Shades of Meaning

Lecture 15 starts to talk about some of the hidden grammar of English, much of which came from Latin. This lecture also starts on what I feel is one of the important hidden messages of these lectures – the influence that small numbers of people had on English Language because of print technology.

Examples of hidden grammar in English are words that end in ‘mit’ (submit, commit – the original Latin meaning was ‘to put’); words that end in ‘ceive’ (perceive, deceive – ‘take’); and words that end in ‘gress’ (progress, regress – ‘step’). Teaching these types of things to EFL students can generate discussion (authentic language use) and critical thinking about English vocabulary and etymology.

Those who were infatuated with Latin as a language standard also tried, a few centuries ago, to bring back various features of language that had been dropped by English. The ‘c’ in perfect was brought back, and the ‘l’ in solder.

Not all prescriptive elements of language are bad, wrong or even frowned on. Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and Fowler’s Dictionary of Usage are examples of useful, highly respected English guides. However, not all of the advice in these books are useful or current. One example is the use of passive voice and how it is commonly and unfairly frowned upon categorically. The passive got can connote unpleasantness or unexpectedness, compared to the active form.

There are shades of meaning with all slight differences in language use. Above all, even with prescriptive guides to English, clarity is still valued more than mathematical logic.

Link to the first post in this series is here.


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