This post follows on the 4 points I learned about people from the linguistic theories of Prof. Noam Chomsky. Please refer to “Chomsky, linguistics, and justice: Background” for a full introduction to this idea.
1. Grammar resides in every human brain.
Chomsky defines grammar as the rules that produce and decode language. As a result, grammar resides inside the human language-speaker. It doesn’t exist “out there” in a book or only well-trained minds.. Moreover, this grammar is not something learned in school; it’s acquired as a child engages in the community of your native language.
When I lived in Morocco, I saw the importance of this idea because of how the opposing assumption played out. I wanted to learn Moroccan Arabic (Derija) so I could understand and converse with average people around me. So I would ask one of my English-speaking friends about syntax in Derija. “Our language doesn’t have rules,” he replied. “We just open our mouths and it just comes out. Fusha [formal written Arabic] has rules. Not Derija.”
“If your language didn’t have rules,” I retorted, “I wouldn’t be able to make mistakes. But I think you can hear when I make mistakes.”
This attitude humanizes all speakers of all languages. On linguistic grounds, one language is not better or more correct than another. Derija has grammar just as Formal Arabic. Most people prefer the latter because it is more prestigious and more “beautiful.” But prestige and beauty are not linguistic terms. They both have nouns and verbs, they both employ particular word orders, and each includes particular idioms exclusive to itself.