Saturday, 7 December 2013

A case for Indian grammar of English

A case for Indian grammar of English 

I presented this paper on 23 January 2006 at an International Conference organized by Sona College of Technology, Salem, Thamizhnadu.

In the next few moments, if I don’t shock you, should I be pleasantly surprised? If your thoughts ran parallel, should I be pleased? If you think my this communication ‘thinkable’, should I be happy? You tell me. I’ll thank you even for your silence. For silence can be louder than words.

the Quake 
When I say, “she described about her bizarre experiences,” I’m corrected. When I say, “did you discuss about my promotion?” I get a lesson. When I ask, “What’s your good name, please?” I’m told the enquiry should do without the adjective. When I pronounce “walked” as “walked”, you may look at me pityingly. When I say, “he went, no?” or “he saw you, isn’t it?” you may be tempted to teach me the right tag. When I say ‘I also’ as a short response to ‘I like Sania Mirza’, you may raise your eye brows. Don’t draw any inferences other than those within the context, please! When I say, “he has come yesterday”, your face may wear a worried look.

the aftershocks 
When I say any of these or other similar ones, ELT experts—both the brown ones and the White ones—might patiently but knowingly declare: “Well, these result from mother tongue interferences.” They might also take a step forward, lay their arm across my shoulders and soothe me placatingly: “Now, now, not to worry. There’s the bilingual method and there is the Communicative Language Teaching!”

But there is no pity, no condescension, no pain, there’s only nodding, understanding when the educated British pronounce cut as /kut/, when the educated Americans say ‘laboratory’ or ‘secretary’ very differently from their British cousins, when Americans utter “figure eight” instead of “figure of eight”, “be in difficulty” for “be in difficulties” or “speak with” in place of “speak to” or “interfere with” instead of “interfere between”, or when they deviate from “different from” and say “different than”, or when they quantify “a half dozen” instead of “half a dozen” or when the former hear “meet with” from the latter. Or when an Australian counts /seventai/, if I’m not misinformed.

What has caused such variations? What interference has brought about these acceptably distinctive features? Is it because a few Britishers a few centuries ago and a few Europeans later chose, for whatever reason, another land as their homeland? Wasn’t it a strong desire to be just different that caused the ‘interference’? So that they could twiddle with English and make it distinctively different? Here I’m not questioning, I’m doing some loud thinking.

the construct             
The English language is as much yours and mine as it is the Britishers’, the Americans’ or the Australians’. It’s no longer the sole property of those communities or nationalities. History has seen to that, hasn’t it? This is not a tall claim, only a tall fact.

You might shake your heads yet. You might think India is not England, nor America, nor Australia nor for that matter New Zealand. You know the majority of these nations are as multilingual as we are. In their case, unilinguality with distinctive flavours happened naturally as a matter of history. In our case, English with distinctive flavour should happen as a matter of intent. For after all, the very multiplicity in using English argues for a model. We hear ‘school’ pronounced as /isku:l/ and /saku:l/. Should we, then, going by tradition, continue with the British? Or should we, going by today’s youth, go with the Americans? If the Americans can roll their r’s and if the British can silence them, can’t we pronounce them? Shouldn’t we put our heads together and come up with an Indian model?

If you’re hard to please, I’ll have another try. A language can be a meaningful means of communication only to the extent that it contains in it and reflects the thinking and the expressing of its users. There can’t be or at least shouldn’t be ‘nativeness’ or ‘nonnativeness’ about it. Anyway as we all know, if English is what it is today it’s because innumerable words, inflections, affixes foreign to it have become English.

Let’s not construe ‘Indianisms’ as mother tongue interferences but see them as meaningful mother tongue influences. I repeat: Let’s not construe ‘Indianisms’ as mother tongue interferences but see them as meaningful mother tongue influences. 

If you thought me mad, you could be right. From your perspective. If you thought me mouthful, you could be right. Again from your perspective. And if you thought me meaningful [sensible], you’d be right from my perspective. Could we at least leave this as a legacy to posterity? I rest my case. Thank you for your time.

