No formal theory for my language

One notable failing of my schooling (they did pretty well by me on most fronts) is that no one really taught me about grammar.

I remember at nine or ten going through passages and underlining verbs in red and nouns in blue, but the subject didn’t really come up again for five or six years, and when it did it was in French, not English.

Mme, perhaps not unreasonably, assumed we would know the difference between a perfect and imperfect future (so many epic answers to that one), and we all nodded dutifully and learnt the words, without ever understanding why they were different.

This hasn’t really impaired my life much, despite the fact that scribing keeps a roof over my head. As long as you write things that makes sense, no one cares much if you can explain the importance of the subjunctive mood.

Trouble is, I’m starting to care. I am reading Growth and Structure of the English Language by Otto Jespersen and about a third of it is going straight over my head.

Apart from anything else, this strikes at my vanity – it’s not often I read something I can’t understand (I read a book about Spinoza once that confused me more then I suspect just reading Spinoza would have done).

I also feel like really, truly understanding the structure of the things that I say and write would give me some sort of key to their identity. It’s about more than just word, and using them properly. Language is a record of how and why we’ve ended up where we are. That’s something I’d really like to try and grasp.


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