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  • Print publication year: 1968
  • Online publication date: June 2012

4 - Grammar: General Principles




The term ‘grammar’ goes back (through French and Latin) to a Greek word which may be translated as ‘the art of writing’. But quite early in the history of Greek scholarship this word acquired a much wider sense and came to embrace the whole study of language, so far as this was undertaken by the Greeks and their successors. The history of western linguistic theory until recent times is very largely the history of what scholars at different times held to fall within the scope of ‘grammar’ taken in this wider sense.

Inflexion and syntax

More recently the term ‘grammar’ has developed a narrower interpretation. As used nowadays, it tends to be restricted to that part of the analysis of language which was handled in classical grammar under the headings of inflexion and syntax. The traditional distinction between inflexion and syntax, which rests on the acceptance of the individual word as the fundamental unit of language may be formulated as follows: inflexion treats of the internal structure of words, and syntax accounts for the way in which words combine to form sentences. For the present, we may continue to take the notions of ‘word’ and ‘sentence’ for granted. Grammar, we will say, gives rules for combining words to form sentences. It thus excludes, on the one hand, the phonological description of words and sentences, and, on the other, an account of the meaning that particular words and sentences bear.

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Introduction to Theoretical Linguistics
  • Online ISBN: 9781139165570
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