Language Grammar History

Language Grammar History

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I was trying to search for an article on the Web but cannot find from an authentic source.

I want to know when and which language was first formalized and its grammar specified.

The oldest known linguistic description is a Sanskrit grammar by Pāṇini, from maybe 5th century BCE. Wikipedia has a good summary.

The Grammar of History Textbooks, Part I: Language Analysis

Do your students groan that the textbook is boring or difficult? Do they say it contains too many facts and not enough explanation? It may be that they are unfamiliar with the academic language that history textbooks use. Academic language differs from everyday language. It uses abstract words and complicated sentence structures. Reading a history textbook can be a challenge for English language learners and native speakers alike.

Getting Meaning Through Language Analysis is a strategy that linguists Mary Schleppergrell and her colleagues developed while working with middle school and high school history teachers and students. This technique works well for short textbook passages with important standards-related material. Students identify the grammatical elements of each sentence and see how the elements relate. In the process, they not only develop literacy skills but also notice the choices textbook authors make in presenting historical meaning.

Analyzing a short passage, students identify all verbs and place them in one of three categories. The three types of verbs are

  • action verbs such as fight, defend, build, vote, and so forth
  • saying and thinking-feeling verbs such as said, expressed, suppose, like, resent, and so forth
  • relating verbs such as is, have, is called, and so forth

In addition to categorizing verbs, students identify all participants (that is, the subjects and objects of the verbs). They define abstractions such as "Congress" or "the cotton economy."

Once students have identified the verbs and participants, they can begin to understand how the elements of a sentence work together. For example, clauses with action verbs show who is acting upon whom, clauses with saying-thinking verbs present sayers or experiencers with different points of view, and clauses with relating verbs establish background or description.

To identify different points of view in a textbook, try the same kind of analysis with saying-thinking verbs. To highlight information a text presents as background, focus on the relating verbs.

Academic language is different from the everyday language that students use. By carefully analyzing the textbook's prose, both English language learners and native speakers gain fluency and confidence in accessing the textbook's information.

Further, students begin to see how textbook authors construct meaning through their language choices. For example, by identifying agents, actions, and receivers, students begin to notice if one group is always portrayed as being acted upon rather than as taking an active role and shaping their own destiny. In evaluating how an historian constructed the textbook's narrative, students begin to imagine other narratives that might have been constructed in its place.

Mary J. Schleppegrell, Mariana Achugar, and Teresa Oteíza, "The Grammar of History: Enhancing Content-Based Instruction Through a Functional Focus on Language," TESOL Quarterly 38, no. 1 (Spring, 2004): 67–93.

Our course

English Language: Grammar & History is a course the department recently developed to provide students with an introduction to key concepts and issues from two other classes: ENGL 303 (Modern English Grammar) and ENGL 312 (History of the English Language). Taking them together allows students to develop an understanding of the forms and conventions of Modern English that prepares them for a meaningful engagement with the changing forms of English over the centuries and across the globe.

To demonstrate the natural process of language change, the course surveys the contexts of English’s growth and transformation from the Anglo-Saxon period to the present day, tracing this development with attention to phonology, morphology, grammar, and vocabulary, including an emphasis on etymology, dialect variety, and semantic change.

The 'myth' of language history: Languages do not share a single history

People of the Trobriand Islands sailing in traditional canoe in the Papua New Guinea area. The Trobrianders' language Kilivila is included in the study. Credit: Gunter Senft

The 'myth' of language history: languages do not share a single history but different components evolve along different trajectories and at different rates.A large-scale study of Pacific languages reveals that forces driving grammatical change are different to those driving lexical change. Grammar changes more rapidly and is especially influenced by contact with unrelated languages, while words are more resistant to change.

An international team of researchers, led by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, have discovered that a language's grammatical structures change more quickly over time than vocabulary, overturning a long-held assumption in the field. The study, published October 2 in PNAS, analyzed 81 Austronesian languages based on a detailed database of grammatical structures and lexicon. By analyzing these languages, all from a single family and geographic region, using sophisticated modelling the researchers were able to determine how quickly different aspects of the languages had changed. Strikingly different processes seemed to be shaping the lexicon and the grammar - the lexicon changed more when new languages were created, while the grammatical structures were more affected by contact with other languages.

