LANGUAGE, GRAMMAR TEACHING, AND BEAUTY
1. LANGUAGE IS BEAUTIFUL
As the saying goes a thing of beauty is a joy forever. Beauty attracts people, beauty maddens people, beauty inspires people, beauty in its extremity will even kill people metaphorically, or even in physical reality. This beauty is experienced not only with respect to human beings, but in relation to all things perceived by the five sense organs and the sixth sense. But the beauty of language, which is the tool for human communication, which functions as the social link between the members of a society and those from different societies, is very deep. For men and women, language remains the most powerful weapon for defence and offence. Thus, language is the greatest creator, protector, and destroyer, and in this it may be comparable to the status of the holy trinity of Hindu mythology, Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva. It is the supreme tool for all human beings.
2. CREATIVE ASPECTS OF LANGUAGE
Language creates beautiful literary marvels, which remain eternal masterpieces influencing the lives of people.
Language creates and protects because it maintains people with a beautiful style and nuances to bring cohesion in spite of diversity within a socially hierarchical world.
Language destroys, because bad language hurts the listeners/readers, and the speakers/writers lose their face, name and societal standing.
3. LANGUAGE AS A POWERFUL TOOL
Language has no equal, let alone a rival. Language can and does absorb the beauty of a thing/being just as the blotting paper does with the ink. Even very ordinary thing can be bestowed with the greatness of beauty by using language. Sometimes even the most beautiful thing can be word-pictured using language and made as the least attractive and unworthy of appreciation.
4. FACTORS THAT HELP DEVLOP THE BEAUTY OF LANGUAGE
All these depend on the caliber of the speakers/writers (communicators). Thus beauty is not only perceived/appreciated, it can be created/bestowed, protected and destroyed. But to do this one needs extremely marvellous skills in language.
The beauty of a language, many think, is mostly due to the use of appropriate words in suitable contexts. Beauty of a word is in the finer shades of its meanings as well as in its structural formation - the constituent sounds/letters - pleasing to the ears and eyes reaching thus the layers of human minds.
This is the reason why writers are admired or even worshipped. They work miracles using words. They give life and super powers to their words to move the world.
5. ORDER AND BEAUTY
In language, there is beauty because there is order. Only if there is order people can appreciate. Only if the order is there people can communicate.
This order has to be there with reference to all the constituents of language, beginning from sound/letter to words to phrases to clauses to sentences. If there is any speck of disorder, then, there will be gaps in communication - in the shades of meaning and the differences they bring about. It will then affect the responses of the receiver of the message, whether a listener or a reader. It is this quality of language which the creative writers exploit to the maximum degree to put a stamp of their own and impress the readers.
Order means the way in which the letters are arranged, the way each sound is to be pronounced, the way different combinations of letters constitute different words, the way in which different words form different sentences, which lead to different types of discourses.
6. GRAMMATICAL CATEGORIES AND BEAUTY
In any given language, there are different types of word classes, which fall into different grammatical categories. The characteristics of each grammatical category have their own order. The order dictates the choice of the occurrence of one particular category of words in combination with the other categories. What are the elements, which can co-occur in a sentence, or what are the words, which can occur in whichever place, either before a word or after that word, or even inside a single word - such matters are regulated by the order.
This order will be different from language to language, and therein lies the beauty of each language. For example, usually the grammatical categories consist of nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, interjections, pronouns, etc. All languages need not have all these. One category of words sometimes can function in more than one way. It means that the same word can function as a noun and also as a verb. It also happens that a word changes its status of being a member of one particular category when its position in the sentence is changed. It gets a different color, or a different shade.
7. MOVEMENT FROM ONE CATEGORY TO ANOTHER
There is also the other phenomenon in which the words from one category can be converted to become the members of another category by changing the position, by the addition of a particular marker (suffix, prefix, or infix), or deletion of a part of its body structure, etc. This results in a category of different sections of members. For example, by the addition of a derived noun marker, we can create new words, which are nouns from other nouns.
This new word is called a derived noun - arrived at by the addition of different markers to nouns. Such derivations and inflections result in a particular pattern. In such cases, speakers cannot completely change the process, exercising their deliberate freedom to mark their individual stamp. But they can extend the common rule to new nouns to create new derived nouns by the addition of the derived noun marker, especially when the occasion demands it and when the phonological structure does not go against the total concept of the formation of the same. Writers make such new words and use them in their sentences.
8. SELECTIONAL RESTRICTIONS HELP DEVELOP BEAUTY
Each category of words has its own selectional restrictions, and, within each category, each member has its own selectional restrictions. Thus when the general category of adjectives precedes the nouns, the adverbs precede the verbs in a particular language. It is also true that, in the category of adjective itself, each adjective has its own area of operation. It can qualify a certain number and type of nouns and not the others.
