Regius MS

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Seven Liberal Arts

It is really difficult to define the importance of grammar in a society that created a school system where you can graduate from the high school without ever having one single grammar class. (That’s what I was told by my professor while being enrolled in a Master program in applied linguistics…)

It is true, we learn to speak instinctively, more exactly, by listening to our parents, the people around us (for quite a while, I’d say, usually more than a year!) and then we start imitating what they say. Somehow we learn and are able to speak without having the slightest idea of what “grammar” is.

Looking back

Initially, in the medieval times, grammar referred to the grammar of Latin and Old Greek languages… both having quite complicated grammatical systems with a very elaborate structure of declination and conjugation – cases, tenses, modes etc.

Those grammars in themselves taught a student several skills: memory, structure, certain way of building a correct sentence, understanding how a complicated system works.

Grammar BooksUnderstanding and using such an intricate linguistic structure was not only about being able to speak the language. At that time, Latin wasn’t learned anymore as anybody’s mother tongue. It was the language learned by the educated people only – monks and priests in the medieval times and now (we are talking about 11th-13th centuries, the beginning of the European universities!) young men getting university education in the seven liberal arts and sciences.

Our days

What is grammar today? Today, when even the teaching of foreign languages is less based on teaching grammar and rather focuses (correctly, by the way, says a former language teacher) on practical skills of using the spoken language, it would appear difficult to find compelling reasons in favour of studying the grammar of any language.

Sometimes there is a misconception that a language has grammar only when the language has been written, i.e. spoken languages or the oral versions of them are “free” of grammar. Far from true, of course. The grammatical structures are there and we learn them during the process that is called language acquisition – we just don’t know, we are not aware of the underlying grammatical rules and structures that make our speech intelligible by other speakers of the language. In this regard, grammar (to attempt a simplified definition) is the body of the rules, the totality of the complex linguistic conventions that make a tongue universally understandable for each member of that community.
Certain basic notions and concepts, of course, are commonly found in all the languages: names for things and beings (nouns), names for their attributes (adjectives), words denoting actions (verbs) and the capacity to combine those in a specific order to convey an idea (sentences). And the scientific discipline describing and organizing the rules pertaining these concepts – is the grammar.

Grammar versus spelling

(Nice Latin word there, used by many and understood by a few… versus means ‘against’. The word that sounds similar when pronounced: verses means something different – it is the plural form of the noun ‘verse’, a line of poetry or a line from the Bible…)

If due to misspelling one is using another word with a different meaning – it is not “just” spelling mistake, it is a grammar error. Where and were are two different words. There, their and they’re are three different words, mixing them is not a “mere” spelling mistake. It is the total lack of understanding of the grammar of your language.

Writing neighbour or neighbor – is a spelling mistake or difference, depending on your point of view. One is British/Canadian while the other is American. So is colour/color. Or writing “gramar” with one M… That’s a typo. Not grammar.

Spelling mistakes can happen when in rush, when not having time for proofreading… and they happen in almost all of the informal chat-like communications of the online world. Although, when it comes to a professional email sent to a business partner or clients or prospective customers, nothing can be more annoying than some blatant spelling mistakes. Because they show the author’s disrespect.

Language, communication & thought process

Today we are talking more about communication, as the key component of our social skill set. There is almost no job description without mentioning the “good communication skills”… However, if you think of it: a good and clear communication is based on a firm grasp of the language rules, while using the adequate vocabulary (i.e. the right words) and having clear-cut thoughts that are worth communicating. Some researchers say there is no thinking “outside” the language – we are using the language not only as an instrument for communicating but also as the primary tool for our thinking.

Even those that claim to have thoughts as “blinking and sparkling” images and associations of ideas – when they try to explain it they would need the language. With its rules, known as grammar, with its words, known as nouns, verbs and other parts of speech.
Finally, to remind us of the importance of Grammar, let’s think a moment of what we were told: the WORD is lost…
Yes, it is a symbolic passage in our ritual, nevertheless, it refers to the magic attributed to the word. In most jurisdictions, Masons hold in veneration both Saint Johns, the Baptist and the Evangelist. One of them said fascinating verses about the Word.
Learn your words and your grammar. It makes you a better Mason!

Support and other considerations for this article was provided by the Grammar of English Language.

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