The Theory of Speech and Language

The Theory of Speech and Language

The Theory of Speech and Language

The Theory of Speech and Language

Excerpt

The crisis of grammar . It is in periods of transition like the present that the never-ending struggle between authority on the one hand, and the spirit of reform on the other, becomes most insistent and vocal. Belief in the established order being weakened, the number of those who advocate a wholesale clearance of what they regard as clogging traditional rubbish is correspondingly increased, while a party of opposition automatically arises among those who feel that the achievements of the past are being jeopardized. This state of affairs, familiar in the contemporary world of politics, repeats itself in the smaller domains of science and art, so that the latter appear as veritable microcosms. The uninformed might be excused for assuming that so apparently tranquil a backwater as that of grammatical lore would be exempt from any such violent antithesis. In this assumption they would be wrong, however, for the science of language is, at the present moment, more than ever a storm-centre of conflicting theories and opposing cross-currents. Nothing could be more apparent to those for whom, during no inconsiderable part of their working lives, the supposed backwater is their actual world. On the one side we see the revolutionaries, as those scholars must be called who regard conventional grammar as a tissue of absurdities. Theirs is at least the merit of having recognized how inadequate, or on occasion positively false, are many of the definitions and explanations propagated in even the best of our school-books. Their weakness is an excessive readiness to throw overboard such time-honoured grammatical categories as verb and noun, subject and predicate, adverb . . .

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