Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Basics of English?

  1. Jun 19, 2006 #1
    I went through primary and secondary school without (any?) knowledge of the theory behind English. Although I am capable of writing an A level essay. But I like to start learning the basics now. Could anyone recommend good books with lots of excercises on the basics of English?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 24, 2006 #2

    honestrosewater

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    There are plenty of online resources. Here are some that I happen to have bookmarked. You can read a little of each and see which style you like. Many of them cover the same thing, but which site is best depends, I think, on how you personally like to learn. If you have any specific questions, don't hesitate to ask them here. I'll be sure to check in more often. (I study language and am a native English speaker, so I should be able to help with most of them, if not all. :smile: )

    http://www.ucl.ac.uk/internet-grammar/home.htm
    http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/index.htm
    http://www.uottawa.ca/academic/arts/writcent/hypergrammar/grammar.html
    http://aliscot.com/bigdog/
    http://www.chompchomp.com/menu.htm
    http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jlawler/aue.html
    http://community.middlebury.edu/~harris/EngLatGrammar.html
    http://owl.english.purdue.edu/
    http://www.usingenglish.com/
    http://www.usingenglish.com/glossary.html
    http://www.ceafinney.com/subjunctive/excerpts.html
    http://mit.imoat.net/handbook/home.htm
    http://www.dianahacker.com/resdoc/
    http://www.wisc.edu/writing/Handbook/index.html
    http://www.worldwidewords.org/index.htm
    http://www.bartleby.com/usage/
    http://www.sparknotes.com/writing/style/
     
  4. Jun 28, 2006 #3
    Hello, honestrosewater, so could you tell me why the language has no gender like that of i.e French?


    Thanks and Best regards,
    Dr. Kiley Dean (an Australian teaching English in South Korea)
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2006
  5. Jun 28, 2006 #4

    George Jones

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    ... of, e.g., French?
     
  6. Jun 28, 2006 #5

    honestrosewater

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I guess the short answer is that grammatical gender died out of English. Old English and its close ancestors did have grammatical gender, which Modern English retains traces of in our third-person, singular pronouns he(/him/his/himself), she(her/hers/herself), and it(its/itself).

    The suffix -ess, as in actress, princess, lioness (which, incidentally, I think came from French) comes to mind as a way that English marks gender. You might also consider some diminutive forms, e.g., derived with -ette (cigarette, diskette) to carry information about gender. This is still of course different from grammatical gender, which is required, affects more than just nouns, and doesn't necessarily relate to natural gender (e.g., biological sex).

    Does that help, or are you after a longer answer?
     
  7. Jun 28, 2006 #6
    Well, I think it is obvious that I would be more grateful if you could explain more.

    But does English gender have any rule for a student to learn or is it that he/she has to learn it by heart?
    I have to meet a bunch of students every Friday night.
    ?
     
  8. Jun 28, 2006 #7

    honestrosewater

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Okay, well, if there was something that made that obvious, I missed it. You'd have to narrow the field a bit. What else specifically would you like more information about?
    No, there are no grammatical rules to learn for gender. Modern English doesn't have a gender system or decline nouns for gender. I think the only basic thing that they would need to know about gender use in English is the meaning of the individual words: he is used to refer to a male individual or to connote some kind of masculine property, she does the same for female individuals and feminine properties, and it is gender-neutral.
     
  9. Jun 28, 2006 #8

    selfAdjoint

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    But we don't use it for a person, and English really doesn't have a universally accepted gender-neutral personal pronoun. In the old days he was used for both males and females, and this is still the default practice although it irritates many women. For a while sensitive people experimented with she or alternating the two. This now seems a bit retro. Some people bite the bullet and use they/them as singular pronouns although this sounds dialectical or illiterate to many:"a person can have their own opinion".

    The use of one would be nice if we could make it stick, but it always makes me think of "One never knows, DO one?" (An old line mocking the racist dialect that whites liked to imagine blacks spoke).
     
  10. Jun 28, 2006 #9
    Thanks, but how about French, does French have any rules ?
    I know English was the child of European languages but it was weird to have completely different characteristics compared to its ancestors.
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2006
  11. Jun 28, 2006 #10
    French most definitely has rules about everything you can imagine. Just about all if not all nouns are sensitive to gender and pluralization in French. French children grow up learning not only new words but their genders as well. It's hard to imagine American children having to do that.
     
  12. Jun 28, 2006 #11
    Thanks z-component, that's a very interesting explanation, I never know French children learn all the stuff like that. I am pretty sure to say that they understand the diversity of sex more than do normal American children.
     
  13. Jun 29, 2006 #12

    honestrosewater

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I was just thinking about this recently. I use singular they and don't really have a problem with it in the situations where it works. But I would certiainly try using a new word if I could find one that actually worked.

    By the bye, those two, singular they or a new word, are the only options that I currently have. Generic he doesn't work. I think there have been studies about the interpretation of generic he if anyone wants to look. For one thing, in

    (1) The pilot left a note saying he would call tomorrow.

    how are you to know whether he was intended to be gender-specific or gender-neutral? Is the pilot male or female? There's no way of knowing. I imagine that that doesn't stop most speakers from assuming that the person is male, though. (I imagine the same would happen for every other profession. For professions that are automatically associated with males, the use of he doesn't interfere with the assumption and perhaps even encourages it, and for other professions, the use of he interferes with the female association -- and in the case of stereotypically female professions, it signals to me, at first, that the sex is in fact known and male, but perhaps that's because I'm used to they. Consider the nurse left a note saying he would call tomorrow. Heck, consider the stewardess left a note saying he would call tomorrow. He and -ess contradict each other, but if you assume it's a goof, does -ess ever win? Hah, interesting. Anywho...) I've been referred to with he plenty of times and am never sure whether to correct the person since I don't know whether they think that I'm male or are just using he generically. Using she generically and switching between he and she have the same problems.

