Analysing the intro:
Grammar is about how to talk, listen, read, write and think.
Grammar defines well-formed shapes for explicit thought (which talking, listening, etc. are about). Grammar is useful because I don’t want to worry about whether my errors are coming from ambiguities about the right shapes for thought. Also, I don’t want to worry about struggling to communicate with others because we have a lack of common ideas about the right shapes for thought (and no direct means to rectify that).
Language has two main purposes, communication and organizing ideas.
There are many different and different types of language, so you can think about how each is adapted to communication and organising ideas.
English is a spoken and written language. There are forms of language like signing that I don’t know much about. There are art forms which arguably have a language, although that is more limited. Telling stories is a kind of language when you are being metaphorical. Literal elements of the story (people, objects, animals, locations, etc.) are used as symbols to represent (communicate) and organise ideas. Those literal elements don’t make much sense otherwise. Jordan Peterson talks about this. Here is where he talked about Sleeping Beauty. But stories typically depend a lot on other languages like English to deliver their message. That implies that languages can mix with each other.
Written language has a lot of modularity which makes it well-adapted to its purpose. You can organise ideas by grouping and separating them (into words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, sections, etc.). Which is useful. For example, it means that you can prescribe what kinds of interactions are not possible between two instances of a group. Words in different sentences cannot interact in certain ways. Those prescriptions are good because they can stop your thinking from being too chaotic and making spurious or irrelevant connections.
Another example of how modularity is useful is that it can help you think about an idea’s ‘resolution’. An idea’s resolution, relative to a goal, is the number of sub-ideas that are relevant to express in order to achieve that goal. (This is not well-defined if there are multiple ways to achieve a goal based on different (and a different number) of sub-ideas.) For instance, I might think: This idea X should fit into a chapter. If I had no clue about what a chapter was, I wouldn’t know as much about what was relevant to accomplish with expressing idea X.
Putting your ideas into sentences helps you understand them better and think more clearly, even if you never share those sentences with other people.
Sentences are special because they have a lot of explicit rules. There are less rules about e.g. how to structure a paragraph, or a whole book for that matter.
English is simpler than people think. Once you know what the patterns are, you can understand most writing while using only a small set of grammar concepts.
I have heard people complain because there are a lot of exceptions to how bits of words are pronounced in English, like “-ough”. That is an issue about spoken English not being simple. I have heard people complain about other stuff but I didn’t understand/wasn’t interested in it well-enough to remember. Elliot could be saying that English is simpler than what those people think.
This article focuses on major concepts and makes English simple. It doesn’t cover some typical details like verb tenses or commas.
Sounds good. I trust Elliot’s judgment about what the major concepts are.
Knowing how sentences work lets you be a better thinker and learner. People fluent in English intuitively know grammar. Usually their intuition works, but when something confuses them, then they get stuck. They don’t know how to consciously analyze sentences, step by step, to get unstuck.
This is my situation. It makes me feel weak and ineffectual that I can’t do conscious analysis. My default means of progress has been: Pay attention to how authors-I’d-expect-to-know-grammar write, and look for things they do that are different from what I’ve been doing. Then I might skim a webpage to see if it talks about the difference. Then I might make a small update.
But I don’t have a coherent system for understanding. I don’t have a robust framework, built from fundamentals, within which to explain things. That limits my progress. See my points earlier “Grammar is useful because […]”
Analysis is also easier to communicate to other people than intuition is. Clear, precise, conscious understanding, in words, gives you a powerful tool for thinking (in addition to intuition, which is also valuable).
People see grammar analysis as snotty, useless, ivory tower, and weird. People are content with a lot of ambiguity about grammar if resolving it wouldn’t change a general social dynamic. I am not satisfied with this.
Talking came first. Grammar rules (and writing) were developed based on how people talk. So grammar has many exceptions.
Why does developing grammar based on how people talk mean that the rules you develop will have many exceptions? People don’t learn to talk in a very systematic way. It is very free-form and intuitive. It is loose, and it would be hard to try to box it in with a clear set of grammar rules. Also, there are a lot of differences in how different groups of people talk. Putting those ways of talking together into an acceptable common standard is hard too. It would be a bit mix and match.
English has a bunch of special cases that don’t fit the rules nicely. So remember that there are exceptions to most of what I say about grammar. But the main concepts of grammar are usually correct and still really useful.
OK. I will be able to recognise and study the exceptions if I understand the main rules.
Because grammar imperfectly describes how people talk, experts disagree with each other about some grammar rules. Sometimes I’ll teach something different than what your teacher (or a book) said. I’ve looked at many different viewpoints and, using my philosophical expertise, made judgment calls about the most useful way to think about grammar.
I trust Elliot’s process. I don’t think that it is that important for me to study the experts’ disagreements right now.
Part 1 covers simple sentences. Part 2 covers complex sentences. Part 3 covers a few more concepts for understanding sentences. Part 4 covers outlining and question-based analysis. Part 5 discusses organizing ideas in English and how English influences your thinking.
OK, so it seems like each part will build upon the next.