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English for the Natives:
Discover the Grammar You Don't Know
Harry Ritchie's approach to English grammar in his entertaining book on the subject is something of a relief. Instead of berating us for not keeping to the rules, he shows how the classical rules of grammar are, in fact, crumbling, were always crumbling and may soon be gone forever.
One of the intriguing things he demonstrates in his survey of the origins of English grammar and its gradual changes is how the languages from which English sprang thousands of years ago were, in fact, much more complex than modern English. Over time, the language's rules have become simpler, easier to learn and so more widespread. We are lucky, Ritchie points out, that we didn't end up with the complexity of, say, Basque, which has no fewer than 458,683 different noun forms.
Ritchie takes us through the parts of speech, pointing out along the way the only time that Shakespeare splits an infinitive (to make a rhyme in Sonnet 142). He shows that if the Bible can start most of its sentences with 'And then', then sentences such as 'I walked quick' ought to be considered linguistically valid, too. Cherished rules that stop us from saying 'three mile' and 'I didn't see nothing' go back to the 19th century and, Ritchie argues, ought to have stayed there.
For him, denigration of non-standard English comes more frequently from snobbery than it does strictly from grammar. In English for the Natives, we learn just as much from Eliza Doolittle as we do from Professor Higgins.
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