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@LABOUT LANGUAGE ANPREWES 2008 - The grammar of word order Word order is aiso grammar! Comparing English with two other European tanguages, Simon Andrewes takes us through different ways of expressing meaning through grammar. because it has very little grammar. lothers say it is dificult because there are so many exceptions tothe rules. Se leamers say that English is easy Both these attitudes often stem from the expectations of the learner. The mother tongue of many of themrdepends on grammatical inflection to make meaning and the relationship:eetween words in a sentence clear. Inflection means changing the shape of a word, generally by affxation, in * oder to change meaning. Alfixation is commonly the addition of a morpheme to the base of a word to denote case (subject, object, possessive), aumber {singular or plural), gender (maculine, feminine, neuter), person (frst, second, third}, tens, etc Whereas English has just four or five inflected forms of the verb (speak / speaks / spoke / spoken / speaking), | would not wish to count the number of different forms of the Spanish verb there are (hablar / hablando / hablo / habl6 J hablas / habla / hablaba / hablaria Thablaré / hablado, to mention but 2 few) So it seems like an open and shut case. The learner of English has four or five verb forms to learn, while the learner of Spanish has to cope with around forty oF fifty, making it a much more difficult language to learn. Inflection does not only affect the verb. ‘The learner of German has to contend, notoriously, with: der Mann (nominative singular), den Mann (accusative singular), des Mannes (genitive singular, dem Mann (dative singular), die Manner (nominative and accusative plural ~ hooray), der Manner (genitive plural}, dem Mannern (dative plural) What have we got in English forall that? = rather punily, only the man/the men, Because there is relatively little in the way of inffection in the English language, we need another way of making syntactic relations clear. Unlike most of the more famitiar Indo- European languages, Spanish and German among them, which rely alot on inflection to express syntactic relations within the sentence, English tends more towards the analytic languages which are characterised by the use of word order and functional (grammar) words to rake syntactic relations clear. Infection plays lesser role ~ although these are relative concepts; no language, as far as | know, is solely analytic or solely inflected. Gharacterstc of an analytic language are fixed word forms, like the adjectives in English, with grammatical functions indicated through the use of helper words, lke prepositions and auxiliary verbs, or word order. ‘So in contrast to the German den Mannern where changes to the article and the noun indicate case and number, English has to the men, where number is indeed indicated by inflection, but case (dative/indirect object) is only indicated by the addition of the preposition to, while the article remains uitteriy uninfiected, Where the inflection cof Spanish hablaré indicates both person and number (first singular in the last morpheme @, and tense (future) in the suffix arg, in English the pronoun Vis needed to indicate number and person ‘and the auniliary verb will has to be added to indicate tense. Thus English needs three words, 1 will speak, each a separate morpheme, to express the TU zee? Ya, same as one inflected Spanish word, For what it lacks in the way of inflection, English depends heavily on the use of prepositions to express syntactic relations. The grammar of prepositions wwe know is awful and to unaccustomed learners seems totally arbitrary. Why is it in the morning / afternoon/ evening but at night2:0n Saturday and Sunday but at the weekend? At work, on the job, in action? All this contributes to the learners’ complaint that there are too many exceptions to the rules in English. For many of them in / on / at seems an overly complicated way of ‘expressing relatively simple concepts of time and/or place. The key feature of an analytic language and a highly important aspect of English, however, is that it relies on word order to clarify syntactic relations. Consider the following sentence in English: ‘The king kissed the queen. Jn German this translates quite straightforwardly as: Der Kénig klisste die Kénigin. German, however, has another clue a to the syntactic relations in this sentence, apart from just word order, in the nominative masculine article der. In German we can emphasise that it was the queen the king kissed and not somebody else simply by moving the ‘queen to the beginning of the sentence: Die Kénigin kiisste der Konig. We know it was the king who did the kissing because of the article der which is nominative