Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Should we care about incomplete verbs and noun cases?

It wasn't until the above collection of vintage school books came into my hands that I considered the fact that "became" is an incomplete verb as it needs a word following it to complete the sense, for example: "She became angry" ("She became" wouldn't really make any sense).

I also found out from these school books that English has an element of noun cases (like German), although it doesn't really affect the language at all except for in the possessive. Cases (come from Latin) and reveal the relationship of one noun to another in the sentence, and in a language like German, articles, pronouns and adjectives are inflected to indicate this relationship (these inflections are also dependent on gender)... never mind, thankfully, English, is much simpler.

I know I'm a little weird about grammar, but I read this with great interest. This particular book was aimed at Standard 7 & 8 (now called Grade 9 & 10). It states quite cheerfully: "We have now dealt with all the cases used in English (or not used - my words). They may be summarised as follows:
  • nominative case - noun or pronoun, subject of a sentence
  • accusative case - noun or pronoun, object of a sentence, noun or pronoun following a preposition
  • genitive case - noun or pronoun showing possession
  • dative case - noun or pronoun acting as indirect object of a sentence"
Then follows Exercise 4 which lists 20 sentences where students have to "name the case of the nouns and pronouns and give the reason". This task couldn't have demonstrated any better just how far language teaching has come since then! 

While it's quite easy to snigger at the pointlessness of learning extinct bits of grammar, I can't help wondering if maybe we haven't crossed the line too far in the opposite direction. I say this because it's not uncommon for students to get through school without knowing what a "verb" is (never mind transitive or intransitive). 

I've always thought there's something solid and dependable about a big, fat grammar book. It's not everyone's cup of tea, of course, and I do also acknowledge that the primary aim of learning language is communication. Grammar should therefore support this aim, not usurp it for its own sake. While learning grammar may appear intimidating at first, I believe that having a workable understanding of the structures of your home language is necessary in school. Not to mention how this knowledge in the home language makes the lives of second and foreign language teachers that much easier! 

So does that mean we should care about incomplete verbs and noun cases? I don't know... hmm, maybe a little? 

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