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Grammar

Grammar is the study of the rules governing the use of a language. That set of rules is also called the grammar of the language, and each language has its own distinct grammar. Grammar is part of the general study of language called linguistics.

The subfields of grammar are phonology, morphology and syntax.

Speakers of a language follow that language's grammar as a common convention of mutual intelligibility. Violation of the grammar makes one's speech difficult to understand (as in "barked dog me at time for long"). The formal study of grammar is an important part of education from a young age through advanced learning, though the rules taught in schools are not a "grammar" in the sense most linguists use the term, as they are often prescriptive rather than descriptive.

Grammars evolve through usage and human population separations. With the advent of a written representation, formal rules about language usage tend to appear also. Formal grammars are codifications of usage that are developed by observation. As the rules become established and developed the concept of grammatical correctness can arise. This can often create a gulf between contemporary usage and that which is accepted as correct. However, it is accepted by a majority of modern linguists that no person whose brain functions are not severely impared speaks "ungrammatically" in any well-defined, objective sense.

Planned languages are more common in the modern day, whether they have been designed to aid human communication (Esperanto), created as part of a work of Fiction, (Klingon language and Elvish language). Each of these artificial languages has its own grammar.

Programming languages used for the purpose of computer programming (such as Java) have grammars, but do not resemble human languages very much. These are called formal grammars. In particular, they conform precisely to a grammar generated by a push down finite state automaton, with arbitrarily complex commands. They usually lack questions, exclamations, simile, metaphor and other features of human languages.

There are a number of types of grammar that linguists recognise.

  • Prescriptive grammar[?] -- an attempt to tell the users of the language how to use it in order to speak correctly. Such grammars are not normally considered to have any real linguistic justification beyond their authors' aesthetic tastes.
  • Descriptive grammar[?] -- the method of describing the language as it is being used, regardless whether it is considered correct or not. All languages develop and change, often adding new forms and dropping old rules.
  • Teaching grammar[?] -- a combination of prescriptive and descriptive approaches with the aim of teaching a language to children and foreigners. In teaching grammars it is often necessary to simplify in order to achieve success, as neither the prescriptive nor the descriptive approaches are logical or easy to understand in all details.
  • Generative grammar[?] -- A techincal linguistic term. A generative grammar for a particular language specifies, for each string of words, whether or not that string constitutes a grammatical sentence in that language. It does not provide a set of rules for constructing or parsing sentences.

It is a myth that analytic languages have simpler grammar than synthetic languages[?]. That languages have different levels of grammatical complexness can be shown to be false by realizing the fact that changes to words are not the only kind of grammar. Chinese is very context dependent. In other words, context accomplishes the same role as declension and conjugation. (Chinese does have some inflections, and more so in the past.) Latin, which is synthetic, uses affixes and inflections to accomplish the same role that Chinese does with syntax. Because Latin words are quite (though not completely) self-contained, a sentence can be made from scattered elements. In short, Latin has a complex affixion and a simple syntax, while Chinese has the opposite.

Table of contents

Grammars of specific languages

Grammatical terms

Grammatical devices

Related Topics


In computer science, the syntax of each programming language is defined by a formal grammar. In theoretical computer science and mathematics, formal grammars define formal languages. The Chomsky hierarchy defines several important classes of formal grammars.



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