    Personally, I'd like to see generic he fall out of use. At best, it's annoying, and at worst, it makes bad situations worse and leaves the door open for all kinds of stupidity.

    I find s/he, he or she, and similar options ugly and long, and some don't even work in speech at all.

    I don't like one either. It doesn't work for me in informal contexts, and I don't even like it in formal writing either.

    You can find lists of proposed pronouns here and here. None of the ones I've seen yet would work. It just occurred to me that bringing back thou(/thee/thy/thine/thyself) might be an option -- at least we know that they already work as a set of English pronouns! :biggrin: I don't know, just something to toss around.
     
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2006
  14. Jun 29, 2006 #13

    honestrosewater

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    From everything that I've read, all 5-7,000 human languages in the world today have the same level of complexity. There are different ways of saying things, but in the end, all human languages are capable of saying the same things and are solutions to the same problems.

    Grammatical gender doesn't necessarily have anything to do with biological sex or sex-related properties or constructs. The assignment of gender is in many cases arbitrary. It is just another thing to learn, as English speakers have to learn what positions in clauses they can use certain word forms. For example, he and him have the same basic meaning, but he saw him crying is grammatical, while him saw he crying is not. Why? I certainly don't know why -- it's arbitrary and could just as well be the other way around as far as I'm concerned.
    Just to be clear, English isn't a child of any extant European language. It is a child of Proto-Germanic, as are Frisian, German, Danish, and Swedish. And English isn't completely different from French -- Norman French had a substantial impact on English, and many English words are closely related to French words, thanks also to academics who borrowed quite a lot from Latin, which is an ancestor of French.

    Are you looking for the actual rules for gender in French?
     
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2006
  15. Jun 29, 2006 #14

    selfAdjoint

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    Don't forget Old Norse, which was very important in the north of England (the part known as the Danelagh, especially Yorkshire), and in Scotland. Scots English is not just a cute music hall do, it's a strong dialect almost constituting an independent language.
     
  16. Jun 30, 2006 #15
    Well, thanks for a long post and nice comments, I was misunderstanding what I actually didn't know, I have copied and pasted what you said in my notepad for some thoughts I can give it later on.
     
  17. Jul 1, 2006 #16

    honestrosewater

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I can't figure out whether a cute music hall do is a kind of tone, coiffure, or something else entirely. Care to enlighten me? :smile:
     
  18. Jul 1, 2006 #17

    selfAdjoint

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    It's an act. Music hall was a kind of English vaudeville in the early part of the 20th century, and one performer who got so famous and "beloved" doing Scots dialect that he was knighted by (I think) King George V, was Sir Harry Lauder. I was thinking of his act when I wrote that.

    I have a thin thread of Scots ancestry, and do a small celebration on Robert Burns' birthday, January 25th.

    BTW, on the "new word" approach to the neutal personal pronoun in English, how about es? That's the nominative, the objective form would be en and the possessive ens. Thus "A student should write ens name at the top of the paper, if es wants credit." Sounds alien but I believe that pronoun actually existed in some English historic dialects. Just a thought.
     
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2006
  19. Jul 1, 2006 #18

    honestrosewater

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Cool. Thanks for the suggestion. I think I'm slowly coming up with a good list of requirements for a successful one.
     
  20. Jul 1, 2006 #19

    nrqed

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    But in English, he/him/himself and she/her/herself are used when referring to *persons*, aren't they? Not to objects.
    I am not sure what "grammatical gender" refers to. Could you tell me?
    On one hand there is gender referring to people and I would be very surprised if any language would not have that. But gender referring to objects is not universal, it seems (is it known if all early languages had gender for objects or if there were genderless languages?)


    But in French, we *do* use he/she when referring to objects.

    For example, if one says "You see the glass? Put it on the table" in French, one actually says the equivalent of "You see the glass? Put him on the table". Because the word "glass" (verre) is masculine.

    Actually, in French one can say the following:
    "You see the glass and the table there? Put him on her"

    meaning "put the glass on the table". The sentence is unambiguous because table is feminine and glass is masculine. That would not work in English! ("put it on it!!!")

    As for English, is it known that gender was originally assigned to objects (before 1066)? I am curious.

    Patrick
     
  21. Jul 1, 2006 #20

    selfAdjoint

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    Yes, it takes an English speaker learning French a little by surporise to learn that a book is feminine, and so on. Of course this happens in other European languages too. But English stands alone in this. Things are neuter and have their own pronoun, "it" (undeclinable, i.e. it has no objective or plural forms. The plural for objects is the same third person plural used for persons; they, them, their.

    We English speakers very much do not want to use "it" when referring to persons. The problem is that the only singular pronouns we have for people are hard coded with a sex reference: "he" applies to boys and men, and "she" applies to girls and women. We don't have one single pronoun that means "a person of unspecified gender". And this causes all sorts of awkwardness in writing.
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?



Similar Discussions: Basics of English?
  1. Simplified English? (Replies: 23)

  2. The English of Physics (Replies: 8)

  3. Question on English (Replies: 27)

  4. English orology (Replies: 24)

Loading...