It’s yellow everywhere in Canberra – it’s Wattle Day. Meanwhile, inside the honeycomb Coombs building at ANU, the grammar-writing group wrestled with Ulrike Mosel’s article, ‘Grammaticography: The art and craft of writing grammars’, in Catching language: The standing challenge of grammar writing (Eds. Felix K. Ameka, Alan Dench, Nicholas Evans, Mouton de Gruyter, 2006, pp.41-68).
The name ‘Grammaticography’, while way way behind in the ‘most elegant word of the day’ competition, leads into the nice comparison made by Mosel between preparing dictionaries and preparing grammars. Front matter, macro structure, microstructure and all. It also led to us thinking about the growing fuzziness of the boundary between lexicon and grammar- all those Advanced Learners Grammars with heaps of information about subcategorisation, or the OED with its definitions of suffixes, all those grammars with information about the meanings of words.
One thing that grammars have over most dictionaries however, is the notion of publishing an accompanying set of texts. Falsifiability has traditionally been more of a concern for grammarians than for lexicographers. We all agree it’s a good thing to publish glossed texts so that readers can check out the hypotheses proposed in the grammar, and expressed by the glossing. The classic example is Jeffrey Heath’s careful analysis of R. M.W. Dixon’s Dyirbal texts (HEATH, J. 1979. Is Dyirbal ergative?. Linguistics 17, 401-463) to argue against DIxon’s claim about Dyirbal being syntactically Ergative. Can anyone think of further examples?
We were all taken with the importance of considering who is going to read the grammar. This inevitably leads to the question of whether to write a comprehension/decoding/semasiological grammar, like most reference grammars, or a production/encoding/onamasiological grammar, like many learners’ grammars.
It also leads to the question of how much effort one should put into justifying categories, hypotheses and assumptions. One of the group had endured a referee’s report saying his grammar was too argumentative. Just give us the conclusions and get on with it! Assuming that we DO need some justification – what should we justify – all categories? All points which previous authors have offered alternative accounts of? And where? Footnotes, marginalia, separate chapters, boxes in 10 point type.
And it leads to the question of how to represent variation in grammars – differences relating to time (earlier stages of the language), to geography (dialect), and to register (where does recipe syntax go?).