Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".

Saturday, July 12, 2008

On grammar and grammarians

It's not surprising that our spirited debate about the English gerund has broadened. Once you realize that, as I said in that thread, grammars are not divine laws handed down to us by some higher authority, but human constructs afflicted with all the beauty and flaws such constructs often have, the differences between the approaches underlying various grammars (especially if they deal with the same language!) become indeed an intriguing topic. So, let's talk about grammars and grammarians under a more general perspective.

As an introduction, I suggest that you read my comment from July 8, 10:32 am, on the post named "Gerund vs. present participle" below.


mac said...

Something really odd happened to me a few days ago. I belatedly read all the grammar-related comments, and noticed @mike mentioning Stephen Pinker, someone I hadn't heard of before. Within the hour I had a phonecall from a friend who works at Fairfield University and she proudly told me that she had contracted Stephen Pinker for a talk/presentation/book tour visit in September! How about it! Needless to say, I'm going.

i'm just watching Josh Groban; it always saddens me that he is wasting this beautiful voice on not very good songs..... s

Ulrich said...

Interesting that you bring up Pinsker. Last week, I stayed with a friend who teaches English grammar at a college in N. Hampshire. We discussed my take on the English gerund vs. present participle issue (needless to say, she diagreed) and she mentioned, during the discussion, Stephen Pinsker.

Especially, she pointed out that according to him, "between you and I" should now be considered correct. Since all my grammatical instincts were developed during 9 years of Latin in grammar school, I can only cringe when I hear this--after all, a strong and instinctive sense of noun cases is now part of my intellectual make-up.

Nevertheless, I have to accept that the last remnants in English (whose, whom, me, us, him, her) will disappear in the near future--in England, I've already heard "between we" on TV. Bodmer, my hero when it comes to grammar, explains that grammatical complications that add nothing to our understanding of a phrase or sentence will disappear. The most interesting question this raises, for me, is why different languages (like English and German) engage in this process of simplification at vastly different speeds.

Still, when my secretary presented me with a letter to sign that contained "I talked to he and she", I asked her to rewrite the letter.

mac said...

I'm like you, things like that grate on my ears..... What seems to have disappeared completely is the use of who or whom for a person, instead of "that"..

When I was in London last I read an article about "Feuchtgebiete"; it seemed to have been the bestseller at the Frankfurter book fair, isn't that right? When I lived in Hamburg one book (French, not German originally) that was very popular was "Salz auf unserer Haut". What is it with these female shock jocks?

Ulrich said...

@mac: yes, that's the one. Actually, what made me put it down wasn't so much the Feuchtgebiete aspect (it hadn't gotten there yet), but endless talk about hemorrhoids--I didn't get what was so sexy about them.

Anonymous said...

The name is Steven Pinker. He's a psycholinguist, not a grammarian. He often disses the latter (but should have taken a course with Miss Manix at Girls'Latin). His talk in New Hampshire was a disappointing riff on swears/vulgarities. The big attraction was how many times he said fuck, etc. with a speedy PowerPoint.
Sad from a man who once made the sweet point that he thought the love of flowers was a hard-wired human trait.

Ulrich said...

@anonymous: Thanks for the correction--and for the information.