The Un-Latin Nature of Present Day English

This is a link to an interesting blog by Simon Horobin, Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Oxford. He is exploring the uneasy relationship between traditional grammar (based on Latin) and the ways in which we actually use language.

Horobin considers the historical reasons that Latinate grammatical frameworks have been used to analyse Maximilian_Sforza_Attending_to_His_Lessons_(Donatus_Grammatica)English, and some of the effects this has had. His article addresses:

  • the limited use of inflections on English nouns
  • possible reasons for the common hypercorrection of I where me is grammatically correct
  • the ways in which the meanings of words with a Latin root are adapted through use.

The blog ends with a grammar test that appeared in The Telegraph.

http://blog.oup.com/2016/02/english-latin-language/

Can you tell the difference?

Can you tell the difference between a verbal noun (gerund) and a present participle? And does it matter? Look at the examples below to see what you think …

I’m busy cooking for tomorrow.

We like cooking for special occasions.

The children are cooking breakfast because it’s my birthday.

Cooking is an important part of family life.

Armour_and_Co._(3093574348)Look if you want to know more …

In each case here, ‘cooking’ has the same form, but is performing a different function.

In the first example, ‘cooking’ is a non-finite verb (present participle) which is post-modifying the adjective ‘busy’. It is part of the adjective phrase ‘busy cooking for tomorrow’.

In the second example, ‘cooking’ is functioning as the head of the post-modified noun phrase ‘cooking for special occasions’. It is in the object site of the sentence and is a verbal noun.

In the third example, ‘cooking’ is a non-finite verb (present participle). It is functioning as the lexical verb in the progressive verb phrase ‘are cooking’.

In the final example, ‘cooking’ is functioning as the head of a simple noun phrase. It is in the subject site of the sentence and is a verbal noun.

Does it matter?

We don’t need this knowledge to understand any of the sentences, but it can be useful in linguistic analysis to recognise the different grammatical functions of a word. It certainly helps us work out the connections between groups of words – and that is important when we need to know where phrases start and stop!

 

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Filed under English usage, History of language, Usage

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