Anatomy Of Language

The Farlex Grammar Book

Complete English Grammar Rules

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A survey of different kinds of poetic licence must begin with the question of what kinds of rule or conventional restriction can be infringed. This in turn leads us back to more fundamental questions: What is the nature of language ? How is it constituted ? What different kinds of rules in language have to be recognized? My preliminary task is therefore to attempt a very short, simplified account of how a language such as English may be broken down into various levels of organization, and how these levels combine together. I should add that there are as many ways in which such an account could be given as there are different theories of how language works. The following sketch is a composite one, which aims to be non-controversial.2 One thing on which there seems to be little disagreement nowadays is that the traditional method of breaking language down into two components, form and meaning, is inadequate. Instead, a roughly tripartite model is usually preferred3:





Grammar and Lexicon

(Denotative or Cognitive) Meaning


The reader may perhaps best understand this diagram by imagining himself in the position of someone trying to learn the language for the first time, and asking himself, 'What different kinds of knowledge do I have to acquire, before I can say I know English, and am able to use it properly?'

3.1.1 The Three Main Levels: Realization, Form, Semantics

Since knowledge of a language is traditionally condensed into two kinds of book, the dictionary and the grammar book, we may start by observing that to know a language competently, a speaker is required to have memorized a vocabulary in that language, and to have learnt a set of rules showing how the items of the vocabulary are to be used in constructing sentences. These two parts, the lexicon and the grammar, together comprise the formal aspect of the language.

But dictionaries and grammar books do not entirely restrict themselves to specifying the lexicon and grammar in this sense. They also give other kinds of information a learner needs to know: how to pronounce and write the forms of the language, that is, how to give them physical realization; and also what they mean. Thus three main types of rule have to be known: rules of form, of realization (phonological or graphological), and of semantics.

The same three-level model applies both to the productive and receptive processes of language: to listening and reading as much as to speaking and writing. The only difference between these processes is that the types of rule are applied in the opposite order, as indicated in fig. [d], which for simplicity represents the spoken language alone:




"w (3)"





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