The Influence of Grammar on Meaning

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According to Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, grammar is "the study of the classes of words, their inflections, and their functions and relations in the sentence." After studying grammar, however, it is apparent that grammar also creates, maintains, and communicates meaning during interaction. Thus, one must look more deeply at individual words as well at whole pieces of a work or conversation in order to truly understand their meaning.

Most people are aware of the denotative meanings of words and if asked what a particular word means, many would be able to recite an acceptable definition. However, what of the connotative meanings of words? That is, the inference that a word implies. The class reading, "The Diversity of Language," offers an interesting example of this while also addressing the idea that the connotative meanings of words are often taboo. According to the readings, the word boy generally has one meaning, but when a young white man calls an older black man "boy," the word suddenly takes on additional on the racist attitude of the speaker. Thus, while the rules of grammar may give words their official meaning, one must consider the attitudes of the person using the word in order to fully understand the meaning intended.

In addition to looking at the connotative versus denotative meanings of words, one must also look at entire phrases, sentences, and conversations in context in order to understand the complexity of meaning. For example, take the sentence, "That doctor is very pretty." Generally, when one hears the word "doctor" they think of a man who practices medicine. In this case, however, when you look at the sentence as a whole, it is understood that this doctor is a woman because the word "pretty" is not a word used to describe a man. Thus, only by looking at the sentence as a whole would one completely understand its meaning.

Grammar creates, maintains, and communicates meaning during interaction in countless ways. Two such ways...
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