Having surveyed the methods, concepts and findings of the study of speech
sounds, we now turn to the construction of meaning in language. The first
step in this process is the formation of words and sentences and their
organization according to rules of language form, which is necessary to
make speech intelligible. Grammar constitutes the collection of rules of
language form and is divided into two specializations:
Before beginning a discussion of morphology and syntax, we must first distinguish
between the linguist's approach to grammar and the methods applied by our
parents and teachers. Traditional teaching focuses on normative grammar,
i.e., standards of socially acceptable language form. Linguists deal with
grammar and take as their baseline for correctness the commonly used
forms, whether they are considered to be "proper" or not. Thus, to a linguist,
the sentence: "I am not doing nothing" is acceptable English usage. It
is commonly used within some sectors of the population and is understandable
to any English speaker. The usual complaint that the double negative implies
a positive or is ambiguous is not supported in this instance. The meaning
of this sentence is perfectly clear, as it is in many other languages where
double negatives are standard accepted use. (In Spanish this sentence would
be phrased: No hago nada, where
no and nada are both
negatives.) Moreover, the rare use of the double negative to make a positive
statement "that I am doing something" is articulated with a stress
on the first syllable of "nothing" and is therefore is phonemically tagged
as a different message. The only problem with the normatively ungrammatical
sentence is that it is understood as a social-class marker, a sociolinguistic
rather than a grammatical issue.
Morphology: the rules for construction of words from smaller constituents,
termed morphemes and
Syntax: rules of word order.
On the other hand the sentence: "I no de do anything" is not acceptable
standard English because violates more basic rules of word formation and
is accordingly difficult to understand, even if the unfamiliar word "de"
is glossed as "is." The rules violated here are the absence of the suffix
"t" after not, the "ing" after do, and a first person form of the present
tense marker "de." These elements, which are known as morphemes,
are necessary for grammatically correct word and sentence construction.
However, this second sentence is grammatically correct in a different language,
West African Pidgin, whose grammar is based on the rule that every unit
of meaning must be assigned a separate word.