There are two things that are fundamental to English language grammar. First, it’s ever changing. Second, there are as many forms of English grammar as there are nations that speak it as an official language. As of today, that’s forty-six nations. It’s also the official language of the European Union and the unofficial language of world commerce.
English has three advantages. First, it is a very flexible, fluid language that allows itself to change easily as society changes. Second, in comparison to many languages in the world, it is relatively easy to grasp the fundamentals, pronounce and to write. Thirdly, and highly significant when facing the task of understanding English grammar, it is the language that is the most ease to swear in.
The roots of the English language come from west Germany. The Angles and the Saxons from that area migrated and settled on the island. They displaced the Celts but absorbed some of their pronunciation and words. To this mixture, we throw in a base of Latin, a cup of Scandinavian, an ounce of French, a pinch of Spanish and a good dollop of a hundred other languages from far off lands. Stir well for a thousand years and you have the noble language of English. The language is in short, a hodgepodge.
The man responsible for the whole dilemma of English grammar was William Bullokar who in 1586 wrote the first English grammar book a Pamphet for Gramma. In his spare time, he also reformed English spelling most of which was his own invention. He used a thirty-seven letter alphabet. Yes, 37! William was a man of God. Latin was the language of the Church and therefore, it followed that English grammar must have its origins in Latin grammar. Unfortunately, none of the English root languages are in any way related to Latin. Thus the birth of a whopping big bugbear.
We’ve been trying to write a decent English grammar book ever since. By the end of the seventeenth century, no less than sixteen grammar books had been written. That works out to about one every seven years since Bullokar’s first attempt. By the nineteenth century, no fewer than nine hundred English grammar books had been published. The bugbear was getting bigger and bigger.
Phonetic and grammatical structure became a field of scientific study by the eighteen hundreds. Such studies one would have hoped would have slain the English grammatical bugbear in its tracks. No such luck. It was basically agreed that English was a very useful language but totally undefinable.
Alas, people keep trying. Every generation knows that they speak and write English correctly and the younger generation are illiterate. This belief is about the only thing we all agree on in English. In the twentieth century, the English bugbear stood on its hind legs and gave a might roar becoming the Godzilla of world grammatical structures. This coincided with the rise in power of America who decided that their particular form of English must be correct because they speak it. However, if you compare the top three or four grammar books currently popular in the US, you’ll discover that they don’t always agree and they certainly don’t agree with the other 45 nations of the world who speak a different form of English.
Each publisher an author works with is absolutely convinced that the grammar book that they grasp in their hands is The Truth. My advice is to just agree with them. Ignorance is bliss and that has worked quite well for a thousand years for the language of English.
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