A grammar quote from Rivarol

I was rereading through the introduction to New French with Ease earlier this evening, and came across this gem of a quote from Rivarol:

Grammar is the art of lifting the difficulties out of a language; the lever must not be heavier than the burden.

Something to definitely keep in mind when studying a language; I know from experience how easy it is to get bogged down in the grammar, losing sight of what you’re really after: understanding, and the ability to communicate. Grammar is needed, but it’s a piece of the pie, not the whole thing.

By the way, if you’re curious, here’s the original French quote:

La grammaire est l’art de lever les difficultés d’une langue; mais il ne faut pas que le levier soit plus lourd que le fardeau.

5 thoughts on “A grammar quote from Rivarol”

  1. Steve the Linguist hates grammar and claims to study it very little because, according to him, the lever is almost always heavier than the burden. He relies heavily on input, claiming that grammar is then learned intuitively. I think that input alone will not teach someone to speak a language perfectly but I do agree that the average learner relies to heavily on grammar.

    Then again, I know several people who learned to speak fluent English mainly from movies and songs but both of them have a thick accent and make so many mistakes when they speak that some people have trouble understanding them. I agree with you, studying grammar is only a piece of the pie but without it you don’t have a whole pie.

  2. I don’t agree with Steve; I think that grammar is quite helpful, if you make sure you balance your study approach. Sitting around memorizing Russian declensions forever is not going to teach you Russian, it’s going to teach you grammar tables. But I think learning declensions and other grammar parts makes it easier to grasp input in the language, rather than just using mass amounts of input to (hopefully) cram the grammatical information into your head. Especially for a language like Russian, with so many declensions and exceptions to how nouns are declined, I think the idea of approaching it as a foreign language without studying the grammar is madness (to put it politely). I’m sure Steve would disagree with me (all the while shoving a link in to Lingq), but I digress. 🙂

    It’s odd that the people you know who learned English via movies and songs both have thick accents. You’d think that if all of what they learned was via watching and listening, their pronunciation would be pretty good, if not their grammar.

  3. The problem is that some people seem to think that learning the grammar is the same thing as learning the language. Assimil, with its grammar in the notes, seems to me to have a good approach: if you know what’s going on, that’s great, but if not, there’s a little help there.

    I think where it goes wrong is that we think of grammar, vocabulary and syntax as the parts of a language, rather than ways of describing it. If it’s understood that grammar is a key for decoding phrase and sentence patterns that you don’t understand, not a tangle of rules invented to torture language learners, then grammar will lighten your learning load.

  4. Geoff: Yep, grammar does not equal language. I like your description, “a key for decoding phrase and sentence patterns that you don’t understand.”

    It’s interesting to think about how my view of grammar has changed between now and when I started studying German seriously. When I started, I was pretty clueless, and had the mindset of, “If I learn grammar rules, and learn vocabulary, I can make sentences. Period.” This sometimes works, but more often than not, it’s far more complicated than just shoving words together based on grammatical rules. My regularly received corrections from my German tutor proves this. 😉

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