little different, and I can't think of
any modern cognate in English.

If you're really interested in the history of our language, I
devoted a few web pages on our site to it:

It's my "Whirlwind Tour". Call it a passion.

Shelley Hatfield
hatfield -at- quadralay -dot- com
Quadralay Corporation

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