What accoutrement does a grammarian need? A academician helps, and so does a computer, but absolutely one of our best capital accoutrement is some affectionate of diagramming system. How can we anticipate about a sentence’s structure, afterwards all, after announcement it visually? Geographers accept maps; mathematicians accept equations; composers accept agreeable notation; economists accept graphs; and grammarians accept trees.
It wasn’t consistently so. Grammarians spent several thousand years aggravating to anticipate about syntax after the advice of diagrams, but it was adamantine and they didn’t get actual far into structural details. It was alone in the aboriginal 19th aeon that an American, Stephen Watkins Clark, accomplished the advance for which he has accustomed around no acclaim (how abounding of us alike apperceive his name?). In 1847, he appear the abstraction of cartoon a affectionate of map to appearance a sentence’s physiology. Admittedly, his accomplishing of the abstraction wasn’t so great, because it complex rather clumsy bubbles. Here’s an example, activated to a about aces book (the diagram comes address of Google Books):
Just 30 years later, Alonzo Reed and Brainerd Kellogg, possessing archetypal American business skills, created a added ambrosial adaptation application curve instead of bubbles, like this one generated by an online parser:
For a continued time, book diagramming flourished throughout the American academy system, and, admitting actuality accursed as a abortive decay of time in the 1970s, it still persists in abounding schools. Indeed, it advance able-bodied above the USA, and so a actual agnate arrangement is accomplished in abounding European countries (though not, alas, in the United Kingdom). For example, schools in the Czech Republic advise book diagramming so auspiciously that advisers are investigating the achievability of including academy children’s analyses in a alive tree-bank of analyzed sentences.
In Europe, some linguists saw an befalling to accomplish the diagrams alike better. The archetypal archetype is by the French linguist Lucien Tesnière, who activated account that were already circulating in the Linguistic Circle of Prague to academy grammars. His addition was the stemma, which looked rather like Reed-Kellogg diagrams but culminated in a distinct top bulge for the basis verb. Here’s what it looks like application the aforementioned sentence:
This diagram was additionally generated by an online parser (which, like best parsers, makes mistakes—what happened to the aboriginal word, Our?). This parser is allotment of a Danish website for applying accepted linguistic approach to the teaching of grammar in schools—surely aloof the affectionate of development that bookish linguists should celebrate.
The UK, area I live, had a civil another to Reed-Kellogg (invented by John Collinson Nesfield in the backward 19th century, and still in use in my academy during the 1950s), but it acclimated columns rather than diagrams. I accept no abstraction why we didn’t apparatus Reed-Kellogg, but we didn’t; and worse than that, we started a big all-embracing attack adjoin all grammar teaching (with or after diagrams) in the aboriginal bisected of the 20th century. Unfortunately, America followed and the ache advance throughout the English-speaking apple and beyond.
As we attempt to backlash from the furnishings of that disaster, it’s account anniversary Stephen Watkins Clark and his bubbles! Nearly two centuries later, area would avant-garde linguistics be after him? And alike added importantly, area would those endless ancestors of ablaze school-kids (and teachers) accept begin their fun?
A adaptation of this column originally appeared on Language Log.
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