A note:            On one occasion, I did talk to a faculty at the D.C.C. at CIEFL during my stay in 1990
at the Campus about the Institute initiating an attempt to formulate a standardized grammar and pronunciation for learners in India for after all the Institute is the premier institution in the country.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Etiquette, Word games , information

Section 1
You are at a stage in your life when you want to use English to converse with your classmates, with your teachers and others. 

But you aren’t too sure about your ability to use English for all these. The main reason is you didn’t get an opportunity to listen to and speak in English. And so now you find it difficult to mix with others. You see others talking in English and enjoying themselves. Unfortunately, you are unable to do this.

point one
1. When do you greet someone ‘good morning’?                                                  
      a. any time during the day             b. up to 1 p.m.                        

2. You say ‘good morning’ to seniors in age or position.
       a. yes                                              b. no                                      

3. You say ‘hello’ or ‘hi’ to
        a .  people of your age                   b. seniors in age or position      

4. ‘Good night’ is a greeting.     
         a. yes                                              b. no                                        
     [it’s a leave-taking expressions like ‘bye’, good bye’, ‘see you’]

5.  How do you respond to a greeting?
          a. anyway I like                              b. repeat the greeting            

game one

Fill in the blanks: 


6. Figure 1 is in _________________ shape. a. circular   b. square    c. oval            

7. Figure 2 is in _________________ shape. a. circular   b. square    c. oval            

8. Figure 3 is in _________________ shape. a. circular   b. square    c. oval            

point two

9. Your response to ‘how are you?’ from an elder or a superior should be
      a. Fine.               b. Fine, sir/madam.         c. Fine, sir/madam, thank you.

10. This is generally immediately followed by ‘how are you, sir/madam?’ and the
       response should be     
      a. Fine, sir, thank you.       b. Fine.                 c. Fine, Gautam, thank you.

11. Generally speaking, no enquiry is necessary between people of the same age or
       a. yes                                               b. no        

word game two                                          

Match the words with their meanings:
12. friend                                a. one you may see around but do not know
13. acquaintance                     b. one you know very well
14. stranger                             c. one you met somewhere but do not have much contact

point 3
15. Lets’ say you introduce two of your friends to each other.
      What will they say to each other?
             a. ‘How d’you do?’ ‘How d’you do?’   b. ‘Glad to meet you.’ ‘Glad to meet you.’
             c. ‘Hello’/ ‘Hi.’  ‘Hello’/ ‘Hi.’              d. either ‘a’, ‘b’ or ‘c’

16. Your two friends say to each other ‘how d’you do?’ because
a.       their positions or statuses are such that they wish to be formal.
b.      despite their positions or statuses they wish to be less formal.
c.       they wish to be informal.

17. Your two friends say to each other ‘glad to meet you’ because
a.       their positions or statuses are such that they wish to be formal.
b.      despite their positions or statuses they wish to be less formal.
c.       they wish to be informal.

18. Your two friends say to each other ‘hello’ or ‘hi’ because
a.   their positions or statuses are such that they wish to be formal.
b.  despite their positions or statuses they wish to be less formal.
c.   they wish to be informal.

19. a. ‘How d’you do?’ is used only when the first meeting takes place.
      b. ‘How d’you do?’ can be used in the place of ‘how are you?’
      c. ‘How d’you do?’ can receive a response ‘Fine, sir, thank you.’ 

20. When you introduce two of your friends to each other, you say the names with 
       titles like ‘mr’, ‘miss’, ‘mrs’, ‘Ms’, ‘Dr’, ‘Father’ when the context is
              a. formal              b. informal

word game three

Match the words with the meanings:
21. rival                       [i] one trying to become better in sports or business       
22. enemy                   [ii] one acting or speaking against another                        
23. competitor            [iii] one trying to become better in business                      
                                          one taking part in a competition
24. opponent              [iv] one playing or fighting against another                         

point 3

25. Sometimes situations arise where you may wish to introduce yourself.
     You say, __________________
     1.‘I’m Kumaran.’                                       2.‘I’m Mr Kumaran.’
     3.‘My name is Kumaran.’                          4. ‘My name is Mr Kumaran.’         
     a.  1 or 3                                              b. 2 or 4

26. When you introduce yourself, 
      a. don’t use any title with your name.
b. use a title with your name.
      c. don’t use a title with your name unless it is necessary in a given context.       

