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What Are the Applications of Structural Grammar?

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  • Written By: Emily Daw
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 21 October 2014
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Structural grammar is a way of approaching the study of grammar, especially syntax, by analyzing the relationships among words in a sentence. Since the concept was first introduced in the early-to-mid-1900s, it has had a variety of applications in the classroom as well as in linguistic research. By the end of the 20th century, it had largely been combined with or absorbed into transformational grammar in primary and secondary education, but it remains a useful tool in linguistics — the scientific study of language.

Any time students are taught to recognize phrases, clauses, or even parts of speech, or to diagram sentences, they are learning structural grammar. It is no longer typically used in the US as the primary method of teaching grammar, however, and sentence diagramming has particularly fallen out of favor. By the late 20th and early 21st centuries, most classrooms in the US combined the structuralist approach with transformational grammar, in which students are asked to modify the structure of a sentence. For example, a student might be given the sentence "Mary had a little lamb," and be asked to transform it into a yes-or-no question: "Does Mary have a little lamb?" Additionally, this time period saw an increase in teaching structural aspects of grammar in relationship to composition, rather than as a separate study.

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Despite decreasing use in pedagogy, structural grammar has long been an important approach in the specialized discipline of linguistics, although its applications have changed over the years. In contrast to previous methods of grammar teaching and research, especially prescriptive grammar, it focuses on vulnerable statements, which can be proven or unproven using the scientific method. As such, it was important in establishing linguistics as a truly scientific discipline.

In the middle of the 20th century, this approach to grammar was often applied to what was known as contrastive analysis, which is the comparison of the grammatical structures of two different languages. The intention was to use this research in the area of second language acquisition. Researchers hypothesized that speakers of one language would have particular difficulty learning a new language in areas where the two languages' structures are exceptionally different. This proved to be far less true than expected, however, so contrastive analysis was largely abandoned.

In the early 21st century, structural grammar is often assumed in linguistic research as part of other projects. Any area of linguistic research that involves syntax is likely to draw on work done by structural linguists. For instance, a linguist researching sentence processing might apply structuralist principles to various sentences as a step toward understanding how individuals come to understand them.

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feasting
Post 4

@cloudel – In my school's curriculum, grammar is still taught in a variety of ways. Transformational grammar isn't just switching around a sentence to mean a different thing. It also involves knowing the parts of a sentence and how they function.

Just because we don't make students diagram each clause out with a little line and write the term for it on that line doesn't mean that we don't teach them what each clause is and how it functions. We may have abandoned the act of diagramming, but we haven't stopped teaching them the basics.

cloudel
Post 3

@DylanB – Even though this aspect of structural grammar is no longer taught, there are still other ways for students to learn about sentence structure. I think that transformation grammar is very helpful.

In order for a student to be able to turn a sentence around, they have to have some understanding of its structure. Turning a statement into a question does take some skill and knowledge.

English tutors help students understand this structure when they can't grasp it just from what they've learned in the classroom. My tutor helped me through digging deeper into transformational grammar, and I turned out alright.

DylanB
Post 2

Diagramming sentences was a crucial tool for understanding English grammar. At least, I felt that way when I was in elementary school.

It really helped me learn the terms for every possible clause that could be used in a sentence. I think the fact that it is no longer used in school to teach structural grammar may be detrimental to future generations.

To really get a good grasp on the language, you have to be able to recognize all the parts that make up a sentence. If you don't break them down one by one, then how are you ever going to learn them?

Perdido
Post 1

I know that the grammar structure of Spanish sentences is very different from English sentences. When I first started studying Spanish, I was confused, because every part of the sentence seemed so out of order!

Eventually, I got the hang of it. I know that to express the same meaning as an English sentence, a Spanish sentence has to be twisted around, and I finally learned how to do that correctly. Still, it makes learning a new language difficult.

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