Traditional grammar

Traditional grammar

As for traditional grammar, it has been defined as the linguistic discipline that tries to classify and place categories to words and other linguistic structures of a language . According to what the different theoretical sources indicate, traditional Grammar receives this name, because it is considered the heiress of the Western grammar tradition, that is, the theoretical receptacle where the different knowledge established from the ancient Greek schools and Latinas It is also the type of grammar taught in basic education, as well as when a non-native speaker tries to acquire a second language.

Objective of traditional grammar

Consequently, unlike descriptive grammar, traditional grammar is not interested in approaching the language, in order to understand and record the mechanisms by which it is governed, but rather takes language as the object of study, in order of being able to establish a classification and terminology with which to name the different categories that he conceived in his study. In this way, it becomes the Grammar where the majority of labels, names and classifications are generated, which builds a specialized terminology with which to study the study of the Language. However, these terms are used only in Basic Education, because Linguistics does not take them into account, as it is a bit far from the reality of this discipline today. Likewise, while prescriptive grammar draws on the terminology generated by traditional grammar, on its way to regulate the language; Descriptive grammar is gradually responsible for correcting and rethinking many of the precepts established by traditional grammar.

Disciplines derived from traditional grammar

Although at present, this Grammar is not considered as a guide for linguistic studies, it cannot be denied the great contributions it has produced during its long breath. Among them you can even count on having been the sap from which new linguistic disciplines have been nurtured, among which the following can be counted:

  • Syntax: in this way, it can be said that one of the great debts of traditional Grammar is that it has served as a scenario and impulse to the birth of Syntax, a linguistic discipline that aims to establish the proper order and relationships They establish between the different words when it comes to forming much more complex structures, such as prayer. In this sense, traditional grammar is also the creator of the basic syntax that raises the sentence as a structure composed of a subject and a predicate, forms that even though they are still taught by basic education, have already been corrected by disciplines such as Generative Grammar
  • Morphology: likewise, Morphology, a discipline that studies how words are created and derived, can be considered a direct daughter of traditional grammar, because in its study of words, in addition to its classification, it also addressed the study of how they generated nouns, and word families, as well as the conjugation of verbs.
  • Morphosyntaxis: Third, specialized sources also point to morphosyntax as one of the disciplines that were generated following traditional grammar. As for it, it can be defined as the discipline that is responsible for the analysis of sentences, to determine the types of words and syntactic relationships that are established between them.

Uses of traditional grammar

Likewise, even though current Linguistics is not governed by the precepts of traditional Grammar, this discipline remains one of the most taught in the levels of basic education, and even in the early stages of language learning, since its study provides to the student of the conceptual tools to approach the Language from an analytical position and of understanding. In this way, traditional grammar becomes the ideal pedagogical tool for anyone who wants to start studying a specific language, even though the language she teaches is a standard language, which can be a bit far from the one really they use their speakers, hence Linguistics prefer a grammar approach that is a bit more descriptive than normative or prescriptive.


It comes from Plato, Greece and Ancient Rome. The first Spanish grammar was written by Elio Antonio de Nebrija in 1492, leaving Queen Elizabeth I. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (16th-16th centuries) they give priority to written language over oral language. Interest in writing in the prestigious language of consecrated authors.
The written literary language is considered correct and pure. These are Greek and Latin. The grammarian has to preserve the pure language. Dictate the good say and write. It had to preserve the language from the danger of corruption. It was restrictive. The grammar was normative or prescriptive, whose main concern was to make judgments about the correct or incorrect form of the texts. Do not observe, prescribe and legislate.


Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913), Swiss linguist, wonders what substance linguistics works with, with human language.
Language must take into account all forms of expression. The object of study of linguistics is language. The task is not to say that it is right or wrong, or how people have to write or speak. He has to describe how people really speak and write. Linguistics is descriptive, not prescriptive. He is the model of Chomsky.

His activity also included works of analysis and scholarly commentary, which today would be described as critical editions, about authors such as Aurelio Prudencio and Virgil, the Gospels, the Epistles and the Spanish-Latin, Latin-Spanish Vocabulary. The presentation that Nebrija made of the grammar of Spanish as a set of rules that describe a language, influenced the grammar of Port-Royal and excited Noam Chomsky himself. Nebrija was, first and foremost, a modern man, also concerned with how to educate children, which he demonstrates in De liberis educandi. He also translated into Latin the History of the Catholic Monarchs, which includes many fragments of Hernando del Pulgar’s work in Spanish.

