In 26 Views of the Starburst World, Ross Gibson sheds new light on the ways in which the language of the Eora people differs from the rules of English grammar. He claims that the local language seems to have an ‘event grammar’. English grammar categorises words in order to understand their structural relationship to other words in a written sentence, and through this system of classification we come to understand the meaning of a sentence. In contrast, as I understand it, ‘event grammar’ is a way of understanding relationship between the words and their place in a given environment or context, and that in ‘event grammar’ the noun is not fixed, instead the words themselves can change depending on their relationship to the context in which they are spoken. While I think this is an decent description of what Gibson defines as ‘event grammar’, this idea does not quite make sense to me yet. So, in order to have a richer understanding of the broader implications of this concept, I have to start with a quick refresher course in the basics of English grammar in order to understand ‘event grammar’ by contrast.
“Chapter Two: Some Grammatical Terms
The terms used in grammar help to explain the function and relationship of the words in sentences.
- A noun is the name of a person, place, thing or idea. Common nouns refer to any person, place, thing, idea, etc. (boy, house, water, town, religion, despair); Proper nouns refer to particular places, persons, objects, ideas, etc. (George, the White House, Yokohama, Christian Science); Nouns are used as the subjects of sentences, and as the objects of verbs and prepositions.
- A pronoun can take the place of a noun. John called his mother as soon as he returned from work. The cat sat by her dish, waiting to be fed.
- Case refers to the form of a noun or pronoun which shows its relationship to other words in a sentence. In English there are three cases: nominative (used for the subject of a sentence or clause), possessive (showing who owns something), and objective (receiving the action of the verb or preposition). Nouns do not change their form except in the possessive case, which ‘s is added. Pronouns have different forms for each case. (See Pronouns, pp.14-22)
- A verb shows the action or state of being, and it also indicates the time of action or being. He waived his right to appeal. (past); I need your report right now. (present); You will enjoy your trip to Norway. (future).
- Adjectives are words that describe nouns and specify size, color, number and the like. This quality is called modifying, and an adjective is a modifier.
- Adverbs are words that describe verbs, adjectives and other adverbs. They specify in what manner, when, where and how much. The child screamed loudly as the doctor prepared an injection; It is much later than I thought.
- Prepositions show how a noun or pronoun is related to another word in a sentence (The dog came bounding into the room; He parked behind the truck; In this instance, I believe you are mistaken). When used with a verb, the combination of verb and preposition usually has a meaning different from the verb alone. (They laughed at the very idea. I must look into the proposal before I decide. Have you come to any conclusion?
- Conjunctions join words, phrases or clauses. Coordinating conjunctions connect sentence elements of the same value, single words, phrases or clauses. These conjunctions are and, but, for, or, nor, either, neither, yet, so, and so that. (Yet and so are also used as adverbs). Subordinating conjunctions join two clauses, the main one and the dependent (or subordinate) one. The conjunctions used with dependent clauses are: although, because, since, until, while, and others which place a condition on the sentence.
- Subject and predicate. A sentence expresses a complete thought and consists of a subject and a predicate. (If either the subject or predicate is not expressed, it must be readily understood from the sentences that precede or follow). The subject of a sentence is the person, object or idea being described. The predicate is the explanation of the action, condition, or effect of the subject. (The after-Christmas sale is nearly over; Getting a job can be a difficult process). In the examples above, the subjects are in italics; the rest of the sentences are predicates. Subjects are nouns, pronouns or phrases used as nouns. Predicates are verbs and the words used to explain the action or condition.
- Phrases. A phrase is a group of words that are closely related but have no subject or predicate. A phrase may be used as a noun, verb, adjective or adverb. Noun: Waiting for a telephone call has kept me at home all morning. Verb: That work could have been done earlier. Adjective: The building with the satellite dish on the roof has been converted to a condominium. Adverb: The price is higher out of season. A phrase that is essential to a sentence is called restrictive. A phrase which is actually a parenthetical comment is called nonrestrictive and is usually set off by commas. Restrictive: The computer in my office is used by several people. Nonrestrictive: I wonder, by the way, who will be named director.
- Clauses. A clause is a group of words which has a subject and a predicate. A main clause can stand alone as a sentence. A subordinate clause is incomplete and is used with a main clause to express a related idea. Main Clause: This is the man who sold me the dog. I enjoy walking our dog when the weather is good. Subordinate Clause: I enjoy walking our dog, which we bought last week. When I have the time, I like to work out at the gym.”
Excerpt from Margaret Shertzer, The Elements of Grammar, (New York: Macmillan), 1986, pp.4-7