I intend this as Part I of a three part series, collectively addressing the question of why grammar is something that no comprehensive autism therapy should overlook.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Today: Why grammar isn't trivial.
Later: Why many autistic children need explicit instruction in grammar; What works and how most therapies fall short
Why grammar isn't trivial:
Consider how we form questions in English:
1. The person I am thinking of is swimming --> Is the person I am thinking of swimming?
2. The person I am thinking of swims. --> Does the person I am thinking of swim?3. The people I am thinking of swim. --> Do the people I am thinking of swim?
4. The person I am thinking of swam --> Did the person I am thinking of swim?
5. The person thinking of will swim --> Will the person I am thinking of swim?
6. The person I am thinking of might have been swimming --> Might the person I am thinking of have been swimming?
The Question Rule:
Move the first auxiliary verb after the subject (here: the person I am thinking of), assuming there is an auxiliary verb (sentences 1, 5, 6), to the front of the sentence. If there is no auxiliary verb (sentences 2-4), take the verb do, change it to the same tense and number as the main verb (does, do, or did), and put it at the beginning of the sentence, while changing the main verb to its bare infinitive form (swims/swam --> swim).
Key grammatical concepts:
--inversion: moving a verb to the front of a sentence
--auxiliary verb: (including will, may, might, and various forms of the verb to be).
--do-support: (inserting do when there's no auxiliary verb).
--tense marking: (when to keep the tense on the main verb vs. move it to the verb do)
--subject: (can include a relative clause modifier, as in the people I am thinking of)
--main verb: (the verb that agrees with the subject)
Native English speakers who don't have language deficits acquire these concepts implicitly--as well as the complex Question Rule in which they figure.
If we didn't, we might make the following errors:
1. He is swimming? (failure to use inversion)
2. Swimming he is? (not grasping non-auxiliary vs auxiliary verbs)
3. Swam he? (failure to use do-support)
4. Did he swam?/Do he swam? (failure to mark tense on only the auxiliary verb)
5. Is the person I thinking of is swimming? (failure to parse out and skip over the subject to the main verb)
The complexity of English question formation is just one example of how grammar--even that which most of us apply subconsciously--is anything but trivial.