Every sentence we hear is instantly analyzed by an inner grammar; just as a
prism refracts a beam of light, grammar divides a stream of sound, linking
diverse strings of information to different domains of mind--memory,
vision, emotions, intentions. In The Prism of Grammar, Tom Roeper brings
the abstract principles behind modern grammar to life by exploring the
astonishing intricacies of child language. Adult expressions provide
endless puzzles for the child to solve. The individual child's solutions
("Don't uncomfortable the cat" is one example) may amuse adults but they
also reveal the complexity of language and the challenges of mastering it.
The tiniest utterances, says Roeper, reflect the whole mind and engage the
child's free will and sense of dignity.
He offers numerous and novel "explorations" - many at the cutting edge of
current work - that anyone can try, even in conversation around the dinner
table. They elicit how the child confronts "recursion"- the heartbeat of
grammar- through endless possessives ("John's mother's friend's car"),
mysterious plurals, contradictory adjectives, the marvels of ellipsis, and
the deep obscurity of reference ("there it is, right here"). They are not
tests of skill; they are tools for discovery and delight, not diagnosis.
Each chapter on acquisition begins with a commonsense look at how
structures work - moving from the simple to the complex - and then turns to
the literary and human dimensions of grammar. One important human dimension
is the role of dialect in society and in the lives of children. Roeper
devotes three chapters to the structure of African-American English and the
challenge of responding to linguistic prejudice.
Written in a lively style, accessible and gently provocative, The Prism of
Grammar is for parents and teachers as well as students - for everyone who
wants to understand how children gain and use language - and anyone
interested in the social, philosophical, and ethical implications of how we
see the growing mind emerge.