Sunday, July 29, 2007

Where Grammar Came From


Barbarous Macedonian Held Responsible for Invention

The world reached its highest known stage of intelligence before grammar was even invented, much less studied, Ernest C. Moore writes in the Yale Review.

I have had some curiosity to find out where and how so great a blight upon young life first came into being, and why it ever became a school study, and I find that the Greeks knew it not; that their triumphant literature and their matchless oratory came to flower before grammar was dreamed of; that it was not in any sense one of the great arts which they wrought out and with which they armed the human race; that after Greece had declined, a barbarous Macedonian made himself owner of all Egypt, and in order to surround himself with the most spectacular form of ostentation of which his vain mind could conceive, he set to collecting not only all the rare and precious objects and books and manuscripts there were in the world, but he capped it all by making a collection of the living men of the world who had any reputation anywhere for knowing and thinking.

Taking them from their homes where they had some relation to the daily necessities of human beings, and had really been of some use, he shut them up for life in one of his palaces at Alexandria, which the folks were in the habit of calling "the hencoop of the muses;" and out of sheer desperation, since they could do nothing better to amuse themselves, they counted the words in the books which real men had written, and prepared tables of the forms and endings which the users of words employed. The lifeless dregs of books which their distilling left we now call grammar, and study instead of books and even speech itself. In their lowest depth of indifference to the moving, pulsing life of man, not even the Alexandrians sank so low as that.

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