The history of grammar theory

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There does not appear to exist a generally accepted periodization of the history of English grammars, so we shall roughly divide it into two periods of unequal length, according to the general aims or objectives of the grammars appearing within these periods. The first is the age of prescientific grammar beginning with the end of the 16th century and lasting till about 1900. It includes two types of grammars which succeeded each other. The first type of grammars in the history of English grammars are the early prenormative grammars of English, beginning with William Bullokar's Bref Grammar for English (1585). By the middle of the 18th century, when many of the grammatical phenomena of English had been described, the early English grammars gave way (to a new kind of grammar, a

prescriptive (normative) grammar, which stated strict rules of grammatical usage, condemning those constructions and forms which it considered to be wrong or "improper", and setting up a certain standard of correctness to be implicitly followed by learners of English. The grammars of the second type still constitute the only kind of grammar in use in the practical teaching of English. By the end of the 19th century, when the prescriptive grammar had reached its highest level of development, when the system of grammar known in modern linguistics as traditional had been established, the appearance of new grammar, the scientific grammar, became possible. In contrast with prescriptive grammars, classical scientific grammar (the third type of grammar), according to the

explicitly stated views of its founders, was both descriptive and explanatory. As Sweet's grammar appeared in the last decade of the 19th century, we may take 1900 as the dividing line between the two periods and the beginning of the second period, the age of the scientific grammars of English (including three new types of grammars). During the first half of the present century an intensive development of this grammar has taken place. Classical scientific grammar has accepted the traditional grammatical system of prescriptive grammar, but, as has been mentioned, now we witness the final stage of its existence, for since the 1950's no new grammars of the scholarly traditional type seem to have appeared. The new types of English grammars, which appeared since the fifties are the

fourth type of grammar - structural or descriptive, which, in its turn, is becoming obsolete and is being supplanted by the fifth type of grammar - the transformational generative grammar. The linguistic theory represented by the last mentioned type of grammar is considered by many modern linguists to be the most fruitful approach to the description and explanation of the grammatical system of English, especially in the field of syntax. ENGLISH GRAMMARS BEFORE 1900 (THE FIRST PERIOD) Early (Prenormative) Grammars. Until the 17th century the term "grammar" in English was applied only to the study of Latin. This usage was a result of the fact that Latin grammar was the only grammar learned in schools ("grammar" schools) and that until the end of the 16th century

there were no grammars of English. One of the earliest and most popular Latin grammars written in English, by William Lily, was published in the first half of the 16th century and went through many editions. This work was very important for English grammar as it set a standard for the arrangement of material and thus Latin paradigms with their English equivalents easily suggested the possibility of presenting English forms in a similar way, using the same terminology as in Latin grammar. A striking example of the two approaches to the description of English is the divergence of views on the problem of English case system. Though Bullokar mentioned 5 cases and in a grammar published in 1749 and reprinted as late as 1819 (Th. Dilworth, A New Guide to the English Tongue) the number