Ferdinand de Saussure

(1857-1913), Swiss linguist, considered the founder of modern linguistics.

Born in Geneva, Switzerland, for a year he attended science classes at the University of Geneva before studying linguistics at the University of Leipzig (Germany) in 1876. While still a student he published the important treatise Mémoire sur le système primitif des voyelles dans les langues indo-Europeans (Memory on the primitive system of vowels in Indo-European languages, 1879). After obtaining his doctorate with his thesis De l’emploi du génitif absolu in sanskrit (The use of the absolute genitive in Sanskrit, 1881), he moved to Paris, a city where he taught comparative grammar classes at the School of Higher Studies until the year 1891.

Later he was a professor of Sanskrit and Indo-European languages ​​at the University of Geneva. In 1907 he was appointed Professor of General Linguistics. His Cours de linguistique générale (General Linguistics Course), reconstruction of his theories, is the compilation of his classes and other materials that his disciples Bally and Séchehaye collected and published in 1916 as a posthumous work of their teacher. By this work Saussure is called ‘father of structuralism‘, since it determines the consequences of the structuralist approach in the study of language.

He based semiotics thanks to a series of theoretical oppositions, the first and fundamental one between langue (language), “series of coexisting signs at a time given to the service of speakers”, and parole (speech), the individual and concrete use of that series of signs; that is, the abstract system versus concrete realizations. He also distinguished between the syntagmatic and the paradigmatic dimension, between the synchronic study (study of the language in its structural aspect) and the diachronic one (study of its evolution), and defined linguistic sign as a combination of the signifiant (significant), acoustic image, and of the meaning (meaning), its concept.

His work, which has been fundamental in the evolution of linguistics during the first half of the twentieth century, has also influenced other sciences, such as anthropology, history and literary criticism.

Noam Chomsky

(1928-), American linguist, professor and political activist. Chomsky is the founder of generative grammar, a language analysis system that has revolutionized modern linguistics.

Abraham Noam Chomsky was born on December 7, 1928 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He studied at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a PhD in Linguistics in 1955. That same year he joined the Institute of Technology of Massachusetts (MIT) as a French and German professor and in 1976 he became Professor of Linguistics at that institution.

Chomsky was the creator of a new linguistic model, generative grammar, which he exhibited for the first time in his book Syntactic Structures. He made a difference between innate and often unconscious knowledge that individuals have of the structure of their language and how they use it daily. The first, which he called “competence,” allows the speaker to distinguish grammatical sentences from those that are not, as well as generate and understand an unlimited number of new sentences. The second, which he called “acting,” is the manifestation of competition, the prayers actually issued by the speaker in concrete speech acts. For Chomsky, linguistics must also deal with deep structures, the mental process that underlies the use of language.

Chomsky placed linguistics at the center of mind studies. According to him, linguistic theory must account for universal grammar, common innate knowledge to all members of the human species; It must also explain the fact that children learn to speak fluently at an early age, despite the limited data and little experience they have. From these demands derives his contribution to cognitive sciences, which seek to understand the way in which the human being thinks, learns and perceives. Equally important was his claim for a valid theory of mental processes that would replace empiricism, a dominant model in American science, according to which experience is the source of knowledge.

Chomsky began his political activism relatively soon, but began publishing more intensely on these issues in the 1960s, in response to his country’s performance in Southeast Asia. He devoted his dedication to his work on linguistics to write about the role of the academic community and the media in obtaining public opinion support for US policy. He also addressed the consequences of US foreign policy, and expressed himself in favor of intellectuals resorting to scientific methods to question government policies that they find immoral and develop practical strategies that combat them.

Among Chomsky’s most important publications, apart from the aforementioned Syntactic Structures (1957), are: Aspects of syntax theory (1965), Principles of generative phonology (1968, written in collaboration with Morris Halle), Cartesian Linguistics (1966), The language and the understanding (1968) and The minimalist program (1995). Some of his political writings are the responsibility of intellectuals and other historical and political essays (1969); War or peace in the Middle East (1974); The fear of democracy (1991); The new world order (and the old one) (1994); Rogue States (2000); 11-09-2001 (2001), a work that includes seven interviews in which Chomsky analyzes the bloodiest terrorist attack in the history of the United States; and Power and terror (2003).

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