One fascinating question for linguists is whether all aspects of a language evolve as an integrated system with all aspects (grammar, morphology, phonology, lexicon) sharing the same history over time or whether different aspects of a language show different histories. Does each word have its own history? The present study, by an international team including researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, the Australian National University, the University of Oxford, and Uppsala University, addressed this question by comparing both grammatical structures and lexicon for over 80 Austronesian languages. This study applied cutting-edge computational methods to analyze not only a large number of words, but also a large number of grammatical elements, all from languages that were geographically grouped. This allowed for valuable and deep comparisons.

Map and family tree of the languages showing the differential locations of significant bursts in rates of change in words and grammars. Credit: Greenhill et al., reproduced with permission from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Interestingly, the study found that grammatical structures on average actually changed faster than vocabulary. "We found striking differences in the overall pattern of rates of change between the basic vocabulary and the grammatical features of a language," explains Simon Greenhill of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, lead author of the study. "The grammatical structures changed much more quickly and seemed to be more likely to be affected by neighboring languages, while the lexicon changed more as new languages were formed". Another of the authors, Stephen Levinson, comments, "This is a bit of an unexpected finding, since many have thought that grammar might give us deeper insight into the linguistic past than vocabulary, but there is still some reason for caution: we compared highly conservative vocabulary with an unfiltered range of grammar variables, and the language family is unusual for the way it diversified during colonization of successive islands, But what is clear is that grammar and vocabulary changes are not closely coupled, even within branches of a family, so looking at them both significantly advances our ability to reconstruct linguistic history."

The researchers found that there were specific elements of both vocabulary and grammar that change at a slow rate, as well as elements that change more quickly. One interesting finding was that the slowly evolving grammatical structures tended to be those that speakers are less aware of. Why would this be? When two languages come together, or when one language splits into two, speakers of the languages emphasize or adopt certain elements in order to identify or distinguish themselves from others. We're all familiar with how easily we can distinguish groups among speakers of our own language by accent or dialect, and we often make associations based on those distinctions. Humans in the past did this too and, the researchers hypothesize, this was one of the main drivers of language change. However, if a speaker is unaware of a certain grammatical structure because it is so subtle, they will not try to change it or use it as a marker of group identity. Thus those features of a language often remain stable. The researchers note that the precise features that remain more stable over time are specific to each language group.

The researchers suggest, that although grammar as a whole might not be a better tool for examining language change, a more nuanced approach that combined computational methods with large-scale databases of both grammar and lexicon could allow for a look into the deeper past. Russell Gray, senior author on the paper, says, "One of the really cool things we found was that this approach might allow us to detect when and where speakers of different languages were interacting many thousands of years ago".

5 Books That Explain the Evolution of the English Language

English is spoken by over one billion people as a first or second language. It began as a Germanic dialect and went on to adopt many words from other languages (nearly half the vocabulary in English is said to come from French and Latin). Some dictionaries have up to 600,000 words, although most native English speakers have a vocabulary of up to only 60,000 words. This complex, frustrating, and fascinating language has had a lengthy journey to become the language we know today. Here are five of our favorite books about the evolution of the English language.

1 Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English by John McWhorter

John McWhorter’s Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue covers the origins of English as a lingua franca and how the influences of history, such as Viking raids and Germanic invasions, have shaped it. The book focuses on English grammar and how English evolved when speakers of different languages came together. McWhorter is a professor at Columbia University, political commentator, and linguist.

Melvyn Bragg’s The Adventure of English covers the journey of English from its beginnings in Sanskrit to its role today as a language spoken by more than one billion people worldwide. He traces its journey during British imperialism to America, Australia, India, the West Indies, and beyond, and also chronicles how words from Lewis and Clark’s journeys across America and African dialects of slaves were integrated into English vocabulary. Bragg writes this linguistic tale in a lively manner that is accessible to many.

