Words are the Core of Language

The author of The Third Ear makes the point that individual words play a much more important role in language than grammar. In the beginning was the word. 

‘Me, you together eat go,’ says the man with the hat. He’s found a way to make the effort to learn some words — just a few — and string them together. You’ve discovered that though the English grammar certainly doesn’t follow the rules that you’ve grown accustomed to during your life. Which demonstrates one key thing — knowing words is far more important than knowing grammar. Especially when you are just getting started.

If you’ve ever had the oppotunity to be with a person who is learning your language, you’ll maybe recall that you never really bothered to correct their grammar, unless you really didn’t understand what they were saying. So, in a real sense it wasn’t even a correction. It was merely an enquiry for  clarification. An enquiry that the other person would have naturally and easily used to improve understanding and accuracy.

If you are in the face of ‘innacurate’ grammar, you know there is something wrong in the context, then you will also enquiry for the meaning. And the other person will describe the thing in other way, and maybe give you the metaphorical linkage to it. Then you get the meaning.

I agree with this viewpoint of the author, because I’ve had the same experience. Once upon a time, I was on my way home on a train to Xi’an city. I met a French girl, who can speak English. At that time, I was not good at speaking English, and I was just able to say some words, maybe wrong pronunciation, which are not related to life. Some of the questions she asked me I could understand, and some I couldn’t. Although I was able to speak things in correct grammar, the loss of the meaning of some words made me embarrassed. I was so awkward, and replied something that didn’t match the questions. Very soon our conversation was ended up with misunderstanding and miscommunicating.

My experience indicates that word that the carrier of meaning matters far more than grammar. Wrong words can lead to misunderstanding.

When you listen to some foreigners speaking your language with wrong grammar, you’ll find that you can still  be aware of the meaning, but it’s a little bit harder and not smoother and will take you more energy to analyze to grasp for the meaning. Then you know that wrong grammar leads to a loss of ease and elegance for the listener, but meaning can still be communicated in most cases. 

Suffice it to say, if we focus on the individual words instead of grammar, our learning process will be far more effective and productive than we pay attention to both words and grammar at the same time.

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