GRAMMAR: a generalized set of linguistic rules corrupted by chaotic irregularity

A grammar is an exception-riddled attempt to codify the written version of a spoken language. It is a set of chaotic rules trying to simplify the scripted environment of a functioning, evolving articulated language whereby acceptable word variations and associations are catalogued according to circumstance. The grammatical rules however do not define the language. The chaotic environment and changes of the everyday spoken language ensures that the structured written version will always be phase-lagged behind. Ironically, whilst grammarians might cheerfully concur that such evolution is continuous, there is no shortage of self-appointed curators of a language, who view any change as the degradation of an imagined linguistic purity.

A syntax is an inflexible set of operational rules, so that it is less appropriate to classify it as a grammar. Languages with an artificially restricted domains like computer software, mathematics and symbolic logic usually have a set of intransigent rules, protocols and conventions which have come to be called their 'syntax'. Violation of the rules of syntax are usually logically and operationally terminal. Such rigorous inflexibility is not a grammatical characteristic.

Whilst general patterns can be formalized to assist in the mastery of the written form of a language, the grammar can never be black and white. Determining the word classifications of a grammatically valid sentence like dreams are just as coloured as white dreams... cannot be determined solely by examining the relationships of the words to one another. It is the context which determines whether 'black' and 'white' are nouns or adjectives. If the context is that of dark and disturbing nightmares then 'black' is an adjective. 'Black' describes the dreams. If the context is that of political aspirations, then 'black' is a more of a noun. The dreams belong to the community of 'blacks'.

Historically, when a spoken language acquired a written alphabetic version, any devised grammar concentrated on defining the internal structure of the written form. The grammar became preoccupied with attempting to label any set of juxtaposed characters, separated from other characters by spaces, as a word requiring a defined relationships with other words. It seemed necessary to define and label all the contexts in which individual words such as 'an' and 'to' occur, when in fact groups of characters... within which there happen to be spaces... actually often function as a linguistic entity. Word-groups such as 'put an end to' , and 'pissed off' for example actually function in communication as a word-unit, since the former is more or less equivalent to the single word 'terminate' and the second to the single word 'annoyed'. Such structural grammars have given insufficient importance to the function the words are attempting to perform.

A functional grammar would rather describe a sentence by classifying words and word groupings in terms of intended communication functions. In the context of an intended communication every word or group of words performs a function. A number of wordfunctions are clearly identifiable in all languages, even though particular words may play hide and seek with respect to the function they choose to facilitate. There are always start-stop and request-acknowledge 'protocols'. There are always 'indicators' pointing to various sorts of entities. There are always words with 'classifying' and 'property' functions. A functional grammar can stay more in touch with the spoken language by keeping track of what the words are trying to do, rather than what relationship the word is deemed to have with other words. It is more concerned with compost, stakes, pruning and produce of the vegetable garden, than with the layout lines, formal relationships, and species placings of landscape design.