Who determines what’s right in the English language? Jack Lynch’s The Lexicographer’s Dilemma details the debate over what proper English is and who gets to say so by reviewing its history and the people who have shaped it, including Noah Webster, George Carlin, Quentin Tarantino, the South Park creators, and other modern contributors.

Now in a reprint edition, The Stories of English by David Crystal, the British linguist, academic, and author, gives focus to the regional dialects that shape modern usage of the English language. He uses a central chronological tale throughout the book and demonstrates that English is always evolving, thanks to its multiform varieties.

If you want a dictionary of etymologies, this is your book. John Ayto’s Dictionary of Word Origins shows where words come from and reveals the links between some of the most common words. It’s not about the evolution of the language overall rather, it describes the evolution of words from their original meanings to the usage familiar to us today.

You don’t need to be a linguist to enjoy learning about the history of the English language. These five books are accessible to people who are making their first foray into the subject.

History of Language Teaching

Children entering "grammar school" in England were initially given a rigorous introduction to Latin grammar, which was taught through rote learning of grammar rules, study of declesions and conjugations, translation and practice in writing sample, sentences, sometimes with the use of parallel bilingual texts and dialogue.


Montaigne described how he was entrusted to a guardian who addressed him exclusively in Latin for the first years of his life, since Montaigne's father wanted his son to speak Latin well


This decade saw the emergence of the Audiolinguial Method and Situational Method, which were both superseded by the Communicate Approach. During the same period, others method attracted smaller but equally enthusiastic followers, including the Silent Way, the Natural Approach and, Total Physical Response.


The different teaching approaches and methods that have emerged, while often having every different characteristics in terms of goals, assumptions, about how a second language is learned, and preferred teaching techniques, have in common that belief that if language learning is to be improved, it will come about through changes and improvements in teaching methodology.


As modern languages began to enter the curriculum of European schools, they were taught using the same basic procedures that were used for teaching Latin.


Throughout Europe, the education system was formed primarily around a concept called faculty psychology. This theory dictated that the body and mind were separate and the mind consisted of three parts: the will, emotion, and intellect.


The Frenchman C. Marcel referred to child language learning as a model for language teaching, emphasized the importance of meaning in learning, proposed that reading be taught before other skills, and tried to locate language teaching within a broader educational framework.


The Englishman T. Prendergast was one of the first to record the observation that children use contextual and situational cues to interpret utterances and that they use memorized phrases and "routines" in speaking. He proposed the first "structural syllabus," advocating that learners be taught the most basic structural patterns occuring in the language.


The Frenchman F. Gouin is perhaps the best known of these century reformers. Gouin developed an approach to teaching a foreign language based on his observations of children's use of language. He believed that language learning was facilitated through using language to accomplish events consisting of a sequence of related actions.


L. Sauveur, who used intensive oral interaction in the target language, employing questions as a way of presenting and eliciting language.


Grammar Translation dominated European and foreign language teaching and in modified form it continues to be widely used in some parts of the world today. The principal characteristicis of the Grammar Translation Method were these: The goal of foreign language study is to learn a language in order to read its literature or in order to benefit from the mental discipline and intellectual development that result from foreign language study.


Henry Sweet argued that sound methodological principles should be based on a scientific analysis of language and a study of psychology.


In Germany, the prominent scholar Wilhelm Vietor used linguistic theory to justify his views on language teaching. He argued that training in phonetics would enable teachers to pronounce the language accurately.


L. Sauveur, opened a language school in Boston, and his method soon became referred to as the Natural Method.
Oral communication skills in graded progression.
Communicative exchanges between student-teacher.
Grammar taught inductively.


Opposition to the Grammar Translation Method gradually developed in several European countries. This Reform Movement, as it was referred to, laid the foundations for the development of new ways of teaching languages and raised controversies that have continued to the present day.


Practically minded linguists such as like Henry Sweet in England, Wilhelm Vietor in Germany, and Paul Passy in France began to provide the intellectual leadership needed to give reformist ideas greater credibility and acceptance.