27.You’ve introduced yourself. You want to know the name of the other person.
      You ask: ____________________
      1.What is your name?                    2. May I know your good name?
      3.Can I know your name?              4. Can you tell me your name? 
      5.Can I ask you your name?          6. Will you tell me your name?  
      7.You are…
      a. any one of the seven             b. only seven                                                            

information one [‘info’ is an abbreviation used in conversations between friends]

Do you know the words for the sounds animals make?
The cow moos.        The chicken cackles.    The donkey brays.   The cat mews or miaows.
The horse neighs.     The goat bleats.           The sheep baas or bleats.
The dog barks.         The pigeon coos.          The wolf bays.   
[All the underlined words are verbs referring to the sounds the animals produce.]

word game four

Match the following:
28. chaos              [a] clarity                     
29. confusion       [b] knowledge              
30. ignorance       [c] dissuade                  
31. persuade        [d] order                        

point 4

32. A subordinate to superior: “Sir, ________ located the file. …..”
                   a. I’ve             b. I have                                                                    

33. A colleague to another     : “Ganesh, _____located the file…..”
                   a. I’ve             b. I have                                                                          

34. “ John, where is Gokul?” “______ gone, I tell you,”                                      
                   a. He’s            b. He has                                                                             

35. “ Okay. ______ meet at dinner.”
                   a. We’ll          b. We will                                                                    

info two

Let’s say you go into a bookshop, on impulse rather than by intention. What do you do?
You move round, look at the titles and the authors, flip or glance through a few pages, look at the back covers where the publishers normally provide some interesting info about the books and the authors.

We can replace the underlined expressions and the one in bold with two single words. Do you know them? They are ‘browse’ and ‘blurb’.

Fill the blanks with  ‘impulse’ or ‘intention’ :
36. He doesn’t think. He acts on ________________.                                
37. My _________________ is to save money, not to spend it.                  

section 2
point five

using the telephone

When we use the phone, landline or the mobile, wrong calls do occur. Either we dial the wrong numbers or someone else does. To avoid embarrassment, it’s better to confirm first we’re making a call to the right number, don’t you think?

Say you want to call 9444 2570 82. It’s possible you pressed 52 instead of 25, or 07 for 70, or for that matter 28 for 82. So when somebody from the other end says ‘hallo’, you confirm by asking ‘is that 9444 257082, please?’ When ‘yes’ is the response, you then proceed further. If ‘no’ is the answer, say ‘sorry’ and disconnect. 

word game five

38. Rearrange the letters : lbceh to get the word meaning ‘let out air noisily’ __________

39. Fill in the two letters  __ __lingual meaning ‘speaking two languages’.

40. A _____________ system uses only 0 and 1 as a system of numbers. The word is                            
      related to computing.            

41. This word also means ‘let out air noisily’. It is ________________
info three

You know ‘neck’ is a part of human body.
41. The back part of the neck is called _______.                                               
42. The front part is the ________.                                                                    

The human body is divided into two parts: 1. head  2. trunk [=the rest of the body].
Sometimes, the police find a corpse or dead body without the head. The word for such a body is headless body.   

point six
using the telephone

Suppose[=imagine] you want to talk to your lecturer or professor:

43.You dial the number. You hear:”______________”
                a. who is speaking?   b. Yes?       c. Hullo!                                
[you recognise the voice]
44. You say : ‘______________________________________________
   a. Sir, I want discuss something important.
   b. Are you busy, sir?
   c. Good morning, sir. I’m Sundar, third year EEE, speaking.’      

Imagine[=suppose] you want to talk to your friend:
   You dial the number. You hear: ‘Hello!’ [your friend’s mother is speaking]
   You  say: “Auntie, is Vijay there? [or]    I want to talk to Vijay.”                    

word game six

45. This is part of your food. It’s chilli hot and soaked in oil. Either mango or lemon                                              
      pieces and spices form the content of this food. It is ____________________. 

