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28                  The Loom of Language
speaking or writing To some extent, similar remarks apply to gram-
matical conventions. In modern English it is never obligatory to use
what is called the genitive case-form of the words father or day, as
in my father's hat, or his day's wages. When speaking or writing English
we are at liberty to say, the hat of my father, or his wages for the day So
we do not need to knqw the grammatical rule which tells us how to
form the singular genitive father's, or the plural genitive fathers'. A
foreigner (i e. one who does not speak the Anglo-American language)
does not need to know that it is our custom to apply the rule only
to names of animate objects, astronomical or calendrical terms and
To this extent, it looks as if self-expression is much easier to master
than a good reading knowledge of a language. In other ways it is more
difficult On the debit side of our account we have to reckon with two
other features of the art of learning. One is that our knowledge of the
words we use in expressing ourselves is not prompted by the situation,
as our recognition of words on a printed page is helped by the context
Though the number of words and expressions we need is fewer, we
need to know them so thoroughly, that we can recall them without
prompting Another circumstance makes reading more easy than writing
or speaking Most languages cairy a load of giammatical conventions
which have no more value than the coccyx (vestigial tail) of the human
skeleton The rule that we add ~$ to the stem of the English verb, if
preceded by he, she, or it, as when we say he needs, is a convention of
usage. We make no distinction between the form of the verb when we
say / need, you need, we need, they need. Though we should correct a
child (or a foreigner), we should know what he or she meant by saying.
the tram leave atu.i$ So it contributes nothing to our facility in getting
at the meaning of a sentence. From this point of view, proficient oral
self-expression makes less demands than writing. Many grammatical
conventions such as the apostrophe in fathers' have no phonetic 'value.
That is to say, we do not recognize them as sounds. This is specially
true of French
What The Loom of Language has to say about phonetics, i.e. principles
of pronunciation, and the practical hints it gives, will be of little use
to anyone who hopes to speak a foreign language intelligibly, unless
supplemented by other sources of instruction We can surmount the
particular difficulties of oral expression painlessly with the use of
gramophone (p 260) records, if we have the money to buy them.
Whether speaking or writing is easier when the gramophone is avail-