Proposal: English Language Learners
The question of “General Reference” raised by Cool Elf at Bottom Falling Out will be especially knotty with regard to grammar questions on this site.
Grammar questions are going to be a very large part of our work. And we will be directing that work to an audience which is by definition unlikely to possess a sophisticated command of core concepts (subject, predicate, noun, verb, adjective, number, tense and the like) — an audience, indeed, to whom the concepts may be not merely unfamiliar but positively alien.
It’s virtually impossible to explain grammatical matters if the questioner doesn’t already command those basic concepts. Equally, it’s very tedious (and possibly counterproductive) to conscientiously define one or more of these terms afresh with each answer.
I think for most native speakers it’s “intuitively obvious” that these are General Reference matters. But as far as I know, there’s really no suitable online reference work for English grammar: a work, that is, which provides not only the authority but also the ease of lookup which a good dictionary provides in lexical matters.
It seems to me we are going to need to do two things:
- develop a list of core grammatical terms we expect a questioner to understand, so our answers can focus on the particular issue the questioner brings to the table.
- provide definitions of those terms—definitions which are intelligible to our audience and adequate to the issues we expect to be raised. Not just ‘dictionary’ definitions: concise but (gently) developed essays.
I ask, then, two questions:
- What terms do we need to define? — Along the way we’ll have to decide whether we restrict ourselves to ‘traditional’ grammar, extend our lexicon to terms employed in ‘neo-traditional’ grammars like CGEL, or go even farther afield and address the terminology of, for instance, functional and phrase-structure grammars. But I think we need a basic list.
- How shall we define them? —We might select an existing online grammar and provide an index of links to specific topics, we might construct a catalogue of links to a variety of sources — we might even write our own grammar. But I think we need some central source in which the definitions may be found with a minimum of effort and guesswork.