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Introduction to Grammar

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During Shakespeare’s time scholarly men of letters were considered those who were cultured in the literary beauty, style, and thought of their day. These finer forms of created literature were called “belle-letters.”

Associated requirements centered around properly pronouncing all words (diction) including those of a foreign language; appling the rules for generating correct sentences(syntax); and studying the meanings of important words and sentences (semantics). These practices are part of “Grammar,” a Greek word originally meaning the art of reading and writing related to the study of language in literature.

Today, it means the study of those characteristics of a language that make it consistent enough to be socially acceptable. In “grammar school” children study the production and understanding of syntax and phonology in language. Phonology deals with those aspects of sounds as pitch and stress that allows the language to bear meanings more or less reliability. Syntax is the study of the relationship between words and how they combine to form sentences -- like stringing together different colored beads in desiging a pretty necklace.

In the process of learning a language and the symbols called words, children are also learning to evaluate and give meaning to themselves and other things. It is because of language that they learn to reason in a step-by-step fashion; categorize things; put order to their experiences; think about the past and the future, the abstract and the hypothetical; and rearrange “bits and pieces” of information so that creations can be made.

Nearly all words are given form and content during social interactions with others. Just as traffic signals are needed to reduce automobile accidents, rules of languages give regularities of sound and structure for common ground. Each language has its own unique set of rules.

Before learning to speak, children communicate through crying, smiling, and body movements. At roughly age one, they have spoken their first word. During their second year they discover that all objects have names. Around age 3 they know about 300 words. Meanwhile, children engage in over-extension -- using one word to cover a range of concepts, as in calling all four-legged small animals a “dog.”

Typical 18 month olds use two-word sentences like: “go car-car.” Since the non-essential details are left out and only words carrying the most meanings are selected, psychologist term this “telegraphic speech.” The next step is learning sentences. By college age, most students hear 100,000 words and read 90,000 words a day!

There are 50 commonly used words making up 60 percent of all the words we speak and 45 percent of all the words we write. Thus, we repeat a very few words and arrange and rearrange them in a great number of ways. By Increasing Our Vocabulary and Knowing the Different Concepts Involved in Life-Shaping Words we Significantly Increase our Ability to Create New Ideas and Make Our Speech More Powerful. Put another way, words improve our thinking ability.

However, a major problem is that the meanings we have for many of our basic and life shaping words (e.g. happiness, success, beauty, love) were never explained or incorrectly explained or flippantly explained to us as children. For such words, our child’s magical mind gave distorted and fantasy meanings. This has subsequently produced faulty decisions and choices as well as needless mistakes and suffering. Faulty choices have caused many to spend their lives pursuing impossible dreams. The remedy is to spend the time studying grammar in all its aspects, especially the meanings of words because they shape your life.

Joseph A. Bailey, II, M.D

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