Similarly each adverb has its own choice of verbs, which they can modify. In routine meaningful conversations, these general norms are to be observed. But in order to bring poetic beauty - the rarity of usage which ordinary communicators cannot violate - the norms of selectional restrictions could be altered. This is the way great literature is created in any language. It is also true that, to whichever extent the people can violate the normal rules of co-occurrence, to that extent greater beauty is obtained in that particular usage. For example, a particular noun, if it is a human noun, has its own restrictions for the use of adjectives and verbs, which can be used with it, but not with others.
Normally speaking one cannot use non-human nouns with particular adjectives. But in order to bring some special effect in our communication we also really break this conventional usage norm and use it in a different way to bring colour to communication. For example, in ordinary contexts the human noun baby normally can take any number of human verbs (actions possible) but not non-human verbs like bloom, or wither. But to bring beauty, the communicators violate this rule and give baby the verb 'bloom'. That is called the metaphoric usage. Thus the violation of a particular rule adds beauty to language.
9. CAPACITY TO CAUSE VIOLATIONS
The greater the capability to violate greater is the metaphoric effect. To which extent it could be indulged in, only the talented communicators know and they precisely do that. This is the difference from ordinary language and literary language. So, great violators become great writers. But the popularity of the writer depends on how the violations could be comprehended - the metaphoric success employed by the writers.
If every thing is taken to a reckless degree and to heights hard to comprehend, the layman's communication is also affected.
10. BEAUTY AND COMPREHENSIBILITY
Beauty, it is said, lies in the beholder's eyes. Similarly, appreciation of literature and fine arts also depend on the understandability and tastes of the people, and on the grammatical system.
Grammar of a language is nothing but a set of rules, which connect the sound system to the meaning system. The irrelevant sounds get the derived/intended meaning because of the rules which help interpret these.
Once the learners imbibe these relationships and the resultant presentation of language through violation of rules, they start bringing beauty to the form and the meaning.
11. DELIBERATE VIOLATIONS: SEED OF BEAUTY IS HIDDEN IN THE SYSTEM
Learners can be trained to manipulate the limits of such violations, which result in beauty.
Learners should approach the language or should be so trained to approach the language with the assumption that the seed of beauty is, indeed, hidden in the language system because beauty that is brought about by violations is possible only if there is an order which we can violate.
To mean something different by directing it to something else will result in beautification. In certain languages there is fixed word order like in English sentences. In languages like Malayalam the word order is flexible. In Malayalam copula sentences, for example, we can move the copula verb, which usually occupies the final position in the sentence to any other position. In that case, the difference in positions indicate that the word, to which the copula verb is added, gets the importance. For example, naan adhyaapika aaNu. 'I am a teacher'. naan aaNu adhyaapika, 'I am the teacher/It is I who am the teacher'.
Thus, a simple tool of communication can be made into a beautiful thing of joy because there is order, which creates a system and a pattern. This order presents things in a mundane level and the violation of it with derivable meaning adds beauty to it.
12. GRAMMAR IMPARTS THE BEAUTY OF LANGUAGE TO THE LEARNER
When language is taught/learned, the learner has to first understand the preferred order, the basic selectional restrictions and then the usages brought about by the violations of the normal. For language teaching, the normal order and the sets of selectional restrictions, the plausible manipulations, etc., have to be explained and drilled first and the materials prepared suitably for the same should be administered to impart the structural composition of the language.
To teach authentically means that we demonstrate that the grammar of a language imparts the beauty of the language to the learner. Language is for communication and that, if it has to be understood, it should have the proper system consisting of order, selectional restrictions, derivations etc. These things will essentially constitute the inner skeleton, the frame of the language without which it is impossible to convey anything.
Grammar is what links the expression and content sides of language. Grammar relates sound to meaning. In the Malayalam example given earlier naan adhyaapika aaNu will simply mean the statement 'I am a teacher' but if it is added to naan aanu adhyaapika will mean the subject naan 'I' will get extra emphasis and the sentence will mean that 'it is I who am the teacher and nobody else'.
13. MORE PROCESSES OF LEARNING THE BEAUTY OF LANGUAGE
The language user has to know this to use it in the appropriate contexts. He should what the usual word order is in that language for a simple statement. By violating it, one can bring another order to make special effect in the desired context. If the learner does not know the normal order, then he/she cannot make any change to add some extra beauty to his utterance. Such is the norm that one certainly has to know the norm to violate it for bringing beauty.
