Today is March 4th, National Grammar Day, and for good reason, since it’s the only calendar day that forms, by pun, a complete sentence.
I’ve been teaching grammar for eight years, and almost every time I tell people what I do for a living, I get groans. “English was my least favorite subject!” they tell me. “I hated all that grammar stuff!”
But to hate grammar is to hate an intrinsic aspect of one of God’s first gifts to Adam and Eve, an aspect of His very creation.
Language Is a Gift from God
In Genesis 2, we see that God spoke with Adam, telling him not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16–17). Then God brought all the beasts of the field for Adam to name (Genesis 2:19–20). Since Adam appears to have been created with a fully functioning language, “it is therefore probable,” says Noah Webster in the preface to his dictionary, “that language as well as the faculty of speech, was the immediate gift of God.”1
Language is the means by which we communicate, a complicated system of sounds, symbols, and synthesis in order to transfer information. Humans, animals, and even computers have language. What makes human language unique from these is that it stretches beyond survival instinct.
Animals such as parrots can repeat some words and have means of communication, but they do not have the mental capacity to reason, deduce, independently form sentences, or creatively construct a narrative. In other words, they don’t have the intellect to comprehend or use a grammar on which language is built.
Language Is for Our Good and God’s Glory
By studying the nature of God and the truths of His Word, we can infer several facts about languages and their grammars.
God gave us an orderly language. We can observe the orderliness of the universe, the symbiotic relationship of species and nature. God says in Isaiah 45:12, “I have made the earth, and created man on it. I—My hands—stretched out the heavens, and all their host I have commanded.”
It’s no surprise that the languages God created are also orderly. Because language is orderly, we know better than to form sentences in English such as this one:
The around cat dog the chased room.
This sentence makes no sense because it doesn’t follow grammatical order. In English, we understand subject/verb/object patterns with modifiers placed accordingly, such as this:
The dog (subject) chased (verb) the cat (object) around the room (modifier).
Grammar is the prescribed and described orderliness of our sentences.
God created language primarily so that Adam and all subsequent humans could communicate with Him and each other. Without language, we couldn’t read or understand God’s Word, we couldn’t hear or read the gospel, and we would have no means of growing intellectually and culturally.
“Writing is essential for a people to develop literature, recorded history, and technology,” affirms Dr. Werner Gitt. “Groups without writing therefore do not go beyond a certain stage in culture (e.g., aboriginal peoples). Only a written language allows the possibility of information storage, so that inventions and discoveries (e.g., in medicine and technology) will not be lost, but can be added to and developed further.”2
Although God gave new languages to those at Babel (Genesis 11:8–9), we can assume that God gave each group a fully functioning language, each with its own unique grammar.
With grammar as the foundation for all languages, God’s Word is forever preserved. We can translate the original Greek and Hebrew texts into any other language by first studying Greek and Hebrew, a process that involves comparing those grammars to our own native grammar. Thus, God has used grammar to preserve His Word on earth for us.
Because God organized language to fit within a grammatical structure, men and women were able to describe these grammars to preserve language itself.
Have you ever tried to read an original copy of Beowulf? It’s technically in English, but in what we now refer to as Old English. Unless you’ve studied this Germanic tongue in depth, you won’t make much sense of it. Have you ever read an original copy of The Canterbury Tales? It’s in Middle English and only slightly more readable for us than Beowulf.
Only when men like Samuel Johnson and Noah Webster began writing dependable English dictionaries did the English language start to solidify. These dictionaries attempted to standardize English spelling and enforce good grammar by describing nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, pronouns, prepositions, and conjunctions, along with their spelling and usage. This helped English-speaking men and women to retain their language no matter where they traveled and settled. They could have generations of children who could read and understand history and the ideas of the past because the language was now preserved.
This doesn’t mean that language doesn’t change. We see new words creep into our language every year because of science, innovation, discovery, culture, and so on. For example, the words computer, megabyte, blog, Google, and Facebook didn’t exist fewer than 100 years ago. As Webster states, “Observation teaches that languages must improve and undergo great changes as knowledge increases, and be subject to continual alterations, from other causes incident to men in society.”3
Our language changes, but our grammar does not. Grammar is the glue that holds our language together.
What Grammar Day Means for You
You don’t have to love studying grammar, but now you have a few reasons to appreciate its existence as much as we appreciate all of God’s other gifts. Enjoy National Grammar Day, my friends, and march forth.