The theory of valence

October 3rd, 201210:31 am


The theory of valence

The theory of valence stems from the study of combining properties of language units. The theory, like the term itself, has appeared in linguistics comparatively recently: it was used for the first time in works by the fa­mous French structuralist, L. Teniere, who introduced the term “valence” in linguistics borrowing it from chemistry. A little later, the term appeared in works of Russian scholar S. Katznelson.

Originally, the term “valence” was used only in reference to combining capabilities of the verb. Later on, the functions of the term became more extended, and now linguists believe the term “valence” to be applicable to a wide circle of morphological units.

Teniere’s theory is peculiar in that he granted the verb with the central role in the sentence, while the rest of sentence parts were thought to be sub­ordinated to the verb. However, the set of verbal valence was reduced by Teniere to the subject and the object which he called actants. Meanwhile, various types of adverbial modifiers, called circostants, were excluded from the verbal valence set. This interpretation of verbal valence stems from the semantic analysis according to which any action requires a certain number of participants who, on the sentence level, may be represented either as objects or as subject. According to Teniere, neither of adverbial elements is conditioned by verbal semantics and, therefore, does not enter the set of verbal valence.

Later on, this approach was revised, and some types of adverbial modifiers, required by verbal semantics, have been included in the verbal valence set.

Defining the number of actants has given the possibility to classify verbs in accordance with the number of required participants and, thus, define types of word combinations formed by verbs. The theory, put forward by Teniere, has been elaborated by many con­temporary linguists and has occupied its place in modern linguistics. Fur­ther development of the theory has led to some changes in the meaning of the term “valence” which has followed many other linguistic terms and acquired many meanings.

The primary meaning of the term did not differ from “combination”. This interpretation of the term is supported by many researchers. Recently, however, there has been a tendency to narrow down the meaning of valence, i.e. to apply it either only to denote the potential combinability of language units or to denote speech realization of these capabilities. Neither of the suggested interpretations of valence has become established in linguistics, which is quite natural, since the limitations bring about unnecessary compli­cations in its use. However, the tendency to use the term “valence” to refer to potential qualities of language units has gained great popularity. There­fore, it seems justified to use the term “valence” to denote both potential qualities of language units (language level) and to denote peculiarities of combinability in speech.

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