For any object with a definite or indefinite shape there has to be a format, an outline just as the living beings have a skeletal system to which the muscles, nerves etc., become a part in order to bring the shape and the normal movements necessary for ordinary life. People do exercises in addition to consuming healthy food to sharpen this system's functioning to acquire a healthy body. When extra flesh is accumulated, it affects the efficacy of the skeletal system and also results in ugliness.
14. UNWIELDY ORNAMENTATIONS OF LANGUAGE
Similarly extra and unwieldy ornamentation affect the beauty of a language. The skeletal system of living beings can be strengthened by eating healthy food and by doing exercises and also by an appropriate life style. If something in the skeletal system is affected not only the free movement is affected but also the person feels uneasiness and pain. Similarly the skeletal system of any language is its grammar. If there is any grammatical mistake communication will be fractured. Just as healthy food and exercises are needed to keep up the skeletal system, grammatical rules and pattern formation have to be observed for unfractured communication.
15. GOOD HEALTH AND GOOD BODY
As has been repeatedly told, exercises give body the desired result of good health. But many people do not like to do exercises considering the same as boring and time consuming. The warning of ill health does not bother them unless and until some serious illness/disability affects them or inflicts pain/ugliness. Similarly erroneous grammatical expressions land learners in troublesome/shameful funny situations. To avoid this situation, sufficient and timely exercises should be adopted.
People who are allergic to exercises may be interested in games. Games also provide enough exercises. The main difference between exercises and games is in their respective garbs. The difference is mainly in the format. An exercise is direct and it sounds like an order in the way it is put. A game is different from an exercise. In a game, in addition to having an order and objective and definite procedural rules like the ones we follow in physical exercises, there are interesting steps, time, space, money, fame, name, points to score, points to lose and a lot of excitement. Therefore, there can be spectators, listeners/viewers.
16. HOW IS EXCITEMENT GENERATED?
Compare a football game/cricket game to any free play. The excitement and thrill the viewers have in foot ball/cricket can be matched only with the enthusiasm of the players and the organizers of the game. Compared to that how many viewers can sustain their interest if they have to watch an exercise routine in the gym? When gymnastics is part of a competition it becomes a game attracting people's attention. Therefore, if some one has to teach grammar aesthetically, we have to deliver the goods in an interesting manner.
17. LANGUAGE GAMES, PROVERBS, AND RIDDLES
For the necessary practice of language items, drills and exercises are essential but with an imagination they can be converted as games. All over the world language teachers have been using different kinds of language games so that learners are well motivated and the desired positive learning takes place.
Riddles are excellent examples of language games existing in all languages. The folk literatures present tons of such riddles, which the native speakers tell to each other or listen to the narrators, for pleasure and to relieve themselves from the burden of their routine work. Children enjoy riddles as they throw challenges and function as brainteasers. Not only the informal speech world but in present day formal teaching contexts also teachers do use, and should use, riddles handed down by generations as supplementary materials. Also the teachers should instigate the learners to make riddles of their own from their experience of the modern world and its surroundings.
Same is the case with proverbs, which are frozen sentences and represent crystallized experience of a speech community in different contexts. As in the case of riddles, attempts can be made to create new proverbs too. This is a more difficult and not so natural process compared to the formation of riddles. But riddles, proverbs, and idioms are all ornamental processes to the body language bringing dramatic effect in communication contexts.
18. CULTIVATING ONE'S OWN STYLE
Beauty of grammar can be shown to exist in different sentence structures also. The knowledge of different structural patterns enables a speaker of a language or its new learners to notice/identify the speech/writing peculiarities of native speakers. It goes without saying that in any language a particular idea can be expressed in different sentence structures. But each will have its own characteristic shade of meaning and different speakers/writers do not necessarily use the same pattern.
In fact some cultivate their own styles in order to convey an idea using a particular sentence pattern itself. For example, in order to convey the meaning that 'I am learning Malayalam,' one can say naan Malayalam pathikkynnu, or naanaanu Malayalam pathikkunnatu, or naan malayalamaanu pathikkunnatu.
Actually speaking, the first sentence indicates a simple statement giving an idea without giving any extra emphasis to any word/chunk of meaning, which is a part of the grammatical whole. But in the second sentence, by shifting the copula verb aaNu to the subject, which is a pronoun, that word gets the emphasis and the sentence would mean, "It is I who am learning Malayalam (and not somebody else)." In the third sentence the emphasis is given to Malayalam by shifting and locating the copula verb aaNu to it. Then the sentence could mean, "It is Malayalam what I learn and no other language."
Normally speaking, all native speakers use these three sentences in appropriate contexts and when such sentences are required. But there are speakers who choose the second or the third variety of the above sentences even when it is not required where the simple first sentence is more than enough. They then purposely cultivate it as their style. The individual speakers/writers make their own preferences not only for the choice of words, metaphors, idioms, etc., but also for grammatical structures.
