Chapter 5 - Grammar  pp. 34-41


By Diane Larsen-Freeman

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The term grammar has multiple meanings. It is used to refer both to language users' subconscious internal system and to linguists' attempts explicitly to codify – or describe – that system. With regard to the latter, its scope can be broad enough to refer to the abstract system underlying all languages (i.e. a universal grammar) or, more narrowly, to the system underlying a particular language (e.g. a grammar of English). It can also refer to a particular school of linguistic thought (e.g. a stratificational grammar) or to a specific compendium of facts for a general audience (e.g. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language; Quirk et al. 1985) or to a particular audience (e.g. a pedagogical grammar for students or for teachers).

While these uses may differ in purpose and scope, they seek minimally to explain the same phenomena: how words are formed (morphology) and how words are combined (syntax). Additionally, a study of English grammar includes function words, such as frequently occurring articles, whose role is largely syntactic (i.e. not lexical since they may not have an inherent meaning). Some grammars also include phonology and semantics, but the usual interpretation of grammar is limited to the structural organisation of language.



Linguists make a distinction between two types of descriptive grammars. Formal grammars take as their starting point the form or structure of language, with little or no attention given to meaning (semantics) or context and language use (pragmatics).