Morphological theory in the 20th-century Western linguistics – Part 2

Березень 2nd, 201210:20 am


Morphological theory in the 20th-century Western linguistics – Part 2

Morphological theory in the 20th-century Western linguistics – Part 1

Whereas the first four parts of speech possess three distinctive features, the fifth group is formed only on the ground of morphological indeclinability of these words. The linguist claims that traditional division of “particles” exaggerates their difference and diminishes their obvious similarity. For ex­ample, in the sentences He was in and He was in the house the unit in is tra­ditionally regarded as an adverb and a preposition respectively, but this dif­ferentiation could be compared to differentiation between the usage of a verb in its intransitive and transitive forms, e.g. He can sing vs He sings a song.

In such cases as Before his breakfast and Before he had breakfasted the only difference Jespersen can see is that in the first combination before introduces a phrase, whereas in the second – a sentence. However, the sci­entist feels the need to differentiate between coordinating and subordinating conjunctions and calls the former “coordinating Connectors” and the lat­ter – “subordinating connectors”. Also, Jespersen does not find it necessary to treat conjunctions, prepositions and adverbs as separate parts of speech.

It is obvious that, though Jespersen claims the application of the three criteria to each part of speech, he turns out to be inconsistent in his own clas­sification because particles are distinguished on the ground of the formal criterion alone.

Representatives of structuralism put forward a new classification of parts of speech based of different parameters. Structuralists are well-known for their attempts to study language ignoring semantic properties of lan­guage units. The same approach was applied to the structuralist classifi­cation of vocabulary: it was built only on syntactic positions, peculiar to language units. Charles Fries was the only structuralist linguist who tried to work out a classification of lexico-grammatical word classes on the basis of a consistent criterion (Fries, 1952). In his analysis, the scientist points out that word classes are discernible even in meaningless sentences, e.g. Wog-gles ugged diggles. Clearly, this information is deduced from the position of a word in a sentence and from its form in comparison with other positions and forms. Fries believes that only certain syntactic functions performed by words may be used to refer words to a certain part of speech.

In order to clarify positional classes of English words, Fries chooses a limited number of sentences (so-called test frames) and analyzes them to define the main positions characteristic of English words. Within each test frame, he uses the method of substitution in order to establish which words may function in this position. All the words of the English language that may be placed in this syntactic position constitute a positional class. The following sentences were taken as test frames:

The good concert was good (always)

The clerk remembered the tax (suddenly)

The team went there.

During the analysis, an English word was placed in the first test frame instead of concert. All the words that can be used in this position without causing a change of the structural meaning were called Class 1 words.

In the second test frame the word remembered was substituted, i.e. words were studied for their ability to function as a predicate. These words acquired the name of Class 2 words.

Class 3 words occupied the position of an adjective, i.e. the position of an attribute in preposition and a predicative, in the first test frame.

The fourth class coincides with traditional adverbs capable of modify­ing verbs – the position of always and suddenly.

Besides these four classes, Fries distinguishes 15 groups of function words for which he suggests letter symbols (A, B, C, …O).

Group A comprises all determiners, i.e. all the words that can perform the functions of the definite article in the first test frame.

Group B contains all the words that can substitute may in the test frame The concert (may) be good. In other words, it consists of modal and auxil­iary words.

Group C is made up by one word only – not (treated as negative particle in traditional terminology).

Fries sees Group D as one that comprises all the words that can func­tion in the position of very which signal a certain degree of quality and are placed before Class 3 words. It should be pointed out that, to describe this particular group (as well as some others), Fries turns to semantic aspects of language units. While the four classes are distinguished solely on the ground of position, it appears impossible to describe formal words in terms of their position and substitution.

Another drawback of Fries’s classification lies in that, it is not, in fact, a classification that the scientist works with. The suggested division appears to be very complicated, the classes and the groups mutually overlap; a word may turn up in several groups.

Still, this approach has several advantages. Firstly, the analysis reveals interesting facts concerning distribution of various word groups, their syn­tactic valence. Also, a considerable difference has been noticed between for­mal words and words belonging to the four classes. The four classes contain thousands of items, whereas formal words total 154 units. Moreover, the scientist remarks on frequency of formal words in texts: their occurrence is such that they make up one third of the material studied. Also, it is note­worthy that lexical meaning of class words is easily separated from their structural meaning; in formal words this separation is problematic.

 Morphological theory in the 20th-century Western linguistics – Part 3

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