Field structure of parts of speech – Parts of speech as discourse-cognitive classes – Part 2

March 2nd, 20123:43 pm


Field structure of parts of speech – Parts of speech as discourse-cognitive classes – Part 2

Field structure of parts of speech – Parts of speech as discourse-cognitive classes – Part 1

The modern state of cognitive science has resulted in the hypothesis put forward by Russian linguist Elena Kubryakova. She suggested considering parts of speech as discourse-cognitive classes of words rather than lexico-grammatical ones. The cognitive approach presupposes that a language (and language units in particular) is a phenomenon, determined not by reality itself, but by its reflection in the human mind. In other words, language units are representations of reality and its elements in human brain. Words are our “interpretations” of reality. Phenomena of reality are processed by human consciousness. Accordingly, different aspects of reality correspond to dif­ferent structures in human mind. This fact stares anyone in the face if one ever bothers to give a thought to the reasons for forming such words as, for example, to pencil, to outhollywood, to overfootnote or teachable. Clearly, conversion in the first case is the shortest and most effective way to express both the action and the instrument with which the action was performed. With to outhollywood and to overfootnote, the speaker tries to express a “complex situation”, and again s/he chooses to shorten the phrases “to emu­late Hollywood movie industry and to succeed in imitation” and “to supply the text with too many footnotes” by using derivational means. The same may be said about the word teachable: in order to express something from her/his experience, i.e. the results of her/his cognitive process, the speaker, depending on a particular discourse requirements, manipulates language means and forms either verbs from nouns, or adjectives from verbs. For the speaker, these words are the most compact ways to deliver her/his particular interpretation, her/his vision of a particular situation.

This theory explains the difference between the adjective black and the noun blackness that both share an attributive meaning. If we take parts of speech as discourse-cognitive classes, we may refer to the noun black­ness as a hybrid form, in which the primary stem “black”, that is qualitative in meaning, coexists with the meaning of a thing, characteristic of nouns. Thus, when a sign is introduced into a new part of speech, it means that this sign is used to express one of the categorical meanings of the part of speech. In other words, this is the result of the interplay of communicative factors (Kubryakova, 1997).

The discourse-cognitive model makes the idea of the language as a field structure somewhat more accurate. To discern commonalities in a limited number of objects is much easier than to claim that there are commonalities shared by all the elements of a given category. In the case of the discourse-cognitive theory, elements of a category are regarded not as “equal”, “identi­cal” (as the classical logical approach would require) but as “similar”, which goes along the lines of psychological and anthropological peculiarities of cognition. Discourse-cognitive classes are not constituted by “typical” and “periphery” elements. The theory considers each element within a certain class to be a “variant” of its ideal representative. At the same time, the ideal representative does not exist in reality – the notion of such a representative may be derived only after a thorough analysis of all the existent representa­tives of the class. This organization of a class is called prototypical and the ideal representative is referred to as a prototype.

Thus, the absence of rigid boundaries between word classes receives consistent interpretation. This approach also explains the phenomenon of hypostasis (or class migration), i.e. the process when a word may be used in the functions peculiar to some other part of speech. Let us take, for ex­ample, typical English word combination a stone wall or a flower garden. Here, it is difficult to say whether the words stone and flower are adjectives formed by means of conversion or nouns used in the attributive function of the adjective. Class migration may take a long time. As a rule, a word starts being used in a function of some other part of speech and develops a new meaning. Later there appear two independent words. Examples of such words are just (adverb, particle) and since (adverb, preposition and conjunction).

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