46. Change the first letter of this word and it will mean: move fingers over a sensitive 
     part of someone’s body making them laugh. The word is __________________.

47. We use this word to refer to the movement of tears from the eyes. We also use this
     word to refer to the slow movement of people to gather in a given place. You need
     to add one letter to the second word. The word is _______________.  

48. Remove the last two letters from the second word and add one letter. It will mean:
    ‘difficult to deal with’. The word is _____________.                    ________________________________________________________________________

info four

Do you know the word for the ‘top edge of a cup/glass/bowl’? It’s 
We say ‘fill the cup to the brim.’

Do you know the word for the ‘edge of something circular’? 
We say ‘Don’t hold the glass by the rim. The glass contains hot water.’

Another word that comes to mind is ‘grim’ which means ‘looking very serious’.
We say ‘Why does she always look grim? I’ve never seen her smile.’

‘Grim’ reminds me of another word ‘glum’ which means ‘sad, quiet and unhappy’.
We say ‘Don’t be so glum, darling. Things will look up soon enough.’
The underlined expression means ‘become better’.

info five

You know who a ‘villain’ is. There’s almost no film without a villain. A villain, as you know, does indulge in doing evil things. But you’ll be surprised to learn that this word once referred to ‘an honest agricultural labourer’!
Today we get money as ‘salary’ for the work we do for someone. In olden days, only salt ration was given to soldiers. This ration was known as ‘salarium’, which later became ‘salary’.

point seven

49. How do you ask for permission from someone?
       1. How may I help you?      2. May I help you?      3. Shall I help you?
       4. Will I help you?              5. Should I help you?   6. Could I help you?
       a. any one of the six        b. 1 and 2         c. 3 and 4        d. 5 and 6                     

50. How do you ask for permission when there is no need for politeness?
       a. How may I help you?    b. Can I help you?      c. Should I help you?              

word game seven

If you are a cricket fan, you’ll know these two words: ‘bat’ and ‘bail’.
‘Bat’ is a piece of wood with a handle, which a batsman uses to hit the ball to score runs. 
‘Bat’ is also an animal that moves in the night and looks like a mouse with wings.

51. The single word for ‘in the night or during the night’ is___________________ .
       Find this word by rearranging these letters: ctrulnaon. The opposite of this word
       is ‘diurnal’ which means ‘during the day’.    

52.‘Bail’ is a piece of wood kept on the stumps. This word is used also in another
      context [place]. It is a ______________ of law where an accused or a defendant asks
      for ‘bail’, that is, permission to leave jail until the trial.    
info six

You know what a ‘sandwich’ is, don’t you? It’s two toasted thin slices of bread with butter and jam, meat, or tomato and cucumber between the bread slices. People eat sandwiches for breakfast.

Do you know how this food got its name? John Montagne belonged to a place called Sandwich in England. He was a round-the-clock gambler. As he didn’t want to stop gambling, he thought of having food like the presentday sandwiches. The name of his town became the name of the food.
section 3
info seven

Listen to my pronunciation of these words. I shall pronounce them in two ways. The first one is [a] and the second one is [b]. Tick [a] or [b] as you listen.
53. cassette                    [a]             [b]           54. video         [a]       [b]
55. film                          [a]             [b]           56. July           [a]       [b]
57. Wednesday              [a]             [b]           58. school       [a]       [b]  
59. eleven                      [a]             [b]           60. twenty       [a]       [b]
word game eight

      A baker is a person who makes cakes and bread.
61. A ________________ is a glass cup used in chemistry laboratory.
62. Any road leading to a school will have several speed- ____________s for vehicles
       to move slowly.
63. When traffic lights are on amber, it means ___________________
      [a] you can move       [b] you should stop         [c] you should be ready to move  
64. Sheep’s meat is ‘mutton’. Pig’s meat is ___________. Cow’s meat is  ____________. 

info eight

Listen to my pronunciation of the words printed in bold below and then tick [a] or [b]:

65.  I’m content with my job.     What is the content of the letter you received?   [a]   [b]

66.  Shall we sign the contract?    When cooling, metal contracts.                       [a]    [b]

67. The contest is between me and my enemy.
      I intend to contest for the office of the Student President.                                [a]    [b] 

