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Foundational Grammar Notions Needed for Language Study

Dear Professor Arguelles,

Would you have any material on what foundational general grammar and syntax notions are needed in order to efficiently learn any language and be able to make comparisons between languages? And if not, would you consider doing a video about that? For example, gender is an important notion because some languages have gendered nouns and others don’t, and within gendered languages (at least in French), you have to modify adjectives to fit the gender of the nouns they refer to.

Then there are all the different types of verb tenses, case (I still don’t really understand what that is myself), whether or not adjectives come before or after the nouns they modify, subject-verb-object syntax versus subject-object verb, etc. In other words, what grammar and syntax notions do I need to understand in a general way (as opposed to the grammar of specific languages) from the basics such as what is a noun and what is a verb up to more complex notions of case and syntax and agreement so that when I’m learning specific languages I have a mental infrastructure in place that will help me to understand the grammar of a new language I’m learning and also be able to compare it to the languages I already know?

I think this is something that is often taken for granted but a lot of us learn our native languages mostly by osmosis and don’t necessarily remember whatever notions of grammar we may have learned in elementary school. I hope this question makes sense to you. Thank you for all you share.

Best regards,

A. C.

My reply:

Dear Ms. A.C.

Thank you for writing to articulate what I know to be a concern for many, and what I believe should be a concern for many more.

Providing this much information in a single post or video would be impossible. That would require an entire book. And, thankfully, that book was written going on 80 years ago and so is widely available as a free e-book on the internet, though I think it well worth getting a physical copy given your interest in the subject matter. It is by Fredrick Bodmer and is called The Loom of Language. It covers all aspects of grammar with ample illustrations, and is designed specifically to help people learn multiple languages comparatively. It was written for the general public back during World War II and while I believe it should still be accessible (i.e., comprehensible) to the general public today, last fall I gave a series of mini-lectures based on another tried and true book, and I was thinking of doing another at some point using Bodmer’s book.

Please look for this and see if it answers your needs. Alternatively, one of the long-standing reasons given for learning Latin, particularly by the older grammar-translation method, was precisely to help students get a thorough understanding of the elements of grammar (often almost to the exclusion of the language itself, strange though that might seem). So, you might want to search down a high-school textbook for learning Latin from about 100 years ago or so and just look at the grammatical explanations there.

I hope this answers you questions, and I wish you all the best in your linguistic endeavors!

Best regards,

Alexander Arguelles

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My name is Alexander Arguelles. I have pursued foreign languages and literatures with a passion all my life. My goal is to share the knowledge and experience I have gained with others who would like to do the same. Find out more →

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