The 5 Basic Programs

The 5 Basic Programs

English has just five basic encoding routines or programs, thus giving us five basic grammatical categories. All English messages fall into exactly one of these categories, for each calls on exactly one of the five programs for its encodement. And all English sentences correspond to at least one of the categories. (At least one, because of the phenomenon of ambiguity. Different messages often, and systematically, end up encoded in the same output sentence. Each message has its own sentence, but sentences can encode more than one message)

English messages divide into simple messages and compound messages.

Compound Messages

Compound messages are compounded out of simple messages, and end up encoded in compound sentences. English has a single program, or meta-program if you like, devoted to encoding compound messages and thereby generating compound sentences. Here are some examples of its handiwork:

Although it was very hot, Her Majesty wore a cardigan.
Because it was hot, Her Majesty stripped off.
Since there are no trees in Orkney, it is a desolate place.
Unless I have made a mistake, the answer is 42.
Whether or not you like them, carrots are good for you.
If Oswald didn’t shoot Kennedy, somebody else did.
Even if Grannie was gunned down this morning, she’s chirpy enough now.

These sentences are discussed in detail here, where you can read all about compound messages and compound sentences. Just click on ‘Compounds’. You will find the encoding program fully described under General Information.

Simple Messages

Simple messages further divide into Primary messages and Secondary messages, encoded respectively in sentences of the PRIMARY PATTERN, where the fulcrum of the main clause is a finite form of a verb, and sentences of the SECONDARY PATTERN, where the fulcrum of the main clause is a modal, followed by the base form of some verb. Examples for definiteness:

These sentences are of the primary pattern

Peach ice-cream tastes surprisingly good.
It was a bright cold day in April.
At the time of her arrest, Grannie lived in Cockroach Lane.
Rooney had just limped off when the fight broke out

And these are of the secondary pattern:

Her Majesty will soon be with us.
You needn’t dress up
If Grannie had fought the Chaplain, she would have won
Grannie might be drunk again tonight.
Her Majesty may occasionally smoke a spliff

Secondary messages further divide into Proper messages, Practical messages and Projective messages, each category grammatically precisely defined by the unique relationship between Tense and Time that it invokes. Tense always encodes temporal intelligence, either present or past, but how that piece of temporal intelligence is incorporated into the overall fabric of the message is different across the categories. Indeed, how it is incorporated defines the categories.

(The terminology of Proper, Practical and Projective is that of V.H. Dudman, so we will stick with it for the moment. But it isn’t particularly happy. ‘Projective’ evokes the right kind of thought, as you will see, but neither ‘proper’ nor ‘practical’ help clue the reader in to what to expect. So if anyone can come up with better labels…….).

You can read about the four grammatical subdivisions of simple messages here. But you may find the treatment excessively complicated and overly technical for a first take. Accordingly a much simplified version is available on the subsidiary pages. But for now, just the headlines, with the defining property of each category:

In Primary messages, tense is identical to time-about. So primary messages are PROPOSITIONS, claims of fact about their tenses, and are true or false depending on whether or not the predication condition is satisfied at the appropriate time.

In Proper messages, tense is again identical to time-about. So proper messages too are propositions, claims of fact about their tenses.

Both Practical and Projective messages encode not propositions but JUDGEMENTS, tensed verdicts. But tense plays a different role in the two categories.

In Practical messages, tense marks the time of the STANDPOINT from which the judgement is ventured. Time-about, the time of predication, is encoded quite separately, by presence or absence of phase. Here tense and time of predication may coincide, but they are separate matters, encoded independently.

In Projective messages, tense marks the CHANGE-OVER POINT, the point at which the deliverances of history cease, and the imagination takes over. In projective messages tense is always earlier than time-about.

No doubt this will all seem very mysterious. Excellent. For enlightenment you will have to wait until I have written the subsidiary pages.