6.2. Grammar cognitive ground

Camille Pissarro, Boulevard Montmartre, Morning in Spring (Le Boulevard de Montmartre, Matinée de Printemps), Wikimedia Commons 


We can continue thinking about grammar in situations (we began in chapter 6). Let us now imagine an American in Paris (George Gershwin did). The American we imagine could be a young woman. She could be the Jill from the office, the Jill Smith that Jim wanted to meet. Jin was not lying. Jill is on her vacation.



Could this be Jill?


Jill is a reedy yet energetic figure, her rebellious and dark, almost black hair flying in the mid-September Paris wind. Jill is a very resolute person, one to walk big steps and to breathe deep.


Jill is entering a French restaurant ― a place deliberately prudent in its fine interior. She is looking for her friend, Madame Règle. Madame Règle often has her lunch there.




When we think about grammar and situations, we need to think about interpreting words in context. Let us give a little thought to language form. We can interpret the word règle in French for a rule of grammar. The word sauf may indicate an exception. The English word smith could mean a worker in metals. Human names and surnames are proper nouns, however. Proper nouns behave unlike common nouns, or other parts of speech.


More, word form never is fixed in its reference. We can use big letters for grammar labels, for example Simple, Progressive, or Perfect. We mark them as part proper nominals then (compare Chapter 5). For example, activities or states we can describe with the Simple pattern may not be simple at all, to think about loving or hating only.



We must have the context, to interpret language form. Let us take a language form such as “read”. We can have it for a PRESENT or PAST verb form. Could we interpret the form alone?


In the PRESENT, the written form “read” can sound [rI:d]. Regarding the PAST, we could hear or sound [rƐ:d], for the same written form, “read”. Without language information, how could we tell the PAST written form “read” from the PRESENT? More, how could we tell the PAST spoken form of the verb to read” from the way we say color red?


Jill is slim. We may say she is [rI:dy]. We spell the word “reedy”. This is language knowledge to let us tell the parts of speech, their forms, and their contexts. The information lets us say that we mean someone slim, and not someone “reddish” or “treated like a book”. We cannot interpret isolated word forms. An isolated word form, whether auditory or visual, is not enough to convey language information.


As far as I know Jill, I can say she is slim and bookish.
(Jill is a fictional character. The language skills we are trying to work out are real.)




Let us picture another possible personality. Monsieur Sauf is not the stereotype of a man to make his living gratifying taste buds. But the large apron knotted on his left hip in a kind of ― Jill, though learned, would never be sure ― stevedore or half hitch, you could think that he is some athlete, here about a plate of Moules Marinière himself. He is the restaurateur.





This part of our grammar journey has preliminaries to making nodi of time. The word “nodus” comes from Latin. It meant “a knot”. Nowadays, it is sometimes associated with difficulty or trouble, as grammar.


A stevedore may be a knot to resemble figure eight. A half hitch may be “a knot or hitch made by looping a rope or strap around a body and then back around itself, bringing the end of the rope through the original loop” (after the American Heritage dictionary).




Please mind that we do not  need to derive American English from England, as well as any country or territory other than the USA. The present-day form of the language originated in America. Reading American newspapers and listening to American radio or television shows, we can try if our grammar fits the language as it is. It will, if we become able to reason on language. Everyone can have own reason, as we do not get to think uniformly also with classic grammars. What matters is whether we attain the standard.




Back to our story, this is not the first time Jill meets Monsieur Sauf. Still, she feels minute in his presence. She asks Monsieur Sauf about Madame Règle. Monsieur Sauf can say, reliant on his knowledge,


7. I haven’t seen her today.




He also can say,


7a. I didn’t see her today.


PAST arrow CLOSED real-time frame


Madame Règle is not a systematic person at all. The only regularity about her would be a small book she always carries fastened to her bag with a scarf or, actually, a variety of scarves of many colors and textures. The book is not the same book every day, and the choice of the scarf sure depends on some totally unpredictable factor, just as the exact time for lunch, for which you might want to assume the broad time frame of about sixty minutes to commence or not to happen altogether.



Madame Règle comes to lunch between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. or does not show up at all. Let us check on the time. It is 1:30. Monsieur Sauf can use expression 7. The expression has an open time frame. Madame Règle still may emerge in the door.


7. I haven’t seen her today.




Now let us think the time is 2:30. Monsieur Sauf can use expression 7a. The expression has a closed and PAST time frame. Monsieur Sauf knows that Madame Règle is not coming today. The knowledge is part the context.


7a. I didn’t see her today.


PAST arrow CLOSED real-time frame


What if Jill asks whether Madame Règle was there, let us say, half an hour earlier? Monsieur Sauf may follow his linguistic gravity,


7b. I didn’t see her.
(On the cognitive ground: She was not here at the time in the PAST you are asking about.)


Jill is a grindstone to turn about good food. There is no telling her that good food could be bad and she esteems French cuisine. She usually visits Monsieur Sauf’s restaurant when she is in Paris. If she meets Madame Règle, she sure will join her for a meal by a table looking to the Quai de Seine (!)


There is an anecdote associated with Benjamin Franklin. A man asked a smith to make his ax especially sharp. The man ended up turning the grindstone himself.


We can find plenty of facts and trivia about America at archive.org, a free internet resource.


Let us practice our more and more meticulous natures in exercises.
6.3. Basic lexicon practice: the Simple and the Perfect


6.3. Basic lexicon practice: the Simple and the Perfect