Neil making mistakes although his willingness to

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Neil Smith and Deirdre Wilson of University College in London focused on one of the fundamental ideas of contemporary linguistics concerning language as a rule-governed system. To say that a language is rule-governed is like also saying that it can be described in terms of a grammar.

Therefore, the grammar of a language is a description of the rules of the language, rules of a kind that human beings are innately disposed to learn .These rules differentiate grammatical from ungrammatical sentences and provide explicit descriptions of grammatical sentences, including their meaning and pronunciation. Although everyone has his or her unique grammar, all grammars have some things in common because of genetic constraints on the kinds of grammars and hence languages that human beings can learn.

Languages change in time when it comes to comparing language with other evolutionary systems therefore, organic and inorganic might also be pursued. While all of these approaches have undoubted appeal, there is an obvious logical point to be made and that is one must be able to describe a language, at least in part, before going on to compare it with other systems.

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It is easy to see that speakers of a language often behave as if their language were rule-governed. Fluent speakers may however make mistakes in speaking, and when they do, they have no hesitation in correcting themselves. It is however also possible for a speaker to feel that others around him are making mistakes although his willingness to correct them will, in many cases, be tempered by considerations of politeness (Finegan 89).

A speaker who is willing to correct himself and others gives evidence that there is, for him, a right and a wrong way of saying things. However, it does not necessarily follow that in making these corrections he is applying a set of linguistic rules. He might, for example, be following a set of linguistic conventions, or habits, or customs, which he dislikes seeing disrupted.

So far, this may have seemed to imply that a grammar simply provides a means of registering and correcting mistakes. But the copy-editing function is an important one; however grammars are also concerned with the description of sentences which contain no mistakes at all.

However, one’s ability to understand a sentence does not depend on custom, convention or habit, all of which would imply that repeated encounters with a sentence would be necessary before its correct interpretation could be established.

Neither the ability to note a sentence as grammatical, nor the ability to produce or understand it seems to depend on prior encounters in this way. Conventions are also social constructs that takes two people to establish and operate a system of conventions. The rule-systems however, could easily be constructed and operated by a single individual.

When it comes to children, learning their first language, seem to be constructing their own rules but they get them wrong because they produce utterances that are ungrammatical from the adult point of view.

However, the number of verbs with an irregular past tense, and nouns with exceptional plurals, is rather small resulting in overgeneralization, invention of rules, on the basis of extremely limited data. Divergences between rule-systems are not just found in the cases of children who are still learning their language.

Fluent adults may find idiosyncrasies in their own language of which the most common are pronunciation and vocabulary. It has therefore been proved that no two adults possess exactly the same set of vocabulary items, pronounced in exactly the same way. This is however even true when it comes to syntactic rules (Fromkin 142).

A more extreme instance of adult idiosyncrasy in speech is noticed when it comes to people who have had a stroke, or have otherwise suffered damage to the brain resulting to speech loss or aphasia. The best definition of criterion of aphasia is that the rules normally characteristic of speech have broken down, leading the patient to produce utterances which depending on the severity of his case and the number and type of rules involved, may be inappropriate.

We have however been assuming that speakers of a language actually know the grammars which they use in producing and understanding sentences, correcting mistakes and so on. However, this assumption that speakers know grammars usually expressed as a claim that grammars are psychologically real pervades the whole of modern linguistic theory.


Learning a language as we have seen is equated with learning a grammar when knowing a language is equated to knowing a grammar. Linguistic differences between speakers are analyzed as differences in their grammars.

Works Cited

Finegan Edward. Language: Its Structure and Use. New York, NY: Cengage Learning. 2011. Print

Fromkin Victoria. An Introduction to Language. Boston, MA: Harcourt Publishers Group. 2011. Print

Categories: Languages


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