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Video:What is Grammar?

with Heather Kamins

Grammar is basically the man-made rules that structure language in order for us to understand meaning and intention in sentences. Learn about grammar and the two main schools of thought in this video from About.com.See Transcript

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Transcript:What is Grammar?

Hi, I'm Heather Kamins for About.com, and I'm here to talk to you about grammar.

What is Grammar?

Grammar is the structure of language, expressed through a set of specific linguistic rules, known as syntax. It defines the different parts of speech, such as words and sentences, and allows us to discuss how and why we communicate.

The word grammar comes from a Greek root, the word graphein, which means to write or to draw. Early forms of grammar can be traced back to ancient Greece, and even further back to 4th century BC India.

Descriptive vs Prescriptive Grammar

There are several different ways of understanding grammar. One is descriptive grammar, which looks at how the language is actually used, and it's based on observation of real-world usage.

Prescriptive grammar, on the other hand, is less about observation, and seeks to refine a language and set down specific rules for its use. If you've ever been corrected for using the word "ain't," that's prescriptive grammar at work, even though it's a widely used contraction.

For linguists - the people who study language - there's an ongoing debate over whether their role should be descriptive or prescriptive. Some feel that standardizing the language is advantageous, because doing so helps simplify communication, and makes it easier to understand. But other linguists feel that their role should be simply to note the changing vernacular, new idioms, forms of jargon - without judgment.

Grammar in Every Day Life

For most of us, grammar is simply a way to understand how to communicate more clearly. The study of grammar allows us to analyze patterns, and avoid the overused terms known as cliches. In this way, it can lead to more interesting writing and speech, and even unlock more abstract forms of communication - like poetry.

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