Adverb: Grammatical meaning

July 10th, 20121:45 pm


Adverb: Grammatical meaning

It might be expected that, since the adverb is a traditional part of speech, all debates over its status and properties are over. It is far from the truth. Ap­proaches to the adverb have been numerous: the adverb has undergone func­tional-semantic analysis, syntactic analysis, the correlation of its grammatical and lexical meanings has also been studied. The stumbling-block of the research has always been the criteria that allow to treat a word as an adverb.

Both prescriptive and scientific grammars refer to this category quite miscellaneous words. Some of these words have all the typical adverbial properties, i.e. these words approach the prototype (or, in terms of the field theory, belong to the core of the field). Such adverbs as here, now, often, seldom, twice, always, wonderfully, profoundly, etc. are treated as those of the core. Here belong also adverbs, homonymous of other parts of speech: yesterday (adverb and noun), home (adverb and noun), last (adverb and ad­jective), cheap (adverb and adjective), hard (adverb and adjective) and so on. The rest of adverbs, exhibiting properties similar or identical of other parts of speech, form the periphery.

Adverbs were granted an independent status quite late. Early gram­mars (for instance, Henry Sweet’s grammar) referred adverbs to a so-called “dustbin” class of particles, which united all indeclinable parts of speech. Jespersen also classed adverbs as particles, pointing out that such words as up, immediately, and should be taken together, since they could not be accounted for as nouns, adjectives, verbs or pronouns. The inconsistency of Jespersen’s approach lies in that, on the other hand, he differentiates be­tween prepositions, conjunctions, and adverbs, while, on the other hand, he unites them quite inconsistently under the common heading.

Strang regards adverbs as verbal adjuncts without specifying their part-of-speech status. Therefore it is not clear whether the scholar treats adverbs as an independent part of speech or as particles.

Representatives of structuralist linguistics, on the ground of the syntac­tic criterion, identified adverbs with so-called Class 4. Filling Class 4 posi­tion was believed to be the only property of adverbs:

The- is/was there
The- are/were here

Undoubtedly, this criterion helped to identify the core adverbs. The rest of them were driven out of this part of speech and distributed between the functional words. This procedure gave rise to seven word groups.

Ukrainian researchers believe that adverbs are lexical words. Accord­ing to this point of view, the grammatical meaning of adverbs is to define quality and circumstances of another quality, an action or a state. It may be claimed that, in the most general sense, adverbs express a secondary qual­ity, while actions, qualities (expressed by adjectives), and states denote a primary quality of the subject, e.g. She sang perfectly. He slept tightly. They are leaving tonight. An extremely urgent affair.

Attempts to reconsider the adverb have been made by many linguistic schools. In particular, some scholars suggested driving some groups out of this category. Among them we may find 1) so-called intensifiers (e.g. very, extremely, absolutely, rather, quite), 2) limiting elements (e.g. only, just, even), 3) discourse markers (e.g. nevertheless, however, furthermore, etc.), as well as not, introductory there and the in the faster the better.

Discussion have been raised concerning so-called postpositives, i.e. ele­ments which, placed in post-position to the verb, form a semantic blend with it. This combination subjects verbs to a regular, systematic multiplication of their semantic functions: to fall to fall out to fall in, to fall for; to give to give in, to give out, to give up; to take to take in, to take over, to take for; to get to get around, to get on, to get out, to get up,etc.

The lexico-grammatical status of postpositives has been interpreted in a number of ways. Some linguists treated them as a type of adverbs (Palmer, Smirnitsky); others as preposition-like functional words (Anichkov, Amos-ova); still others as peculiar prefix-like suffixes similar to the German sepa­rable prefixes (Zhluktenko); finally, some scholars classed these words as a specific set of lexical elements functionally intermediate between words and morphemes (Ilyish, Khaimovich, Rogovskaya). The long list of pos­sible interpretations only proves the complex character of the problem. Yet, one fundamental idea is common for all these theories, and that is the idea of the functional character of the analyzed elements. As a result, the majority of linguists regard these words as a functional set of particles, i.e. words of semi-morphemic nature. “Postpositives” is not the only term used to refer to these items. Other variants include “postpositions”, “adverbial word-mor­phemes”, and “adverbial postpositions”.

Following the classification, put forward by academician Vinogradov, Soviet linguists have tried to overcome heterogeneity of adverbs by distin­guishing such parts of speech as particles (only, just, even, not) and modal words (certainly, probably, naturally). These are actually those elements that are treated by Western scientists as sentence modifying adverbs. Semantic and functional characteristics of these words do differ from core adverbs, which is obvious when comparing homonymous pairs:

James isn’t simply aware of the difficulties! (particle) – Speak simply and slowly as his English is basic, (adverb)

Naturally he was flabbergasted by my words, (modal word) – She moves naturally and unaffectedly while dancing, (adverb)