Post-Saussurean syntactic theories

September 20th, 201212:52 pm

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Post-Saussurean syntactic theories

Saussure’s Course of general linguistics published in 1916 has become the basis for a number of other syntactic theories, besides descriptive lin­guistics and glossematics. These theories cannot be grouped into a particu­lar school, since they represent independent syntactic systems. However, they share similar views on the subject and tasks of syntactic research, based on Saussure’s ideas. In other words, the correlation between language and speech comes in these theories to the fore. The solution of the correlation problem helps to solve such fundamental syntactic issues, as the subject-matter of syntax, relations between syntax and morphology, interpretation of the terms “sentence”, “sentence parts”, etc. All these problems are dis­cussed both from the point of view of language and of speech. As a rule, language is understood as a psychic phenomenon, while its material, acoustic aspect is treated as referring to speech. As a result, according to this ap­proach, language does not exist in speech, it only realizes in speech. Here, however, it is not quite clear whether the conclusions referring to speech may be projected onto the language system as well.

One of the outstanding post-Saussurean works is The Theory of Speech and Language by Sir Alan Gardiner published in 1932. Resolving the prob­lem of the word and the sentence, Gardiner, in fact, resolves the problem of the form and the function. The distinction between language and speech, in the scholar’s point of view, is the distinction between the form and the func­tion. The form belongs to language, while the function refers to speech.

Characteristics of a word as language unit are defined by its form, whereas the sentence – speech unit – is created by a function. The form of a word is not changeable, it is a permanent property, it does not depend on speech. There­fore, since distinctions between parts of speech lieln their form, the parts of speech belong to language and not to speech. Here we have to deal with the inadequate term “part of speech” that may be justly changed into “parts of language”. According to Gardiner, true parts of speech are, in fact, the subject and the predicate. The form has two aspects: internal (semantic) and external. In speech, the form performs a certain function, i.e. it contributes to a certain aim pursued by the speaker in a speech act. As a result, the form is a language fact; the language fact in a certain speech act is a function.

The function of a form may be congruent, i.e. conditioned by a certain construction, or incongruent, i.e. unconditioned. The incongruent function is realized when language and speech interact, i.e. when language dictates the use of the form but speech ignores it. Incongruent functioning may be acknowledged as a language fact creating a new form.

The subject of grammar, according to Gardiner, is a linguistic form in its congruent function, while incongruent function enters grammar only after it has been acknowledged and has entered language. Therefore, the scholar concludes that grammar deals with language and does not deal with speech.

Gardiner also distinguishes between the form of a word, the form of a word combination (i.e. syntactic form) and the intonation form. All the three are constantly reproduced and passed over generations, which leads Gardin­er to believe that these forms belong to language. The three forms are parts of the sentence. In other words, the sentence form is built up by means of these three. Therefore, the sentence form is a language phenomenon. However, the sentence is created by a function rather than by a form, since words become a sentence only in a certain speech act, only when it is uttered with a purpose. The emphasis that Gardiner makes on communicative nature of the sentence is extremely important for further development of grammar. Firstly, it allows to define the sentence as such and, secondly, the emphasis on communicative aspects of speech, on speakers’ intentions as one of the components of communication has become the foundation of pragmatics.

Gardiner elaborates the sentence form. He discerns locutional form and elocutional form. The locutional form results from the words used in the sentence, whereas the elocutional form depends on intonation.

According to Gardiner, any word or word combination may form the sentence, if it is purposeful and has an elocutional form. In other words, Gardiner’s claim that the elocutional form is obligatory for any sentence but the locutional form is optional allows to treat as sentence such formations as Yes! Alas! Not yet! Hurry up!

The locutional form and the elocutional form of a sentence may be at variance with each other. If it is the case, the prevailing form is elocutional, since it is elocutional form (or intonation) that points out whether the sentence should be referred to declarative, interrogative, exclamatory or imperative classes (e.g. the interrogative Could you pass the salt please? under certain conditions may be treated as imperative one expressing a polite request).

Gardiner also argues that the sentence may lack the subject and the pred­icate. To the linguist’s mind, the subject is a word that points out the thing spoken about, while the predicate delivers information about the thing. Both the subject and the predicate belong to speech rather than to language. These are temporary characteristics of words acquired in speech compared to per­manent characteristics (i.e. their part-of-speech status). The subject and the predicate have the locutional form and the elocutional form. The latter is of primary importance. The locutional form of subjects and predicates may be incongruent, which is never the case with the elocutional form. For example, in the sentence Henry has arrived, according to the locutional form, Henry is the subject, but if Henry is marked by stress, then it is Henry that contains information about the arrival. Thus, it is necessary to distinguish between formal and true subjects and predicates. In this particular case, the formal subject performs the function of the true predicate. As a result, Gardiner suggests the division into grammatical and logical subjects and predicates.

These notions are natural in Gardiner’s research, as he studies speech and cannot but deal with its psychological and logical factors. The logical sub­ject is defined as a word or a phrase functioning in speech as a subject. The grammatical subject is, then, a word or a phrase with the locutional form of the subject. Thus, the oppositions “language – speech”, “forms – functions” are complemented by another opposition – “grammar – logic”.

Though Gardiner’s theory is a rather all-embracing and convincing de­scription of the problem, it has some weak points. Firstly, the scholar states that any linguistic form belongs to language, but, at the same time, he, in fact, identifies the locutional form with the function. As a result, the lo­cutional form should belong to speech. Secondly, defining sentence parts, Gardiner is guided by the purely logical principle and, consequently, re­duces sentence parts to the subject, the predicate and the parenthesis, which does not seem to be linguistically justified. Also, though he emphasizes that words objectively exist in language in general, Gardiner does not clarify the nature of the word as such. The scholar erroneously equates phraseological units to words, which proves that Gardiner underestimates the importance of formal characteristics of the word.

Post-Saussurean syntactic theories – Part 2