English grammar as it came down to us was mostly based on Latin, Greek and Sanskrit; all these classical languages were studied and analysed in great detail by scholars. English Grammar consisted of elaborate rules, definitions and exceptions about the structure of the language. It dealt mainly with the physical form of words, word endings, word groups and sentences and not their total meaning as a piece of communication or conversation.
Prescriptive – Formal Grammar: According to early childhood care and education just as the dictionary lists words and their meanings, English Grammar classified words minutely as parts of speech, and sentences. It further divided them as kinds of nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc. and gave us many rules on sentences and transformation of sentences. For this analysis, isolated sentences mainly from written English were considered. Spoken English was largely ignored. Current usage was also not considered.
Thus grammar, as a body of knowledge grew out of naming and labelling Form words and defining and classifying them as abstract categories. This was like knowing the anatomy of language. Just as a patient cannot recover by knowing the anatomy of his body, a student cannot use language by knowing the rules of Grammar. It was felt by famous grammarians that the study of rules and exceptions would help students learn English usage. In their view, rules came first and examples later.
Even in our schools, for a long time grammar and composition were taught as separate subjects, dealing with the elements of language and neglecting their function in communication.
Grammar laid down rules for all times and did not take into account the changing usage of English. Such grammar was called Prescriptive Grammar, as it prescribed rules for everyone to follow without questioning. In the classrooms, the teaching of such grammar was called Forma. Grammar, as they proceeded from rules and definitions to examples. As we know, even these rules of language were not universal and there were many exceptions to them. E.g. Plurals – book – books, boy 6%s but child-children Tenses, walk – walked (past tense) but go-went, talk-talked, run-ran.
In teaching Formal Grammar the ever changing nature of the English language and using it meaningfully were totally ignored.
Descriptive – Functional Grammar: We know that living language-like English is primarily a spoken language, it is ever changing and ever growing, and it is in a state of flux all the time. Spoken or written English is used to communicate with others around us. It has followed its own fine of development, independent of Latin, Greek, etc.
In teaching a living language, we know that the form of words is less important than their function in communication. In such a situation usage comes first and rules come later. According to distance learning teacher training whatever grammar is learnt is learnt incidentally in the course of using the language. When the child learns his mother tongue he and his “teachers” around use it in situation, and he learns it by imitation. He gets the feel of the language unconsciously as it were, to start with. A later language should also be taught on the same natural lines. Grammar which follow usage as it develops and describes it from time to time is called Descriptive Grammar.