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92                  The Loom of Language
of Alfred the Great. Since then a language, which once had many of
the most characteristic features of Latin or Greek, has changed past
recognition. It now shares some of the most remarkable peculiarities of
What schools used to teach as English grammar was really an intro-
duction to the idiosyncrasies of Latin It was not concerned with the
outstanding characteristics of the English language; and most educa-
tionists in America or England now condemn tune wasted in the mental
confusion resulting from trying to fit the tricks of our own terse idiom
into this foreign mould Without doubt learning grammar is not of
much help to a person who wants to write modern English. None the
less, the so-called English grammar of thirty years ago had its use.
Other European languages which belong to the same great Indo-
European family as Bible English and Latin and Greek, have not
travelled so far on the road which English has traversed So knowledge
of old-fashioned grammar did make it a little easier to learn some
peculiarities of French, German, or other languages which are still
used Anyone who starts to learn one of them without some knowledge of
grammatical terms meets a large class of unnecessary difficulties. The
proper remedy for this is not to go back to grammar of the old-fashioned
type, but to get a more general grasp of how English resembles and
differs from other languages, what vestiges of speech-habits character-
istic of its nearest neighbouis persist in it, and what advantages or
disadvantages result from the way in which it has diverged from them*
To do this we shall need to equip ourselves with some technical terms.
They are almost indispensable if we want to learn foreign languages
None of us needs to be told that we caruaot write a foreign language,
or even translate from one with accuracy, by using a dictionary or
learning its contents by heart. From a practical point of view, we can
define grammar as the rules we need to know before we can use a die*
fwnary with profit. So we shall take the dictionary as our foundation
stone in this chapter and the next. We have already seen that dic-
tionaries of languages do not contain all vocables we commonly use.
They include certain classes of derivative* words, and exclude others*
* It is often impossible to say what is root and what is aftlx, but many
English words can be derived by adding affixes lake ~s ed or ~ing to the dic-
tionary form, In what follows the Editor suggests that we should speak of them
as derivatives of the latter As explained in the footnote on p, 34, this is not
precisely the way in which linguists use the word derivative