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Does grammar matter? - Andreea S. Calude


31,134 Questions Answered

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It can be hard sometimes, when speaking, to remember all of the grammatical rules that guide us when we’re writing. When is it right to say “the dog and me” and when should it be “the dog and I”? Does it even matter? Andreea S. Calude dives into the age-old argument between linguistic prescriptivists and descriptivists — who have two very different opinions on the matter.

Additional Resources for you to Explore

Spoken language has been neglected and marginalized for much of our history on account of its perceived inferiority in comparison to written language. Written language was historically regarded as the language of the ‘learned,’ given that few people could read or write.  It also had permanence (written records can be preserved for hundreds of years, and it is only recently that speech recordings became an achievable technology for most of us), and it was thought to be of a higher standard and quality (often summed up as having “better” or more “correct” grammar). You can read more about this biased view of written language over spoken language in the online book “The Written Language Bias” by Peter Linell.

We all know that languages differ with respect to their grammar – we have all tried to learn another language only to be baffled not just by new vocabulary but also by the order and other quirks of how that language organizes its vocabulary – but what can and what does actually vary? Here is a survey of 200 languages and their varying features. For example, you can see the kinds of basic word orders which the languages in this sample have, displayed as a colour-coded map. It is fascinating to see this variety of features and their geographical spread. You might notice that languages which are spoken by people who live next door to each other share certain features. For example, many SVO (subject-verb-object) languages seem to cluster in Africa. This is termed ‘areal effect’ and one important unanswered question in linguistics seeks to find out to what extent areal effects occur across languages.

The person who pioneered the idea of a ‘language universal’ is Joseph Greenberg. He proposed a number of language universals, not just relating to grammatical features but also linking sound systems, word formation principles and semantic notions. Greenberg came up with these universals on the basis of statistical correlations which he identified between many of the world’s languages. He remains one of the most talented, creative and respected linguists of all time – you can read an article about his achievements published in the New York Times (Feb 2000) by Nicholas Wade. You can also browse an overview of language universals on the project site hosted by the University of Konstanz called ‘The Universals Archive’.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Andreea S. Calude
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Animator Mike Schell
  • Narrator Addison Anderson

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