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

March 2nd, 201210:19 am

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

Morphological theory in the 20th-century Western linguistics – Part 1
Morphological theory in the 20th-century Western linguistics – Part 2

Another structuralist, Henry Gleason, criticizes school definitions of parts of speech, grounded on the semantic criterion. However, in doing so, he does not notice that the criticized classification is implicitly based not so much on these definitions but on the three criteria – morphological, syntactic as well as semantic. Gleason puts forward the classification on the ground of the two criteria – syntactic and morphological. He divides the wordstock into two groups. The first one is made up by morphologi­cally changeable words, while the second consists of words deprived of any inflection. Consequently, the first group contains nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs. However, complying with the chosen morphological criterion, Gleason excludes from the first group all the words that due to some reason do not have a paradigm. Therefore, in Greason’s classification, the word beautiful does not belong to the group of adjectives, because it has no such forms as *beautifuller, *beautifullest.

The second group consists of syntactic classes as well as of words ex­cluded for some reasons from the first group (like the word beautiful). Here we find inconsistency because, though beautiful is syntactically similar to the first group adjective nice, it belongs to a broader group called adjectivals that includes adjectives proper as well. The same principle is applied to pronominals that make up a broader class than pronouns. Classes whose members may occur in similar syntactic positions form so-called constitu­ent classes. Still, Gleason does not provide the reader with its definition or enumeration of constituent classes; it is also not clear whether function-words are included in these classes.

It goes without saying that Gleason’s classification is even less systema­tized than that of Fries’s: one and the same word may simultaneously be­long to two classes, whereas relations between these classes are left with­out systematization. However one cannot but notice two positive points in Gleason’s theory. Firstly, he acknowledges the importance of derivational affixes as parts of speech indicators. Secondly, he points out heterogeneous properties of words belonging to a certain lexico-grammatical group. It is this heterogeneity that is used as the ground for the division into broader and finer classes. As a result, some words are recognized as having all the properties of a certain group, whereas in other words these properties are represented only to a certain extent.

Other linguists, Randolph Quirk, Sydney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech and Jan Svartvik, attempt to synthesize achievements of the tradi­tional and the structural approaches. As a result, their description of interjec­tions is almost identical with the corresponding chapter in The Philosophy of Language by Jespersen. Their division of parts of speech into groups is obviously influenced by Fries’s division into class words and formal words (Quirk R. et al., 1982).

Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech and Svartvik refer nouns, adjectives, adverbs and verbs to Group 1; articles, demonstrative pronouns (regarded as a sepa­rate part of speech), other pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions, interjec­tions – to Group 2. The linguists note that the Group 2 parts of speech are “items of the closed system”, i.e. their number is relatively small and lim­ited, new items are seldom formed. However, the distinction between open and closed word classes must be treated with reservation: a closed class may also get new items but the change takes much more time. As a result, there may be found such new conjunctions as owing, provided, thanks to, etc. Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech and Svartvik regard such patterns as “Preposi­tion + Noun + Preposition” as new prepositions (e.g. by means of thanks to). Still, in such parts of speech as pronouns and articles, the neologisms are hardly possible. These “open” and “closed” systems remind of Fries’s classes and his “closed groups of formal words”. The difference lies in that Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech and Svartvik draw the division within the general system of traditional parts of speech.

Without defining the categorical meaning of different parts of speech, the authors think it expedient to classify the “open” system in terms of the “Stative- Dynamic” opposition. Within this approach, nouns are classi­fied as words that are stable and stative. Verbs are on the opposite pole as soon as they are characterized as dynamic. However, some verbs, e.g. to know, to understand, to see, cannot be used in the progressive tenses and can be called stative. Similar exceptions may also be found among nouns, some of which are not stative. Within this terminological system, adjec­tives are mainly characterized as stative, e.g. tall, red, yellow. However, the adjectives naughty, insolent, denoting actions and behaviour, may resemble verbs. Thus, the grammar by Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech and Svartvik com­bines traditions of both classical and structuralist linguistics.

Jack Richards, John Platt and Heidi Weber also group words into closed and open classes. Open word classes (nouns, verbs, adjectives, ad­verbs, interjections, etc.) offer possibilities for expansion in number through the usual means such as compounding, derivation, coining, borrowing, etc. Closed classes, on the contrary, are those to which no new items can nor­mally be added, and those that usually contain a relatively small number of items. In English, these are conjunctions, prepositions, pronouns, determin­ers, auxiliaries, negative particles, etc. (Richards et al., 1992).

All in all, in modern British and American linguistics there are attempts to improve word classifications, but here the label “word classes” is used rather than “parts of speech”, which represents a change in emphasis. Mod­ern linguists are reluctant to use the notional definitions found in traditional grammar – such as a noun being the “name of something”. The vagueness of these definitions has often been criticized: is beauty a “thing”? is not the adjective red also a “name” of a colour? This alternative approach is based on uniting language units with common features in a separate class. The procedure is carried out with much attention being paid to morphological and combinatorial functions of words. The largest word classes coincide, however, with the following parts of speech: nouns, verbs, adjectives, pro­nouns, prepositions, articles, conjunctions, and interjections.

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