"Grammatical" Categories

From: Kevin Smith (kgs@iafrica.com)
Date: Sun Sep 19 1999 - 04:25:51 EDT

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<DIV><FONT color=#000000 size=2>Dear friends,</FONT></DIV>
<DIV><FONT color=#000000 size=2></FONT>&nbsp;</DIV>
<DIV><FONT color=#000000 size=2>I have followed Carl Conrad's (in particular,
though not only) comments about so-called grammatical categories and
categorising with keen interest. Although I feel out of my depth commenting on
the matter, I want to make one or two observations from a student's
<DIV><FONT color=#000000 size=2></FONT>&nbsp;</DIV>
<DIV><FONT color=#000000 size=2>Firstly, Carl's caution against the
artificiality of the complex descriptive-classificatory systems employed by some
grammars is well received and is quite clearly correct. For example, one could
easily apply a similar method to English and come up with, for instance, 20-30
categories describing how &quot;of&quot; is used (as is done with the genitive
case). However, such categories would be very artificial since no English
speaker consciously uses such categories. Instead his meaning is intuitively
grasped by his audience.</FONT></DIV>
<DIV><FONT color=#000000 size=2></FONT>&nbsp;</DIV>
<DIV><FONT color=#000000 size=2>Secondly, in spite of the artificial nature of
the categories in question, an awareness of the various
*<STRONG>functions</STRONG>* that, say, a genitive noun or a participle can
convey is very helpful to those of us who don't have an instinctive feel for
Greek as we do for our own language. Awareness of what a given construction
could mean helps one to make sense of it. If understood functionally, various
categories can serve as valuable clues to guide one's thinking. As long as they
are understood functionally, as guides to meaning, they can be
<DIV><FONT color=#000000 size=2></FONT>&nbsp;</DIV>
<DIV><FONT color=#000000 size=2>Thirdly, the danger underlying the
descriptive-classificatory approach is that Greek students (like myself) tend to
get the impression that the categories are an inherent part of the Greek
language rather than a functional description of how the language is used in
different contexts. When I first read Wallace's <EM>Greek Grammar Beyond the
Basics,</EM> I literally thought Greek had 43 different kinds of genitive and 7
different kinds of perfect tense (I don't know if it was Wallace's intent to
create that impression; that's just how I interpreted him). Greek seemed to be a
completely different and much richer language than English. The result of my
erroneous understanding of the nature of Greek was that finding the correct
label for a given construction became the goal of my study of the GNT. How
<DIV><FONT color=#000000 size=2></FONT>&nbsp;</DIV>
<DIV><FONT color=#000000 size=2>Thanks Carl for your thought provoking comments
that have opened my eyes to the artificial nature of descriptive categories. I
shall continue to be a big fan of Wallace's grammar, but will use it more wisely
knowing (English &quot;causal participle&quot;, right?!) that his categories are
not part of the language itself.</FONT></DIV>
<DIV><FONT color=#000000 size=2></FONT>&nbsp;</DIV>
<DIV><FONT size=2>Kevin Smith</FONT></DIV>
<DIV><FONT size=2>Doctoral student</FONT></DIV>
<DIV><FONT size=2>University of Stellenbosch</FONT></DIV>
<DIV><FONT size=2>South Africa</FONT></DIV></BODY></HTML>


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