Vietor published his views in an influential pamphlet, "Language Teaching Must Start Afresh", in which he strongly criticized the inadequacies of Grammar Translation and stressed the value of training teachers in the new science of phonetics.


The German scholar F. Franke wrote on the psychological principles of direct association between forms and mean­ings in the target language and provided a theoretical justification for a monolingual approach to teaching.


The International Phonetic Association was founded, and its International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) was designed to enable the sounds of any language to be accurately transcribed.


Sweet's book "The Practical Study of Languages" set forth principles for the development of teaching method. These included: careful selection of what is to be taught, imposing limits on what is to be taught, arranging what is to be taught in terms of the four skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing, and grading materials from simple to complex.


This approach based on the study of Latin had become the standard way of studying foreign languages in schools. Each grammar point was listed, rules on its use were explained, and it was illustrated by sample sentences.


Texbook compilers were mainly determined to codify the foreign language intro frozen rules of morphology and syntax to be explained and eventually memorized.


The European popularity of the Direct Method caused foreign language specialists in the United States to attempt to have it implemented in American schools and colleges, although they decided to move with caution. A study on the state of foreign language teaching concluded that no single method could guarantee successful results.


Applied linguists systematized the principles proposed earlier by the Reform Movement and so laid the foundations for what developed into the British approach to teaching English as a foreign language.


No single method could guarantee successful results.
Conversational skills were impractical in view of the restricted time.
Limited skills of the teachers.
Irrelevance of conversational skills for average American students.


Coleman, the main result of this recommen­dation was that reading became the goal of most foreign language pro­grams in the United States. The emphasis on reading continued to characterize foreign language teaching in the United States until World War II.


In the 1970s, a reaction to traditional language teaching approaches began and soon spread around the world as older methods such as Audiolingualism and Situational Language Teaching fell out of fashion. The centrality of grammar in language teaching and learning was questioned, since it was argued that language ability involved much more than grammatical competence.


The use of the Direct Method in noncommercial schools in Europe had consequently declined. In France and Germany it was gradually modified into versions that combined some Direct Method techniques with more controlled grammar-based activities.


The Harvard psychologist Roger Brown has documented similar problems with strict Direct Method techniques. He described his frustration in observing a teacher performing verbal gymnastics in an attempt to convey the meaning of Japanese words, when translation would have been a much more efficient technique to use.


The Direct Method can be regarded as the first language teaching method to have caught the attention of teachers and language teaching specialists, and it offered a methodology that appeared to move language teaching into a new era.


This decade saw the rise and fall of a variety of language teaching approaches and methods. The most active period in the history of approaches and methods is from 1950 to 1980.


People often associate CLT with a strictly no-grammar approach, epitomised by Krashen’s Input Hypothesis.


The most principled attempt to develop a coherent approach for the promotion of formulaic sequences has been made by Gatbonton and Segalowitz their proposed methodology is called ACCESS, standing for ‘Automatisation in Communicative Contexts of Essential Speech Segments’, and it offers a principled adaptation of communicative language teaching that aims to generate fluency by drawing on the theories of automatisation and formulaic language.


Within the last quarter century, communicative language teaching (CLT) has been put forth around the world as the ‘new’ or ‘innovative’ way to teach English as a second or foreign language. Teaching materials, course descriptions, and curriculum guidelines proclaim a goal of communicative competence.

13 Books About Words & The English Language That Are Actually FASCINATING

Language is a funny thing. If you're reading this sentence, for example, there's a good chance that you speak and understand English perfectly well. But there's also a good chance that your English is slightly different from my English — we might disagree on whether it's "standing in line" or "standing on line," for example. Or you might call carbonated beverages "pop," whereas I would call them "soda." Or we might have a knock down, drag out fight over whether a long sandwich is called a "hoagie" a "sub" a "grinder" or a "hero." That's because English may seem like a perfectly stable language with rules and standards, but it is, in fact, a lawless jumble of several other languages stacked up, wearing a trench coat. English is a (very interesting) hot dumpster fire of a language that just keeps mutating with every passing day. So here are a few excellent books to help you de-mystify the English language, in all its many forms.

