Particle: Grammatical meaning

July 18th, 20124:03 am


Particle: Grammatical meaning

Particles are subject to heated disputes in linguistics, since their inter­pretation depends on linguistic traditions as well as on an individual author. For example, Western scholars do not, as a rule, mention particles as a part of speech; in their classifications, these words are referred to adverbs, pro­nouns, and conjunctions. Thus, British and American grammarians do not differentiate between particles and adverbs at all. In these classifications, ad­verbs are divided, on the ground of their syntactic functions, into adjuncts, disjuncts, and conjuncts. While disjuncts are associated with modal words, adjuncts and conjuncts have primarily a connective function and consist of words that in other classifications are qualified as particles. Thus, adjuncts include such words as alone, just, merely, only even, while the group of con­juncts includes yet and still. In other words, adjuncts and conjuncts contain units that are treated as particles within Slavonic linguistic tradition.

In Soviet linguistics, academician Vinogradov was the first to distin­guish particles as a separate part of speech, equal in their status with prepo­sitions and conjunctions in the Russian language. Since then, a number of grammars by Soviet linguists have treated particles as a functional part of speech, deprived of any formal markers. In these works, particles are qualified as a separate class of function-words that semantically specify, limit, emphasize other words in the sentence without expressing any grammatical relations between them.

At first, particles were defined as a part of speech formed by morpho­logically unchangeable words giving modal or emotional emphasis to other words or groups of words or clauses. This definition could hardly be taken as satisfactory, for in this case none of the properties could be called a cat­egorical one. It is obvious that, firstly, morphological unchangeability is not restricted to particles only; secondly, emotional meaning can also be hardly taken as a categorical one; thirdly, emphatic meaning, conveyed by particles and treated as one of their main characteristics, is also typical of modal words, intensifying adverbs and even some syntactic constructions. Disputes over the definition have resulted in differences in the number of particles that have been pointed out by grammarians as well as in differenc­es in further subdivision of these linguistic units. As a rule, grammar books mention the following groups of particles: 1) limiting (even, else, only), 2) modal (never, hardly, scarcely), 3) emotive (but, just, simply, still), and 4) grammatical (not, to).

The classification given above is inconsistent, since the grammatical particles are distinguished on the ground of grammatical rather than seman­tic relations. These “grammatical” particles function as indicators within a morphological form and, therefore, cannot be analyzed independently of the structure in which they appear.

Arguments against simultaneous differentiation between modal, emo­tive, and limiting particles are of different nature. The ability of a word to carry out the limiting function may not be treated as a purely semantic meaning, since the limiting function implies some “limited” units. It fol­lows from this that the notion of “limitation”, as it is understood within this classification, presupposes both semantic and syntactic aspects. Besides, the ability to limitation is not restricted exclusively to the limiting particles: it is characteristic of the rest of particles as well, which makes limitation the property of the entire class.

The difference between “modal” and other particles is also very doubt­ful, since all the particles, without exception, express the speakers’ subjec­tive attitude to the content of an utterance, therefore, they are all emotively marked. This leads us to argue the term “emotive” particles, since if we restrict emotiveness to only these words, then we must admit that other par­ticles may not be emotive, which does not hold.

Some scientists distinguish between modal and logical particles, inter­preting modal particles as words that refer to the entire sentence and express such modal meanings as possibility, certainty, uncertainty, etc., i.e. modal particles are regarded as complementary to the verbal Mood. These particles are usually found in imperative sentences and various types of interroga­tive and exclamatory sentences. The borderline between these two classes is very vague, though, since modal meanings may combine with the meaning of logical relations.

All in all, the groups of particles as they are given above raise more questions than answers. It is obvious that diversity of classifications and approaches to particles stem from different points of view on the main func­tions of this part of speech: some scholars emphasize emotiveness, some see logical relations as the most important for identification, others are guided by grammatical meanings. This confusion may apparently be traced back as far as the old tradition to refer to all morphologically unchangeable func­tion-words as “particles”.

Researchers’ interest was again drawn to particles in the 1980s. Then the main function of particles was reconsidered. As a result, the role of this part of speech acquired an interpretation, other than expression of emotions and emphasis. In the 80s, particles came to be believed a means of expressing implied meanings. This view became possible only when linguistic analysis stopped being restricted to an isolated sentence and linguists’ attention was turned to text with its additional, implicit meanings.

Particle: Grammatical meaning – Part 2