case (sentence subject). if we did this in English however: ‘The queen kissed the king. we havea new meaning because in ‘English itis the postion of the word in the sentence that indicates subject and nothing more. There is no inflection to the article, This new meaning would be indicated in German by 2 change in the article ie Kénigin kusste den Konig. The minimal change in the sentence of der to den alters the syntactic relations in the sentence entirely in short, English word order is fairly inflexible. We identify the subject as the word that comes immediately before the verb. That is why we have this complicated system of auxiliary verbs to make 2 question. Who did the king kiss? Who kissed the queen? Its this righ system of S-V (the king - kiss/Who - kissed) that makes the accusative/object form whom superfluous. The morpheme m of whom is redundant as word order gives, usall the information we need ‘The two equivalent question forms in German are the much neater: Wen kiisste der Kénig? Wer kilsste die Kénigin? (Not even German is consistent in its inflection. The article-morpheme die expresses both subject and object/ nominative and accusative case for feminine nouns) In English, then, word order alone is suficient to differentiate between subject and object: Who kissed who? German is less bound by word order because the differentiation is made in the inflection in the word itsel: Wer kiisste wen? Spanish, white more inflected and less dependent on word order than English, does not have all the paraphernalia of cases that German has and so has the word-morpheme a to distinguish between subject and object: Eley besé a la reina. Ala reina le bes6 el rey. incase Asour Lancuascal SA é¢The key [to English grammar] is word order and the strict S-V-O syntax. 99 ‘The morpherne a shows that it was the queen who got kissed, irrespective of word order; information which is consolidated grammatically by the inclusion of the corresponding inflected personal pronoun le. Its rigiity of word order means English often has to resort to the passive if focus needs to be shifted from the doer to the done to: ‘The queen was kissed by the king. Thisis not necessary in the more syntactically exible languages: Die Konigin kiisste der Konig Ala reina le hes6 el rey. While in German, the neat and tidy wen kisste wer? is possible, in English it would have to be the dumsier Who was kissed by who(m)? So the question is not whether English grammar is more or ess easy when compared to other languages. The fact is that English has a cferent kind of ‘grammar. Because grammar often tends tobe een in terms of inflection and as grammatical agreement typical of inflected languages, it may seem that English has litle of it. But the key to English grammar isnot to be found there The key is word order and the strict S-V-0 syntax. This importance is more apparent {o non-native teachers of English who have had to learn it and may have been overlooked by native grammarian- teachers who might take word order for granted, often hardly recognising its Vital role in expressing how words in a sentence are related to each other. Glossary Syntactic relations ~ the relationship between words or group of words in a sentence which express a particular meaning Inflection — the change in the shape of a word, generally by affixation, by means of which a change of meaning + relationship to some other word o group of words is indicated. Examples of affixation: alk-ed; book-s: un-wiling, Morpheme - the minimal grammatical unit of a language, constituting a word or meaningful part of a word that cannot be divided further, such as the -ed of waited, or the ~aba of hablaba. An inflected ianguage— a language which uses inflectional forms, such as affixes, 8. primary means of indicating the ‘grammatical function of the words in the Fanguage. The opposite of an inflected language is an analytic language. Arramalytic language ~ one in which the word forms are mostiy or totaly fixed and grammatical functions ae indicated through the use of helper words and Word order. Its morphemes tend to be ““ully-fledged” words, ike prepositions, = pronouns, or auiary verbs, ‘Acknowledgements to dictionary.com, an ask.com service, and to the Webster onfine dictionary, and of course, to google.com, Simon Andrewes é Gemini by birt, Simon Andrewes has maintained over three decades anatttude to language and * teaching it that balances wobbly between professionalism and diettantsm, red-hot commitment and ‘ool detachment, practice and theory This attitude can be witnessed in his mast recently published pieces: one on {orca’s Gypsy Batiad Book in The London Magazine (lure 2008), and his Stagger ee Project lesson outline in Humanising Language Teaching onine (February 2008). And, indeed inthis one Rains