Some of these books delve into the history of English and how it got that way (did you know, for instance, that the word "spit" is roughly 15,000 years old, but the word "orange" is only about 450?). Other books explore different varieties of contemporary English, grammar rules, linguistic bigotry, curse words, and just about everything else you could possibly want to know about the language of English:

The History of Grammar in Foreign Language Teaching

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The Declaration of Independence: A Lesson in Language History

Language is constantly evolving – a fact made especially clear when we take a look at historical documents and note how writing norms have shifted over the years. The further back we go, the bigger the shift. The Declaration of Independence, for example, represents a version of English that is noticeably different than that which we use to communicate today.

What are the main grammatical differences between Thomas Jefferson’s version of English and our own? Read on to learn more.

The unusual writing style is one of the first things that many modern readers notice about the Declaration of Independence. Phrases and clauses are stacked together in sentences that threaten to become run-ons, and Jefferson was obviously in love with colons, semicolons, and dashes. The writing is also very persuasive, rational, and formal, using straightforward arguments to support moral principles. Government documents today tend to be dry and technical few would read them voluntarily.

Among the most troublesome of grammar nuances is the distinction between “that” and “which.” To summarize, “that” is used when the content that comes afterwards is necessary to the meaning of the sentence, otherwise known as a restrictive clause. “Which,” on the other hand, is used when non-essential information is being added to the sentence. The Chicago Manual of Style online has a great explanation and examples of how this works in practice.

In the Declaration of Independence, “which” is frequently used where “that” would be more appropriate (were the document to be revised today):

“…to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…”

“…they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Why is this? Well, there are two things going on. First, this grammar distinction is relatively new. Second, even today, British English and American English are on different wavelengths when it comes to the use of “that” and “which.” In 1776, American English had yet to separate very much from its British roots.

British English vs. American English

Speaking of “that” vs. “which,” another reason that the Declaration of Independence reads strangely is that, in 1776, British and American English had yet to become distinct forms. All English was still British English, but change was beginning to happen. Declaring independence from England most definitely helped that process along. Today, of course, English is a truly international language, with dozens of variations.

In the 21 st century, we try to write in a way that doesn’t exclude or disempower any gender, race, or other group. Two centuries ago, we hadn’t quite reached that level of awareness. That’s why it’s not surprising to see phrases such as:

“…all men are created equal.”

“…Governments are instituted among Men…”

“…mankind are more disposed to suffer…”

In 1776, men ruled the world, so it seemed completely natural write using these masculine nouns. If we were gathering today with the purpose of writing a similar document, readers would probably see more words like “humanity,” “people,” and “society,” as these get the same idea across without ignoring half the population.

Spelling and Capitalization

Make no mistake: a few words here and there in the Declaration of Independence are absolutely misspelled by today’s standards. “Hath shewn,” “compleat,” and “Brittish” are the main offenders. The spelling of these words reveals a connection to the Middle English of Chaucer’s time. Regardless of the time period, spelling has always been a (sometimes unfair) way for people to judge others.

The non-standard capitalization of key words, on the other hand, functions to heighten emphasis and dramatic effect. Examples of the liberal use of capitalization in the Declaration of Independence include:

“Free and Independent States”

Although the Declaration of Independence was drafted in June, 1776, only a few things stick out to strict grammarians as “wrong” by today’s standards. But as a whole, the text simply sounds strange to readers today.

Do you think that important documents, like the Declaration of Independence, should be updated to reflect today’s language standards?


Coffin, C. (1998). Reconstruals of the Past: Settlement or Invasion? The Role of Judgement Analysis. Paper presented for the American Association for Applied Linguistics. Retrieved from

Hasan, R. (2011). Language and Education. Learning and Teaching in Society. Collected Works of Ruqaiya Hasan. Vol. 3. J. Webster (Ed.). Equinox Publishers

Martin, J. & White, P. (2005). The Language of Evaluation: Appraisal in English. Palgrave Macmillan

Watch the video: Το δίψηφο αι - Η μικρή ιστορία του α και του ι (June 2022).


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