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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

Introduction                          37
that is to say, the particles which play such a large part in modern
speech, were pushed into the background except in so far as they affected
the endings (see p 262) of words placed next to them Any special
class of derivatives characteristic of a particular language was neglected
(see p. 272) The effect of this was to burden the memory with an
immense store of unnecessary luggage without furnishing rules which
make the task of learning easier *
When sensible people began to see the absurdity of this system, still
preserved in many grammar-books, there was a swing of the pendulum
from the perfectionist to the nudist (or DIRECT) method of teaching a
language by conversation and pictures, without any rules. The alleged
justification for this is that children first learn to speak without any
rules, and acquire grammar rules governing the home language, if at
all, when they are word-perfect This argument is based on several
misconceptions. A child's experience is slight Its vocabulary is pro-
portionately small Its idiom is necessarily more stereotyped, and its
need for grammar is limited by its ability to communicate complicated
statements about a large variety of things and their relations to one
another. Apart from this, the child is in continuous contact with per-
sons who can use the home language according to approved standards,
and has no other means of communicating intelligibly with them. So
neither the conditions of, nor the motives for, learning are those of an
older person making intermittent efforts to acquire a language which
is neither heard nor used during the greater part of the day
Since The Loom of Language is not a children's book, there is no
need to dwell on the ludicrous excesses of educational theorists who
* For the benefit of the reader who already knows some French, the follow-
ing quotation from Dimnet (French Grammar Made Clear) emphasizes lack of
common sense in text-books still used in the schools
"Are the four conjugations equally important? Most grammars very
unwisely lead the student to imagine that it is so. In reality there are
(according to Hatzfeld and Darmester's well-known Dictionary) only zo
verbs in -OIR, some 80 in -RE., 300 in -IR, and all the other verbs (about
4,000) end in -ER Whenever the French invent or adopt a new verb, they
conjugate it like aimer (in a few cases like fimr) and for this reason the two
conjugations in -ER or -IR are called 'living/ while the less important con-
jugations in -OIR and -RE are termed Mead * The conjugation in -ER is the
easiest of the four, and has only two irregular verbs m daily use "
To this we may add that there are only four common verbs which behave
like rec&votr9 the type specimen of the so-called third conjugation of the "regular"
verbs in the school-books. The -re verbs of th^ fourth conjugation of''regular"
verbs include four distinct types and a miscellaneous collection of others.