Noun: Category of case in modern English grammars – Part 2

Березень 30th, 20128:00 am


Noun: Category of case in modern English grammars – Part 2

Noun: Category of case in modern English grammars – Part 1

We have considered the three theories which, if at basically different angles, proceed from the assumption that the English noun docs distinguish the grammatical case in its functional structure. However, another view of the problem of the English noun cases has been put forward which sharply counters the theories hitherto observed. This view approaches the English noun as having completely lost the category of case in the course of its historical development. All the nounal cases, including the much spoken of genitive, are considered as extinct, and the lingual unit that is named the genitive case by force of tradition, would be in reality a combination of a noun with a preposition (i.e. a relational word with the preposition-like function). This view, advanced by Vorontsova, may be called the theory of the possessive postposition (postpositional theory).

Of the various reasons substantiating the postpositional theory the fol­lowing two should be considered as the main ones.

First, the postpositional element -‘s is but loosely connected with the noun, which finds the clearest expression in its use not only with a single noun, but also with whole word-groups of various status: the man we saw yesterday s daughter, the man over there s dog.

Second, there is an indisputable parallelism of functions between the possessive postpositional constructions and the prepositional constructions, resulting in the optional use of the former: the daughter of the man we saw yesterday.

However rigorously this theory observes the lingual data, still one can’t but acknowledge that the noun form in -‘s is systematically, i.e. on strictly structural-functional basis, contrasted against the unfeatured form of the noun, which does turn the whole correlation of the noun forms into a grammatical category of case-like order, however specific it might be. Thus, within the expression of the possessive in English, two subtypes are to be recognized: the first (principal) is the word possessive; the second (of a minor order) is the phrase possessive.

As the basic arguments for the recognition of the noun form in –‘s in the capacity of grammatical case, besides the oppositional nature of the general functional correlation of the featured and unfeatured forms of the noun, we will name the following two.

Firstly, the broader phrasal uses of the postpositional -‘s display a clearly expressive stylistic colouring; they are stylistically marked which fact proves their transpositional nature. According to the data obtained by Khaimovich and Rogovskaya, the –‘s sign is attached to individual nouns in as many as 96 % of its total textual occurrence.

Secondly, the –‘s sign from the point of view of its segmental status in language differs from ordinary functional words. It is morpheme-like by its phonetic properties; it is strictly postpositional unlike the prepositions; it is semantically a far more bound element than a preposition, which prevented it from being entered as a separate word into dictionaries.

As for the fact that the “possessive postpositional construction” is corre­lated with a parallel prepositional construction, it only shows the functional peculiarity of the form, but cannot disprove its case-like nature, since cases of nouns in general render much the same functional semantics as preposi­tional phrases.

Speaking of the possessive case, it is necessary to mention some restric­tions on its use. Nouns in the possessive case perform only one function in a sentence – that of an attribute. In other words, the possessive case may only appear in a noun+noun phrase. However, the common case may also be used in this function. Semantic difference between these syntactically identical forms is quite obvious: the possessive case expresses an individual characteristic, whereas the common case denotes the result of generaliza­tion – a peculiarity of a class. Therefore animate nouns are typically as­sociated with the possessive case: Shakespeare’s sonnets, Austen’s novels. This is the reasons for the use of a person’s name in the common case: the Shakespeare National Theatre, the Austen manner. The possessive in these phrases expresses generalized qualities, taken in abstraction from the per­sons. Consequently, names of living beings usually appear in this form (the woman’s car, the cat’s mat). Names of inanimate entities may be used in the possessive case quite rarely, when these are names of some concrete things: the car’s door, the door’s support.

The majority of abstract nouns have no possessive form: *his career’s progress. However, the use of names of seasons, distance, and price are quite frequent: week’s notice, at a mile’s distance, a dollar’s worth of coffee.

Such uses of the possessive as St.Paul’s, at the baker V cannot be neglect­ed. It these phrases the possessive form of the nouns represents the head-noun rather than its modifier (compare Pauls house, the baker’s shop). Some scientists treat such cases as lexicalization of a noun in the possessive case.

The use of the possessive case of nouns in plural is limited in speech because, as it has been mentioned, the form is impossible to distinguish pho­netically from the possessive singular: the girl s room, the girlsroom. The only exception is nouns that have preserved their inner inflection in plural: men s, children s.

All the above-mentioned restrictions are arguments for the claim that the possessive and the common forms realize a category more narrow that that of the case. Those linguists that support this point of view believe that this “nounal category” belongs to the sphere of syntax as soon as it is able to form syntactic groups (Mary and Sarah s house, the man over there s dog). The scholars suppose that the possessive case has undergone the process of syntaxicalization: the ending – ‘s separated from the stem and modifying word combinations has turned into a syntactic marker. Though the claim concerning “penetration” of the morphological marker into syntax may be disputable; however, regarding this marker as morphological is equivalent of admitting in morphology non-analytical forms.

On the other hand, the basic form has no morphological features of the case and is not opposed to anything but the attributive word combination, its function in the sentence is not correlated with any morphological markers, it is only defined in terms of sentence parts. These observations lead some scholars to believe that the category of case in English has disappeared.

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