"Grammar is a piano I play by ear ... "

Anything related to Biblical Greek that doesn't fit into the other forums.

"Grammar is a piano I play by ear ... "

Postby cwconrad » April 23rd, 2014, 12:59 pm

I came upon this quote when I solved a simple cryptogram in this morning's newspaper, then searched out the fuller text and source, which is Joan Didion's essay/lecture, entitled, "Why I Write". Here's the whole paragraph in question:

Grammar is a piano I play by ear, since I seem to have been out of school the year the rules were mentioned. All I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed. Many people know about camera angles now, but not so many know about sentences. The arrangement of the words matters, and the arrangement you want can be found in the picture in your mind. The picture dictates the arrangement. The picture dictates whether this will be a sentence with or without clauses, a sentence that ends hard or a dying-fall sentence, long or short, active or passive. The picture tells you how to arrange the words and the arrangement of the words tells you, or tells me, what’s going on in the picture. Nota bene.*
It tells you.

You don’t tell it.

I think one reason I found this so appealing is that it chimes in with my recently-acquired conviction that grammatical analysis is secondary to the reading and writing of a text. But there's something in that thought of the arrangement of words in a composition as a music played by ear that fascinates me. Any who may like to read the original essay/lecture can download it at http://people.bridgewater.edu/~atrupe/ENG310/Didion.pdf
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
… ἐπειδὴ καὶ τὸν οἶνον ἠξίους
πίνειν, συνεκποτέ’ ἐστί σοι καὶ τὴν τρύγα Aristophanes, Plutus 1085
cwconrad
 
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Re: "Grammar is a piano I play by ear ... "

Postby Stephen Hughes » April 23rd, 2014, 4:37 pm

Grammar is different from language.

It would be inappropriate for me to teach much grammar at all to lower level students of English. It is usual to show patterns, get the students to use them, while following the patterns closely, and a student would be considered successful if they could recognise, understand the significance of, and correctly produce the pattern in appropriate contexts WITHOUT HAVING TO REFER to the pattern any longer.

Those patterns are aids to learning not the aims of learming.

They would not be expected to explain the grammar abstractly when there aim is to learn to use the language. The IELTS test that I usually deal with, is a preparation for life and study in English speaking countries. It is a test of competency in the language, not of analyzing grammar.

Trainee teachers on the other hand would need to demonstrate mastery of grammar, and be able to describe grammatical patterns and their variation both by example and by "grammatical" explanation where required, to be considered successful.

I don't see Why Greek couldn't be taught as a language, rather than a grammar system.
"αἴκα" (The Spartan Ephors' reply to Philip II of Macedon) is even better than "nuts" (General Anthony McAuliffe reply to General Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz).
Stephen Hughes
 
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Re: "Grammar is a piano I play by ear ... "

Postby cwconrad » April 23rd, 2014, 5:26 pm

Stephen Hughes wrote:Grammar is different from language.

It would be inappropriate for me to teach much grammar at all to lower level students of English. It is usual to show patterns, get the students to use them, while following the patterns closely, and a student would be considered successful if they could recognise, understand the significance of, and correctly produce the pattern in appropriate contexts WITHOUT HAVING TO REFER to the pattern any longer.

Those patterns are aids to learning not the aims of learming.

They would not be expected to explain the grammar abstractly when there aim is to learn to use the language. The IELTS test that I usually deal with, is a preparation for life and study in English speaking countries. It is a test of competency in the language, not of analyzing grammar.

Trainee teachers on the other hand would need to demonstrate mastery of grammar, and be able to describe grammatical patterns and their variation both by example and by "grammatical" explanation where required, to be considered successful.

I don't see Why Greek couldn't be taught as a language, rather than a grammar system.

I don't think JD is really talking about analytical grammar at all; to me she seems to be saying that the "crafting" of readable and interesting writing isn't a matter of obedience to known rules, but to a sort of knack of putting into written text the "picture" in the writer's mind.

The open question is the extent to which analytical grammar plays a role in the acquisition of the ability to speak and write a language. My inclination is rather to think that what Aristotle said about ethics is applicable to grammar. People need to learn to behave properly before they are capable of understanding the whys and wherefores of right behavior; in the same manner, people need to learn to communicate in a language properly before they can grasp the whys and wherefores of "good" grammar. That's why it's somewhat perverse to suppose that the proper way to teach (ancient) Greek is to offer grammatical instruction and to practice converting the alien text into one's native language.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
… ἐπειδὴ καὶ τὸν οἶνον ἠξίους
πίνειν, συνεκποτέ’ ἐστί σοι καὶ τὴν τρύγα Aristophanes, Plutus 1085
cwconrad
 
Posts: 1306
Joined: May 5th, 2011, 5:52 pm
Location: Burnsville, NC 28714


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