2.2 Advanced Theoretical Studies in Grammar: Can you examine some of the strengths and weaknesses of traditional grammar?

Chapter 2

2.2  Examine the strengths and weaknesses of traditional grammar.


The following are among the strong points of traditional grammar:

  1. Since it dominated the education system, it improved the students’ writing by making it more systematic and well The prescriptive rules helped to regularize language usage to some extent.
  2. Traditional grammar has played a pivotal pioneering role in It has contributed heavily to modern grammar in the area of terminology and concepts. These include: parts of speech and their associated grammatical features such as number, tense and degree; functional categories such as subject and object; syntactic categories such as words, phrases, clauses and sentences and their various types and relations such as subject-verb agreement and active-passive alternations.
  3. The definitions provided are accurate for a majority of the cases. For example, the subject is defined as the doer of the action or the entity that is talked about (topic) in the sentence. An example is: The student is



  1. Traditional grammar is not able to stand alone as a It is influenced by other disciplines, particularly philosophy. That explains why the definitions of parts of speech and functional labels such as subject and object are based on logic (meaning). Recall that a noun is seen as the name of a person, thing or place. It is difficult to know, for example, what is meant by ‘thing’ since ‘book, wind, movement, beauty and idea’ are all considered things and yet we cannot readily tell what they have in common.
  2. The use of logic or meaning in the definitions has been severely criticized. This is because, by looking at an unfamiliar word whose part of speech we don’t know, we cannot tell whether it is a naming word (noun), doing word (verb) or even a joining word (conjunction). As for the definition of subject, there is neither doer nor topic in a sentence such as: There is no need to panic. Are we then to conclude that the sentence has no subject? By no means.
  3. The misguided application of logic can also be seen in the prescriptive rules above. For example, since a conjunction is defined as a joining word (implying that it appears between the two units it joins), it shouldn’t appear at the beginning of a sentence. But we know that there are instances in which we may need to use a conjunction at the beginning for emphatic purposes as in: “The boxer promised he would knocked out his And he did.”
  4. The prescriptive rules focus on the negative; that is, how to correct wrong sentences rather than on how to form correct Unfortunately, these rules are divorced from the reality of language use on day to day basis. At best, they are only followed in formal written situations and yet we know that language is primarily spoken.
  5. Sound as the various forms of traditional grammar are, their applicability to the description of other languages is rather The tendency has therefore been to impose the features of one language upon another, even when the two are structurally different.

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