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Toward a balanced grammatical description

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Title: Toward a balanced grammatical description
Authors: Payne, Thomas
Issue Date: Dec 2014
Publisher: University of Hawai'i Press
Series/Report no.: LD&C Special Publication
Abstract: The writer of a grammatical description attempts to accomplish many goals in one complex document. Some of these goals seem to conflict with one another, thus causing tension, discouragement and paralysis for many descriptive linguists. For example, all grammar writers want their work to speak clearly to general linguists and to specialists in their language area tradition. Yet a grammar that addresses universal issues, may not be detailed enough for specialists; while a highly detailed description written in a specialized areal framework may be incomprehensible to those outside of a particular tradition. In the present chapter, I describe four tensions that grammar writers often face, and provide concrete suggestions on how to balance these tensions effectively and creatively. These tensions are:
• Comprehensiveness vs. usefulness.
• Technical accuracy vs. understandability.
• Universality vs. specificity.
• A ‘form-driven’ vs. a ‘function-driven’ approach.
By drawing attention to these potential conflicts, I hope to help free junior linguists from the unrealistic expectation that their work must fully accomplish all of the ideals that motivate the complex task of describing the grammar of a language. The goal of a description grammar is to produce an esthetically pleasing, intellectually stimulating, and genuinely informative piece of work.
Sponsor: National Foreign Language Resource Center
ISBN: ISBN-13: 978-0-9856211-4-8
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike License
Appears in Collections:LD&C Special Publication No. 8: The Art and Practice of Grammar Writing

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