68. I want to convert dollars into rupees. I’m a convert to Christianity.                [a]    [b]

69. Your son’s conduct is very good.     Who’s going to conduct the meeting?    [a]    [b]

70.  A table is an object.          I object to the new proposal.                                  [a]    [b]

71. Farmers produce grains.      This year’s produce is less than last year’s.        [a]    [b] 
info nine

72.When someone does some service for you, how do you respond to it?
         1. Thank you very much.    2. Thank you.    3. Thanks.    4. Thanks very much.
         5. Many thanks.    6. Thanks a lot.   
          a. any one of them         b. 1 and 2 only     c. 3 and 4 only    d. 5 and 6 only                  

73. When someone thanks you, how do you respond to it?
          1. Not at all        2. Don’t mention it.       3. You’re welcome.
          4. That’s all right.     5. That’s okay.    6. It’s okay.     7. No problem
          a. any one of them     b. 1,2 and 3        c. 4,5,6 and 7                                               

74. You use 1, 2 and 3 of the choices to 73 when you wish to be polite. 
           a. Yes.                    b. No.                                                                                        

75. You use 4,5,6 and 7 of the choices to 73 on other occasions.
           a.  Yes.                   b. No                                                                                          

game nine

Match the following:
81. gathering             i. group of people watching or listening to a play/concert/speech  
82. mob                    ii. people in great number in public places
83. audience            iii. large number of people in excited mood
84. crowd                iv. meeting of people for a particular purpose

info ten

85. When you wish to disagree with someone, you say ‘______________.’
           1.Very sorry       2. I don’t agree     3.That’s not right/correct     4. You’re wrong
         a. any one     b. all except 1    c. 1 and 2    d. 3 and 4                                                  

86. When you wish to leave your guests to themselves for a short time so that you can   
       attend to some other activity, you say ‘_____________.’
           1. Sorry, I’ve got to go                 2. Excuse me for a moment 
     3. I won’t be long                         4.  be back in a jiffy
  a. any one       b. all except 1     c. only 2      d. 2 and 3                                              

87. When you have to ask someone to wait for a short time, you say ‘____________.’
            1. One moment, please                 2. Just a minute, please
            3. Just a second, please                 4. Just a moment, please
        a. any one           b. 1and 2     c. 3 and 4      d. only 1                                                 

88. When you want someone to repeat what they’ve just said because you didn’t
        hear it, you say  ‘_________________.’
             1. I beg your pardon [formal]       2. Come again? [informal]
             3. Sorry? [BrE]                             4. Excuse me? [AmE]
         a. 1 and 2      b. 2 and 3      c. any one      d. 3 and 4                                                 

game ten
Choose the best expression to fill in the blanks:

89. If I were defying, I would be ____________.
      a. questioning the authority   b. disagreeing  c. refusing help     d. rejecting an offer

90. If I was ignorant, it would mean ________________.
      a. I’d be stupid              b. I’d be a fool.     c. I’d be a dunce     d. I lacked knowledge

91. When people understand you, you’re__________________   
      a. intelligent                           b. intelligible    c. clever             d. an intellectual

92.  If I lose hope , it results in___________________
      a. rejection               b. dejection     c. injection     d. reflection      e. elation 

93. When I contemplate, it results in __________________
      a. rejection               b. dejection     c. injection     d. reflection      e. elation

94. If you called yourself as someone you’re not, for personal gains, you’d be_________.
      a. a cheat                  b. an actor         c. a pretender         d. an imposter

95. When I say ‘I’m guilty,’ I’m _______________.
      a. professing             b. confessing         c. confiding         d. protesting

96. Dissatisfaction not expressed forcefully is__________________.
      a. criticising               b. rambling            c. grumbling         d. blaming

97. One of the important duties of an embassy is to _______________.
      a. canvass                  b. propagate           c. disseminate         d. advertise

98. If the noun ‘dog’ were repeated every time there was a reference to it, it would
      make reading ______________________
      a. interesting              b. monotonous       c. disinteresting      d. exciting

99. Oil and salt are added to a pickle to ________________ the food for several days.
      a. preserve                  b. protect                c. save                   d. continue

100. How do you greet someone on their birthday or marriage day?
      a. Congrats!           b. Many happy returns of the day   
      c. Best of luck!      d. All the best!        e. Congratulations!  

