The world of grammar

Passed on by Paul Armstrong on Facebook, this illustration from the Grammarly site:

This is to accompany Stephen Watkins Clark’s A Practical Grammar: in which Words, Phrases, and Sentences are Classified According to their Offices, and their Relation to Each Other. Illustrated by a Complete System of Diagrams (1847).

( bills itself as “an automated proofreader and your personal grammar coach. Check your writing for grammar, punctuation, style and much more.”)

As for Clark’s grammar (which ran through several more editions through the 19th century), here’s what Karl Hagen’s Polysyllabic site says about it:

In the United States there are currently two major varieties of diagrams in use to represent sentence structure: traditional diagrams, used more or less exclusively in junior high school and high school classrooms, and tree diagrams, the most common method used by professional linguists.

The traditional system is no longer as popular as it once was, but it is still to be found in the back of many schoolbooks. Such diagrams are known as Reed-Kellogg diagrams, named for Alonzo Reed and Brainerd Kellogg, who described their method in two books first published in the 1870s: Graded Lessons in English (1875) and Higher Lessons in English (1877). These are the diagrams with slanted lines and other oddly shaped structures extending quaquaversally to the edges of the page that your ninth-grade English teacher may have forced you to draw them if she was a traditionalist.

(Quaquaversally ‘in all directions’ (chiefly in geology), according to OED3 (Dec. 2007), which gives as the etymology for quaquaversal: < classical Latin quāquā versus ‘on all sides’.)

… Reed and Kellogg were not the first to represent sentence structure visually, nor did their system immediately replace all others. The Reed-Kellogg method only won out after a period of competition among different schemes. This early history, however, is essentially unknown today. Reed-Kellogg diagrams are a tool of textbooks, and as Thomas Kuhn noted, textbooks tend to efface the history of their subject. Nor have there been many contemporary writers who have taken an interest in the topic. Kitty Burns Florey published a popular account, Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog, which contains modest historical detail, extensive speculation, and some significant errors.

… The following pages represent notes for an article I am writing on the topic, including a scan of a substantial portion of the earliest attempt to provide a systematic scheme for diagramming, Clark’s Practical Grammar (1847).

… I do want to add that I present these systems for their historical interest. I do not recommend that anyone try to use these to understand English grammar directly. They are completely outdated and contain assertions about English grammar that are demonstrably false. Trying to teach yourself grammar from one of these books would be like trying to learn physics from a nineteenth-century textbook. Phlogiston is interesting to study if you want to know how people of the past thought, but it would be silly to cling to it as a way of explaining things now.

More on Clark’s system of diagramming in a Language Log piece last month by Mark Liberman.

But the diagram above isn’t a sentence diagram; it’s a chart of the analytical system in Clark’s book, which is notably Latin-based (see especially Participle as one of the parts of speech).

A final note, on the word etymological in the title of the chart. Etymology‘s etymology takes the word back to Latin etymon (and its Greek precursor), which has three senses, according to OED2:

(1) the ‘true’ literal sense of a word according to its origin; (2) its ‘true’ or original form; (3) hence, in post-classical grammatical writings, the root or primary word from which a derivative is formed

In its history in English, etymology has uses for the synchronic derivation of words and for their diachronic derivation, not always clearly distinguished. From OED2, two senses of the first sort:

The process of tracing out and describing the elements of a word with their modifications of form and sense. [first cite 1588]

An instance of this process; an account of the formation and radical signification of a word. [first cite a1464]

And one that leans towards diachrony, especially when you look at the cites:

The facts relating to the formation or derivation (of a word). [first cite 1447]

And then the modern, entirely diachronic sense:

That branch of linguistic science which is concerned with determining the origin of words. [first cite 1646]

In the midst of these is the sense that Clark used:

Grammar. That part of grammar which treats of individual words, the parts of speech separately, their formation and inflections. [first cite 1592]

Clark’s analytical system was quite complex, but it was in line with other grammatical writings of the time, and (as Mark Liberman noted in his posting) it was considerably more sophisticated than the linguistic analysis that students (even graduate students in English) are taught these days.

One Response to “The world of grammar”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Wilson Gray on Facebook:

    Does nothing else about this sentence catch your attention? “These are the diagrams with slanted lines and other oddly shaped structures extending quaquaversally to the edges of the page that your ninth-grade English teacher may have forced you to draw them if she was a traditionalist.”

    Reply from Dennis Preston:

    Two notices: linguists will notice the resumptive pronoun; language mavens will hypercorrect “if she was” to “if she were.”

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