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English grammar?

  1. May 30, 2009 #1

    tgt

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    Is this field subjective or objective? If the latter can it be automated? i.e type any sentence and have a software to check whether it is grammatically correct or not.

    Some of you may also like to give some advice in here https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?p=2218462#post2218462
     
  2. jcsd
  3. May 30, 2009 #2
    This is probably a better location for your thread than the science book discussion forum.

    Here is a link...
    http://www.grammarbook.com/
    The first in a google search. It looks pretty good.

    As for your questions:
    Grammar is primarily subjective. It has to do with nothing but making sure that your reader will easily understand what you are writing (or saying). To some degree you can use logic and perhaps even information theory or neurolinguistics to make determinations on what syntax are most effective for communication but language is an almost wholely abstract invention which is subject to change based on common usage. While there may be mechanisms in your brain which favour certain syntax you are programmed with the language and its rules as you learn it so ease of understanding will be influenced by how and what you learn.

    Edit: forgot the second question.
    We do have software that can recognize grammar, based on fairly simple if-then rules probably, but it does not always work very well. Since the computer is not 'programmed' in the same way we are it will have difficulty judging coherence by the same standard. It doesn't even actually understand the lanuage. While the structure of a sentence may seem perfectly logical according to rules of syntax it may be confusing to actually hear or read. Similarly a sentence may break rules of syntax but actually be easier to understand than a properly formulated sentence.
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2009
  4. May 31, 2009 #3

    Astronuc

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    Grammar has rules or conventions. However, many people may not be aware of all the rules, and hence there may be some misunderstanding or difficutly in understanding, moreso in the spoken form than in the written form.

    The rules may be arbitrary, but they are supposed to be independent of the user, so in that sense the field of grammar is objective. The use of grammar is user dependent, so the use or misuse is subjective.

    Word processors have algorithms to check grammar, but as TSA indicated they are not foolproof.
     
  5. May 31, 2009 #4

    tgt

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    Would it then be correct to say that the rules of grammar is objective but people often misuse it (often not knowing) but get away with it. Its in this way that grammar is subjective?

    In other words, it's the case that someone could say a grammatically incorrect sentence with the meaning of something grammatically correct? If we understand what they are saying then we actually label it grammatically correct (even though it's incorrect). Its in this way that grammar is not objective? However, as mentioned, strictly it is perfectly objective?
     
  6. May 31, 2009 #5
    Grammar can be treated as objective. The point though is ease of communication. Whether or not communication is easily understood is subjective (foregoing any arguments from information theory and nuerolinguistics). If strict adherence to grammarical rules results in miscommunication and lack of understanding then they have failed in their purpose. If the majority of the users of a language can not easily understand communication based on these rules then the rules are 'incorrect' or outmoded and will be changed. It is in this way that grammar is subjective. You might call it "collectively subjective" which is something that can appear objective and can even be treated as objective to some limited degree.

    So if a person uses 'incorrect' grammer but is understood it can still be labeled 'incorrect'. If the majority of persons communicating use 'incorrect' grammar and find ease of use it then becomes 'correct' and the rules of grammar have changed.
     
  7. Jun 6, 2009 #6

    honestrosewater

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    Sure, linguistics is working towards something along the lines of what you suggest. But you have a problem right away since each speaker speaks its own unique version of a language (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idiolect" [Broken]) because, amongst other things, each speaker receives unique input. When a child learns a language through exposure, it has to infer the rules from the input that it receives using whatever innate learning abilities it has. You also need to distinguish grammaticality from aesthetic aspects of language.

    By the bye, I wouldn't consider English grammar to be a field. Syntax and morphology are subfields of linguistics. You might also be interested in computational linguistics and language acquisition.

    Language use is a physical phenomena. Can any physical phenomena not be automated?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  8. Jun 29, 2009 #7
  9. Jul 1, 2009 #8
    I would say that grammar is both objective and subjective. In terms of verifying good grammar it is more on the objective side; there are things you can do, and things you can't. However, on the synthesis side, grammar is very subjective. People have styles. Some, like me, use lots of commas. Some never use semi-colons. Some people like short sentences and some people like longer, conjoined ones.