Notes on items of pages 1-10
point 1

Greetings always come first, don’t they?
[1] to faculty, supporting staff, admn. staff                                                   
     good morning, sir [before 1 p.m.], good afternoon, sir [up to 5 p.m.]       
     good evening, sir [from 5 p.m.]                                                                 
     Such greeting indicates politeness, respect. You always greet first.        
[2] to senior students [in the first few weeks or if not in close contact]       
     good morning,  good afternoon, good evening
     Such greeting shows respect for seniority in college
[3] to batchmates, other equals and seniors [after knowing them well]
      hello!    hi!

Responses are the same as the greetings.

point 2
Enquiries come next to greetings.
[1] to faculty, supporting staff, admn. Staff
     How are you, sir/ mam?
     If they ask you : “How are you?”  your response: “Fine, thank you sir/mam”

[2] to senior students [in the first few weeks or if not in close contact]       
      How are you?  
     If they ask you: “How are you?”  your response: “Fine, thank you.”

[3] to batchmates, other equals and seniors [after knowing them well]
      generally, no enquiries [unless it is necessary]
point 3

Introductions take place very often. You introduce ‘x’ to ‘z’. When necessary you introduce yourself to others. Let’s see how you can do it.
[i] introducing one stranger to another stranger [in any place]
    “ Sekhar, this is Father Higgins.    [‘Father’ refers to a Christian priest.]
      Father, this is Prof. Sekhar.”

[a] response: Sekhar: How d’you do?      
                      Father : How d’you do”      

      Shaking hands takes place as they greet each other.

      ‘how d’you do? is a polite way of acknowledging the other person. It has
     no other purpose. It’s not an enquiry and so don’t say: ‘I’m fine, thank you.’
     Don’t use ‘how d’you do? in place of ‘how are you?’

[b] response: Sekhar: Glad to meet you.
                       Father : Glad to meet you.   less formal
[ii] introduce yourself to a stranger
      “ I’m Kumaran. You are…” or                  :
      “My name is Kumaran. You are….”     
     “I’m Sumathi” or “My name is Sumathi.”
      [There may or may not be hand shaking.]

                   Avoid asking: What is your name?
                        May I know your good name?
                        Can I know your name?
                        Can you tell me your name? 
                        Can I ask you your name?
                        Will you tell me your name?  
                        Avoid using titles [mr, prof, Dr etc] unless it is necessary for further communication.

There are several more ways of introductions. To learn these, you’ll need to buy my
book ‘Managing Soft Skills’, information about which you’ll find elsewhere in this blog.

point 4

In conversations, contractions are a common feature. What is a contraction?
I’m [I am], I’ve [I have], I’ll [I will], I’d [I had or I would] doesn’t, didn’t and similar ones are contractions.
When we talk, we don’t say: we have answered all the questions.
                        We rather say: We’ve answered all the questions.
                        We don’t say: She will come now.
                        We rather say: She’ll come now.           
point seven
using the telephone
Suppose you want to speak to someone in an organisation:

         You ring a number. Operator: ‘Good afternoon, DLF.’
         You say: ‘Good afternoon. I’d like to speak to Mr Karthik Ganesan.’ [or]
                        ‘Good afternoon. Can you connect me to Mr Karthik Ganesan?
         Operator: ‘Please stay on the line, sir. I’ll connect you to him.’
point eight

How do you ask for permission from someone?
Say :“May I help you?” to strangers.  Say: “May I leave now?” to superiors or elders.
        ‘May’ expresses ‘politeness’ and ‘respect’, in addition to seeking permission.

Say: “Can I help you?”    when there is no need to be polite, 
Say: “Can I leave now?”   for instance with equals who may also be strangers.

