Morphological classifications in Ancient Indian and Latin grammars – Part 2

March 2nd, 201210:10 am


Morphological classifications in Ancient Indian and Latin grammars – Part 2

Morphological classifications in Ancient Indian and Latin grammars – Part 1

Although the Alexandrians and the Stoics were rivals, their classifications are similar in many respects. Both made use of three kinds of criteria: mor­phological, syntactic and semantic. Whereas the Stoics divided Aristotelian conjunctions into case-inflected (grouping together pronouns and articles) and case-uninflected (grouping together prepositions and conjunctions), the Alexandrians made further finer distinctions between pronouns and articles in the first group and prepositions and conjunctions in the second.

The classification was further elaborated by Latin grammarians. Var-ro proposed a quadripartite morphological classification of Latin inflected words based on the categories of case and tense. The four inflectionally contrasting classes were

1. NOUNS (including adjectives) inflected for case,

2. VERBS inflected for tense,

3. PARTICIPLES inflected both for case and tense,

4. ADVERBS uninfected.

According to Varro, the inflectional abilities correlated with particular syntactic and semantic functions: nouns named, verbs made statements, ad­verbs supported and participles joined.

Other Latin grammarians were less original than Varro and took over the Greek system except that they compensated for the lack of a definite article in Latin by establishing a separate class of interjections. Previously interjections were treated as a subclass of adverbs (even though they are syntactically independent as opposed to adverbs which depend on verbs). In Priscian’s grammar eight word classes were distinguished:

1. NOUN (including adjectives): a part of speech indicating a substance and a quality, and assigning a common or a particular quality of every body or thing;

2. VERB: a part of speech indicating an action or a being acted on; it has tense and mood forms, but is not case inflected;

3. PARTICIPLE: a part of speech, always derivationally referable to verbs, sharing the categories of verbs and nouns (tenses and cases), and therefore distinct from both;

4. PRONOUN: a part of speech whose feature is’its substantiability for prop­er nouns and its specifiability as to person;

5. ADVERB: a part of speech used in constructions with a verb, to which it is syntactically and semantically subordinate;

6. PREPOSITION: a part of speech used as a separate word before case-in­flected words and in composition before both case-inflected and non-case-inflected words;

7. INTERJECTION: a part of speech syntactically independent of verbs, and indicating a feeling or a state of mind;

8. CONJUNCTION: a part of speech joining syntactically two or more mem­bers of any other word class, indicating a relationship between them.

Thus, we may summarize that the development of the parts-of-speech system in European tradition involved going from simple distinctions to complex ones involving more criteria. First, a bipartite division was made into subject and predicate. Then it was noticed that words performing these two functions were associated with their own morphology (case for nouns, tense for verbs). It appears that the semantic criteria were the last to enter the stage when Dionysius Thrax explicitly incorporated in his definition of word classes an observation that formal distinctions are accompanied by particular meanings. This development can be summed up as in the table below.

Ancient Part-of-Speech Classifications

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