    Therefore, if one wanted to write an algorithm to actually WRITE prose I think the subjectivity of grammar would be a big issue.

    P.S. I think I put more effort into the grammar of this post than any other I've written. (which is to say I still didn't put much effort into it)
     
  10. Jul 1, 2009 #9
    The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy defines grammar as a system of rules specifying a language. In other words language is generated from a grammatical skeleton. Noam Chomsky's theory of transformational grammar implies that these rules may be embedded in a deep structure which is based on how the human brain processes and expresses information. In other words, it's innate. There are other theories, but most assume that a basic universality underlies all human languages in terms of noun phrases, verb phrases and the ideas of actor, actions, objects of actions, states of existence and modifiers. The predicate calculus apparently can break down any human language into a series of nested and interlocking functions F(x,y) F(x); for example PASSED(SHE,THE(TEST)). IS(THE(CAT), BLACK). (The cat is black).

    COME FROM(I, CHICAGO); IS(CHICAGO,THE(CITY1)BIG(CITY1)); IS ON(CHICAGO,THE(LAKE)). (I come from Chicago, the big city on the lake.)

    Although natural languages implement these rules in different ways, the grammatical structure of any language must reflect these rules for the language to be intelligible.
     
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2009
  11. Jul 1, 2009 #10

    CRGreathouse

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    :yuck:
     
  12. Jul 1, 2009 #11
    Whatever. I'm not carrying Noam Chomsky's water, but he was very influential.

    I'm surprised you didn't comment on the predicate calculus. There were some mistakes there which I've since corrected. Direct modifiers, including articles, go outside the parenthesis since they assign the characteristic to the subject or object. However predicate nominatives and predicate adjectives are considered arguments of the existential function. IS(THE(GIRL),TALL). WON(THE(GIRL1)TALL(GIRL1),THE(GAME)).
    Modified functions are bracketed: [QUICKLY(RAN TO)](HE,THE(FIRE)) 'He ran quickly to the fire'.
     
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2009
  13. Jul 6, 2009 #12
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  14. Jul 6, 2009 #13
    Thanks AeroFunk. I read the reviews on Amazon and they are favorable. However, issues of vocabulary and even some aspects of what are considered grammar are distinct from what might be considered fundamental organizing principles of human language. It's the organizing principles that interest me, not just of language, but of anything that might be described as a system.

    Vocabulary and things like verb tenses vary greatly from language to language. Indo-European languages are obsessed with tense, but Sino-Tibetan languages are much more casual about tense. Tense can be expressed descriptively as well as grammatically. I'm not sure, from reading the reviews, that Pinker really goes after the basic features of language organization.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  15. Jul 6, 2009 #14

    mgb_phys

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    So "To boldy go" is now allowed
     
  16. Jul 6, 2009 #15

    CRGreathouse

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    I've always found the prohibition of split infinitives silly. English isn't Latin, people!
     
  17. Jul 6, 2009 #16
    The only languages I know of where infinitives are "splitable" are English (but not Anglo-Saxon) and the Scandinavian languages. This 'splitability' appears to have originated in Scandinavia and introduced into English during the Viking occupation in the ninth century. I'd be interested to hear from anyone about any other modern languages where infinitives are not one word.
     
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2009
  18. Jul 6, 2009 #17

    mgb_phys

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    The 'source that must not be named' claims that it is unique to English and appeared after 1066 with a mixing of old English and French.
     
  19. Jul 6, 2009 #18
    Are you serious? Certainly, it did not come from French. German has one word infinitives and I know for a fact that Swedish has two word infinitives: att tala (to speak). I just Googled "Anglo Saxon infinitives" and the AS infinitives used as examples are single words. It would be quite surprising if it were otherwise. I admit I'm guessing that two word English infinitives date from the time of the Danelaw in the ninth century but this would be consistent with what you said. Two word infinitives were probably characteristic of English by 1066.
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2009
  20. Jul 7, 2009 #19

    mgb_phys

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    French doesn't have split infinitives but it does the thing of putting 'pas' in front of the verb, so if you are trying to use French word order with English (or the other way around) you could end up with it.
     
  21. Jul 7, 2009 #20
    Usually pas comes after the verb in French. Ne m'en donnez pas du BS.
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2009
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