Adjective: Words denoting state

June 9th, 201210:45 pm


Adjective: Words denoting state

Notional words signifying states and used as predicatives were first identified as a separate part of speech in the Russian language by academi­cians Lev Shcherba and Viktor Vinogradov. The two scholars defined the categorical meaning of the newly identified part of speech as that of state (and, correspondingly, separate words making up this category were called “words of the category of state”). Traditionally the Russian words of the category of state were considered as constituents of the class of adverbs, and they are still considered as such by many Russian scholars.

This theory has been projected onto English and, as a result, some words that may occur only in the function of the predicative and beginning, as a rule, with the prefix a- are referred to as stative words or statives. These include such words as awake, adrift, asleep, afloat, ajar, awry, etc. This analysis was first conducted by Boris Ilyish and later continued by other linguists. In traditional grammars, these words were generally considered under the heading of “predicative adjectives” (some of them also under the heading of adverbs), since their typical position in the sentence is that of a predicative. Supporters of the part-of-speech status of these words point out that statives have all the characteristics necessary for a part of speech. Firstly, statives are allegedly opposed to adjectives semantically, since ad­jectives denote “quality”, and statives denote “states”. Secondly, as different from adjectives, statives are characterized by the specific prefix a-. Thirdly, they do not possess the category of comparison. Fourthly, the combinability of statives is different from that of adjectives in so far as they are not used in the pre-positional attributive function, i.e. they lack the right-hand combin­ability with nouns.

The advanced reasons are undoubtedly serious and worthy of considera­tion. Still, it is possible to find weak points in these arguments. Firstly, this supposed part of speech is characterized by the meaning of a state – either physical or psychic. However, there are a number of words, including ad­jectives, that denote a state: cf. angry, happy, numb, expectant, sad, etc. Secondly, the prefix a- hardly deserves the status of a formal basis of the part-of-speech identification of statives, since there arc words without the prefix that display both essential functional characteristics of statives and the syntactic function of statives (e.g. glad, ill, well, subject (to), underway).

Thirdly, it would not be quite consistent to deny statives the category of comparison, though with statives it is of specific nature. They do not take the synthetic forms of comparison, but they are capable of expressing com­parison analytically with various qualifiers: I am most aware of the gravity of the crisis. Fourthly, the only syntactic function of statives is that of the predicative – the function that they share with adjectives. Consequently, sta­tives differ from adjectives only “negatively”, i.e. by their inability of being an attribute in preposition. The similarity of functions leads to the possibil­ity of the use of a stative and a common adjective in a homogeneous group: She kept herself aloof and reticent. In addition, due to their function in the sentence, some statives may be treated as an adverb (e.g. ashore).

Thus, statives form a unified set of words but do not constitute a separate part of speech comparable with those of the noun, the verb, the adjective, and the adverb. Rather it should be regarded as a periphery of the adjective. This claim is also supported by the fact that in modern English statives can occur in the functions of a pre-positional attribute: e.g. an ashamed face, an aloof air, etc.

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