Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Amnesia? That's No Excuse for Bad Grammar

You get bonked on the head. Bad-like. You get anterograde amnesia, which means you can't form new memories (think: "Memento," tattoos optional). Someone gives you a bike. You ride it. You stink at first. But then you get a little better.

The next day, you don't remember getting the bike. You ride it again. You're actually better at riding it than you were the day before. Repeat. Repeat. Soon, you're a perfectly proficient bike rider who, every morning, doesn't recognize his own bike.

Now, lemme ask you: If I teach you a sentence, will you, shortly afterward, retain some concept of: 1. what the sentence meant, 2. what the syntactical structure was, 3. neither, 4. both?

According to a
recent study reported in Science Daily, you won't remember the meaning of the sentence or its words. But you will retain some memory of the sentence's syntax.

Funky, huh?

The researchers say this demonstrates that, unlike word definitions, "syntactic persistence" -- "the tendency for speakers to produce sentences using similar grammatical patterns and rules of language as those they have used before" -- is associated with what's called "procedural memory."

Procedural memory, they say, is one of two types of memory. The other is "declarative memory." Declarative memory is how you remember events and facts, like receiving a bike as a gift. Procedural memory is the place where you store things like knowledge of how to ride a bike. And, according to these researchers, it's also where you store information about how to order words in a sentence.

Why am I writing about this? Well, fresh from a family wedding weekend that involved lots of small talk, too much food, and some truly amazing dance-floor feats by drunk Uncle Al, I can't quite remember how to form original thoughts or craft them into original blog posts.

Now, what's this bike doing here?

Bookmark and Share


Joel said...

I think the real message is that grammarians will rule the world. It explains the "princess" talk in your second book. And I like it. I like the subversion and impertinence of it. I'm in. I was just telling some folks that I might be an anarchist (if only that term didn't sound like actual physical violence); this might be better. This is definitely good.

"Procedural" sounds stale and antiseptic, though. "Formal" sounds better but it might be interpreted as the opposite of casual. "Stylistic" is kind of okay. Idunno. There has to be a better word. The revolution needs a better word. "Procedural" won't inspire the legions.

"Memento" is brilliance. What I think folks so often miss is that it's a metaphor for life, for the life of normal people who think they have memory. History is all an invention. We think we know what happened but it's a construct. The good news is that we're making it up; the bad news is that we inject it with prejudice.

June Casagrande said...

Ted and I rewatched "Memento" just two weeks ago. Hadn't seen it since it was new. And, yes, I had forgotten how impressive it was.

And the metaphor was all the better for the fact that you didn't have to "get it" in order to "get it." It FELT like life.

Re grammarians will rule the world: One of the things I'm enjoying most about blogging is that I'm encouraged to spend more time exploring ideas and thoughts, develop perspectives. And I'm starting to see life through the lens of grammar. I'm quite sure that grammar doesn't work as a universal theory of, you know, stuff. But it's an interesting "skin" to lay over different subjects.

Of course, that just may be my inner princess talking ...

: )


Bookmark and Share