Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE ( © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford Handbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 16 June 2021

(p. xxiii) Introduction

1 Introduction

This volume aims to provide an authoritative, critical survey of current research and knowledge in the field of English grammar, where ‘grammar’ is used in the sense which encompasses morphology (the principles of word formation) and syntax (the system for combining words into phrases, clauses, and sentences).

This handbook is not, however, intended to be a grammar of English. While it includes descriptive coverage of core topics in English grammar, it differs from a typical grammar in several ways, and casts its net much wider. First, it devotes considerable attention to rival analyses of particular areas of grammar, and the evidence and arguments for these analyses. Second, it addresses foundational areas of research methodology and different theoretical approaches to grammar, enabling readers to take a more informed and critical approach to grammatical descriptions and current research. Third, it covers important areas of extension beyond ‘core’ grammar: the relationship of grammar to other areas of the language (lexis, phonology, meaning, and discourse); and grammatical variation over time, across genres, and among regional dialects and World Englishes. We discuss the rationale for our approach in more detail in the next section.

2 Rationale

Ever since William Bullokar’s Pamphlet for Grammar was published in 1586, countless grammars have been produced, with eighteenth-century authors being particularly productive (Linn 2006). Each of these grammars is in many ways unique. Thus while Bullokar (1586: 53) opined that English did not have much grammar (‘As English hath few and short rules for declining of words, so it hath few rules for joining of words in (p. xxiv) sentence or in construction’; cited in Michael 1987: 324), other grammarians struggled with the question of how many word classes to recognize. This led to accounts in which there were only two or three word classes, and others in which there were many, such that by 1800 there were fifty-six different systems of word classes (Michael 1970). What we find, then, from early times, is that grammars present very particular, often idiosyncratic, analytical views of English. This situation has continued right up to the present. One needs only to compare the grammars of Jespersen (1909–1949), Quirk et al. (1985), McCawley (1998), and Huddleston and Pullum (2002), to name but four, to see how the syntax of the same language can be analysed in very different ways. For example, in Jespersen we find very distinctive terminology and a unique analytical framework, many elements of which were later adopted by theoretical linguists. We also find novel analyses in Quirk et al. (1972, 1985), and this framework is perhaps the most influential in the field of language teaching. McCawley’s grammar is different again: here it is obvious that the author was a Generative Semanticist, which resulted in analyses that are often surprising, idiosyncratic, and highly original. Finally, Huddleston and Pullum, like Quirk et al., build on the tradition, but often base their analyses on recent theoretical work in linguistics, especially Chomskyan grammar and phrase structure grammar. Their work is characterized by numerous new analyses in many areas of grammar, such as the treatment of conjunctions and prepositions.

Anyone who reads or consults these grammars (and others) could be forgiven for sometimes feeling somewhat bewildered by the different analyses that can be found in the literature for one and the same phenomenon. As an example, consider the structure of English noun phrases. An ostensibly simple NP like the cats receives quite different analyses in terms of which element is the head. Traditional grammars regard the noun as the head, whereas modern generative work assumes that the determiner is the head (resulting in a DP, rather than an NP). As another example, the treatment of auxiliary verbs in the two most widely used grammars of English, namely Quirk et al. (1985) and Huddleston and Pullum (2002), is radically different. The former regard auxiliaries as ‘helping verbs’ which are dependents of a lexical verb (the so-called dependent-auxiliary analysis), whereas the latter, influenced by early generative work (e.g. Ross 1969, Pullum and Wilson 1977), regard auxiliaries as ‘catenative verbs’ with their own complement-taking properties (the so-called catenative-auxiliary analysis). Analytical differences of this kind are quite widespread in these two grammars, despite the fact that they are rather close to each other in conceptual outlook. Differences in approach and analysis are amplified when two different (theoretical) frameworks are involved, for instance Generative Grammar and Cognitive Grammar. The former takes structure as primary (‘autonomous syntax’), whereas the latter takes meaning to be fundamental. Recent work in the various versions of Construction Grammar has resulted in further developments in English grammar.

In this handbook we have asked authors to show how approaches to the same set of data depend on the theoretical framework an analyst chooses to deploy. We believe that this book will help readers to come to grips with different treatments of the core areas of English grammar, and thus to develop a more refined and informed knowledge of (p. xxv) the language. It will help to create a generation of linguists who can look beyond the frameworks that they are familiar with, so as to become more open-minded scholars who are conversant with the rich analytical tradition of English.

3 Organization

The handbook is divided into five parts. Parts I and II survey different methodological and theoretical approaches to grammar respectively, providing essential foundations to enable readers to take a more informed and critical view of grammatical analyses and research.

Part I begins with a chapter on the history of English grammar writing since the eighteenth century, providing a broader context for later chapters. This is followed by three contributions on methodological issues pertaining to the contemporary study of grammar. It is important—in a book that aims to offer accounts of rival analyses of particular areas of grammar—to help readers understand which argumentative techniques and research methods can be used to arrive at particular analyses.

Part II of the book (‘Approaches to English grammar’) offers readers a concise introduction to different linguistic frameworks. The chapters in this part provide coverage of the major types of theoretical approach that have been taken to English grammar, and that readers are likely to encounter in the literature. To make Part II more approachable and helpful for readers, we have grouped related frameworks together under one heading. For example, the chapter on dependency approaches covers Valency Grammar and Hudson’s Word Grammar, and the chapter on functional approaches covers e.g. Dik’s Functional Grammar, as well as Hallidayan grammar and its derivatives. Each chapter illustrates how the approach in question is applied to particular areas of English grammar. Included in this part is a chapter which specifically covers different theoretical approaches to morphology.

Part III of the book complements Part II in covering all the core areas of English grammar, including morphology. Contributors were asked to pay particular attention to major areas of controversy between rival analyses in different frameworks, and to the evidence that has been used to support them.

Part IV is about the relationship between grammar and other areas of linguistics, specifically lexis, phonology, meaning, and discourse. Recent decades have seen innovative and fruitful research in these fields, which deserve coverage in the handbook. This part of the book is intended to benefit readers who would like to find out more about domains of linguistics other than the field they work in. These areas of relationship are sometimes treated in contrasting ways in different theoretical approaches and, in keeping with the overall aims of the handbook, contributors to this part were asked to discuss some of these differences.

Part V covers grammatical variation and change, another area that has received increasing attention over recent years. Most of the book is concerned with the common (p. xxvi) core of standard English, as used in countries where English is an official language. However, this final part of the book looks at variation among different regional dialects and global varieties of English, as well as variation in different genres of English and in literature. In addition, this part includes a chapter on grammatical change over shorter and longer time periods. This topic is closely related to that of variation, as varieties arise by processes of change, and genres also undergo change over time.

Bullokar, William (1586). William Bullokar’s Pamphlet for Grammar. London: Edmund Bollifant.Find this resource:

Linn, Andrew (2006). ‘English grammar writing’, in Bas Aarts and April McMahon (eds), The Handbook of English Linguistics. Oxford: Blackwell, 72–92.Find this resource:

Michael, Ian (1970). English Grammatical Categories and the Tradition to 1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

Pullum, Geoffrey K., and Deirdre Wilson (1977). ‘Autonomous syntax and the analysis of auxiliaries.’ Language 53: 741–88.Find this resource:

Ross, John R. (1969). ‘Auxiliaries as main verbs’, in W. Todd (ed), Studies in Philosophical Linguistics (Series 1). Evanston, IL: Great Expectations Press (online at this resource: