Writing Out Loud: More Than Meets the Eye

The complexity of the English language is seen in all of its incessant, yet to some, necessary, rules. One of those is something called ‘transformational grammar.’ At face value it seems that it would be words that can transform into other words. Sort of a ‘wereword’ type of creature. One minute it is one thing, the next, when the full moon comes out, say, it becomes something else. Something sinister and terrifying.

Or maybe it’s more like those things that are cars or trucks or other vehicles and then, become ‘more than meets the eye,’ right in front of you. Actually, transformational grammar is neither of those. The theory, in what is known as TG, is that it can be used to unlock the secrets of language. In 1957, a revolution of epic proportions took place when a man named Noam Chomsky wrote a book called ‘Syntactic Structures’ setting the world of linguists on edge. It was a phenomenal exploratory on the world of transformational grammar unprecedented and never since duplicated.
The only thing that happened on December 7 to rival the bombing of Pearl Harbor was not the founding of this theory of unlocking and exposing the secret life of grammar, but that on that day, in 1928, Noam was born. However, this is not about Noam, nor is it about Pearl Harbor. It is about a guy named Uglug who lived a very long time before Noam Chomsky.

When our man Uglug walked out of his cave and stretched, yawned and shook like a dog, he looked up at the sky and whispered the first words to come out of a human being. What was it? Pretty safe to say that no one really knows. At least not with any certainty, just a lot of guessing. But it is also pretty safe to say that Uglug wasn’t concerned with sentence composition, structural or transformational. He just wanted to make sure that whoever he was going to talk to knew what he was trying to say. For the sake of the listener, he’d better get it, or Uglug would have resorted to his usual method of communication and thump the other guy over the head. That had a way of making Uglugs’point.

As time went on, Uglug started using more words, others caught on to the new language, and soon a network of words developed. Now, sentences would have become more important. So, Uglug began teaching others how to put these words together to form thoughts and explain ideas. Our guy Uglug was a sort of precursor to Chomsky in that he began ‘transforming’ the people of the time, and using language to get things done. Uglug saw the advantage of involve to evolve.

The point is, we can analyze all we want about how words are put together, what makes a sentence formatted correctly or not, or what makes a formula for language, but the bottom line is not in the way sentences are put together, but what words are used to make them. A perfectly constructed sentence could include words that cause hurt and embarrassment. A sentence that has been written by a person with the ability of a scholarly linguist could have words, that when put next to one another, translate into hate and persecution.

Over the years, from the time Uglug stepped out of his cave and used the first word, until this morning when you said whatever it was you said when you got out of bed, the most powerful force in the universe was given to mankind. The power of speech. With that power comes a great responsibility, not necessarily to your fellow human, but primarily to you.

In the world we live in today, it is probably a good thing to know how to apply the rules of grammar, but it is even more prudent that we learn how to apply the rules of empathy, sympathy and care. The rules of decency. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. It stands to reason then that maybe a few words can change the picture. Now that’s transformational grammar.

You all have a really nice week. See you next Wednesday.

The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect those of the Sun.
George Stahl can be reached at stahl_george@yahoo.com


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