19. FINDING BEAUTY AND EXPERIENCING IT IN GRAMMATICAL STRUCTURE
That means they find beauty in a particular grammatical structure which in ordinary conversation others do not understand. But repetitive use of a particular style by a speaker/writer, especially when he/she is well known in society, in literature, film, or politics, will be identified with that person and appreciated by the commoners. That is why, one can say definitely that grammar can also be and is beautiful - every part of grammar has its own beauty and we can teach grammar aesthetically, enjoyably with active participation of the learners.
It may be observed perhaps by many that mother tongue learners in many cases, especially in the high school level, declare that grammar learning is boring. It is because they are introduced to their mother tongue grammar actually as the meta grammar - the technical terms and some statements of rules governing the inter-relationship between the grammatical categories. They are not exposed to the idea that, as native speakers, they have naturally acquired the actual grammar of their language automatically ever since they started speaking and exposed to the same since their first day in the world.
On the other hand, the second or the foreign language learners are very much bothered about the grammar of the second or foreign language they are learning. They are afraid that they will wrongly use the language (and grammar), if they are not told about the rules of behavior of the second language system. They are afraid that they will earn the ridicule or even reprimand from the native speakers. Many second language learners are so much conscious of the grammatical correctness of the second language that they forget that language is mainly a tool for communication. It is this attitude of the learners - the fear of grammar, which brings scope/hope to the language teachers to draw the attention of the learners to the beauty of grammatical statements.
20. THE FUNCTION OF GRAMMAR
Language games are born, thus, to picturise the beauty of the language constituents.
To substantiate the above, let us consider a few examples. In Malayalam, the flap 'r' and the trill 'R' are phonemic. There are many minimal pairs: Kari 'black/soot' kaRi 'curry', ciri 'smile' ciRi 'lip', cori 'shower', coRi 'scabies', tari 'particle', taRi 'loom', paara 'crowbar', paaRa 'rock', vira 'round worm', viRa 'shivering', etc.
In order to make the above phonemic difference known to the learners, many exercises in the form of drilling could be administered. But giving descriptions of funny incidents that could happen if a speaker mispronounces the flap 'r' as trill 'R' and vice versa will be very useful and the learners would appreciate the beauty of the situation caused by such confusion in the language.
One could make funny situations such as entering a small hotel and a Malayalam learner asking for a curry ended up pronouncing it as 'kari' instead of 'kaRi', and he gets pieces of charcoal/soot; a man who wants to make a simple statement to a girl 'I like your smile' ended up saying 'I like your lip' and getting unwanted rebuke.
21. TEACHERS CAN HELP EXPERIENCE THE BEAUTY OF LANGUAGE
The teacher can make many such situations for each pronunciation point and this draws the attention of the learners to the inherent beauty of language. If all phonemic and allophonic peculiarities can be thus picturised and cartoons made, all these will be a valuable mine of pronunciation games, which will certainly link grammar and beauty.
Metathesis, wrong assimilation/dissimilation patterns, wrong sandhi rule applications, tongue twisters, single breath sequential songs, coded language messages etc., can also be created in the pronunciation level itself. This, then, can be applied to the grapheme level and hundreds of games for the script level can also be prepared.
Shape similarity, order of hand movements in writing the letters, etc., also can lead to the creation of games. Coming to the word level, games can be prepared with respect to spelling, meaning, derivation, synonymy, antonym, derivation and usage, and compound formation. Phrases, clauses and sentences also lend themselves for the creation of games.
In fact each language item, which has an order, gives the scope to the language teacher to reveal the beauty of the underlining system of the language mechanism.
CLICK HERE FOR PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION.
INDIAN MULTILINGUALISM, LANGUAGE POLICY AND THE DIGITAL DIVIDE | CONTEXTUALIZING CLASSROOMS IN THE TRIBAL AREA SCHOOLS IN ORISSA: An Experiential Learning Process | STORY INTERPRETATION AND LANGUAGE LEARNING | LANGUAGE POWER - How It Progresses from Script to CD Rom | LANGUAGE, GRAMMAR TEACHING, AND BEAUTY | LANGUAGE NEWS THIS MONTH - English Words in Chinese; Indian Army Morale, Military Rule, and Democracy; English and Computer Industry; Robbing a Poet | BHARTRHARI - THE FATHER OF INDIAN SEMANTICS | OUTFITTING SECOND LANGUAGE LEARNERS OF ENGLISH IN INDIA - Structure, Role, and Function of a Workbook | HOME PAGE | CONTACT EDITOR
Central Institute of Indian Languages
Mysore 570006, India