Learn and practise the difference in the pronunciation of each word in its different functions:

content [as adjective and noun]    contract [as noun and verb]   contest [as noun and verb]            convert  [as noun and verb]          conduct[as noun and verb]    object   [as noun and verb]            produce [as noun and verb]

There are several more such words that are pronounced differently depending on their function in sentences:
   contrast     perfect    permit   progress   protest    subject  compound


1.  b   2. a   3. a   4. a   5. b   6. a  7. b   8. c  9. c   10. c  11. b [it’s not necessary]
12. b    13. c   14. a   15. d    16. a   17. b   18. c.  19. a   20. a   21. i    22. ii   23. iii    24. iv
25. 1   26. c   27. b   28. d   29. a  30.  b   31. c  32. b   33. a   34. a   35. a   36. impulse
37. intention  38. belch 39 bilingual 40. binary 41. burp  41. nape   42.throat  43. c   44. c
45. pickle    46. tickle   47. trickle     48. tricky  49. b  50. b  51. nocturnal   52. court      
61. beaker  62. breaker  63. c, pork  64. beer  72. a   73. a   74. a  75. a  81. iv    82. iii   83. i   84. ii   85. b   86.d   87.a   88.c  89. a  90. d  91. b  92. b  93. d  94. d   95. b   96. c    97. c 
98. b    99. a   100. b

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Grammar Educates

I’d like to warn readers that this is not a counter claim to the article ‘Is grammar everything? published in last week’s Hindu’s Open Page. But the piece definitely triggered a few thoughts; I am thankful to Mr Sumit Paul.

To my mind, grammar is the heartbeat of a language. And grammar is the offspring of usage.
English grammar has framed rules, yes, but they are no longer born of the whims and fancies of an individual or a group of individuals (as it was for a long time ‘Latin-grammar-based’) . And it has never remained static; an example or two will suffice. The emergence of ‘they’ as the pronoun for ‘everyone’ is born of a usage that no longer accepts ‘he’, a male pronoun, as representing the common noun that includes women (‘he / she’ was considered as a substitute but found to be awkward when repeated more than once). The word ‘man’ is no longer used as a representative expression; we now use ‘humans’ or ‘human beings’. The choice of ‘Ms’ as a title to address a woman unless she is willing to be addressed as a Miss or Mrs is another example to prove that grammar is not ridden or laden with rigid rules. Passive voice structure with the ‘by +agent’ was taught as a mere substitute structure in yesterday’s grammar but today’s tells you the passive voice structure is a structure  in its own right conveying several implications. Thus grammar is not a clutter of ‘dry bones’ but clothes the ‘bones’ with ‘flesh’ and ‘blood’.

An illiterate native speaker of English may not need to know ‘subject’, ‘verb’, or to identify a ‘gerund’ and an ‘infinitive’. But an educated one does need this ‘education’ to help their children with their lessons. More so in the case of learners to whom English is not their own.
Knowing a few jargons is necessary to learn how words and sentences function in communication, and learning them is as useful to non-native users as learning scientific and technical jargon is to scientists and technologists. No one in their senses will accept ‘he did not went home’ even if the speaker was otherwise fluent. Fluency is definitely desirable but it doesn’t follow frequent occurrence of mistakes is acceptable. Taking liberties with language use is definitely admissible on rare occasions. In response Havelock shook his head, waved his hands dismissingly’ writes Arthur Hailey in The Evening News. ‘She had been working in a massive Washington law firm as a labor lawyer, married Morton Traynor, also a labor lawyer, and settled into dulldom’  writes Leon Uris  in his A God in Ruins. Poetic licence in prose should be admissible as a tool for brevity and precision in expression.

To term ‘infinitive’ after ‘to’ as the ‘usual and regular’ or ‘much more reasonable’ is a wrong assumption for there are very many verbs and ‘be + adjective + to’s that take a second verb in ‘-ing’ form as a verbal noun [‘gerund’ is the traditional term]. To say English grammar lacks clarity is a mistaken impression because as I said earlier grammar describes how people use their language. Grammar is no longer ‘prescriptive’ but ‘descriptive’.
Fluency indicates learner growth and accuracy, ‘educated’ness.