Иностранные языки, филология и лингвистика

The problem of parts of speech is one that causes great controversies both in general linguistic theory and in the analysis of separate languages. We shall have to examine here briefly a few general questions concerning parts of speech which are of some importance for Modern English.



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1.  Principles of grammatical classification of words. The traditional classification of words.

2.  The syntactico-distributional classification of words.

3.  The theory of three ranks (O. Jespersen).

4.  The notion of lexical paradigm of nomination.

5.  Functional words and their properties in the light of

-   the traditional classification,

-   the syntactico-distributional classification,

-   the mixed approach.

6.  Pronouns and their properties in the light of

-   the traditional classification,

-   the syntactico-distributional classification,

-   the mixed approach.

  1.  Principles of Grammatical Classification of Words

The problem of parts of speech is one that causes great controversies both in general linguistic theory and in the analysis of separate languages. We shall have to examine here briefly a few general questions concerning parts of speech which are of some importance for Modern English.

The term "parts of speech" (as well as the corresponding terms in Russian, German, French, and other languages), though firmly established, is not a very happy one. What is meant by a "part of speech" is a type of word differing from other types in some grammatical point or points. To take the clearest example of all, the verb is a type of word different from all other types in that it alone has the grammatical category of tense. Thus, while it is perfectly reasonable to ask, "What is the past tense of the word live?" (the answer of course is, lived), it would make no sense to ask, "What is the past tense of the word city?" or "What is the past tense of the word big?" Those words just have not got any past tense, or any tense whatever, for that matter: the notion of tense cannot be applied to them. Tense is one of the distinctive features characterising the verb as against every other type of word. However, the question is much less simple with reference to some other types of words, and a general definition of the principles on which the classification of parts of speech is based becomes absolutely necessary.

In modern linguistic descriptions different types of word classes are distinguished: grammatical, etymological, semantic, stylistic, etc., one can presume, though, that no classification can be adequate to its aim if it ignores the grammatical principles. It is not accidental that the theoretical study of language in the history of science began with the attempts to identify and describe grammatical classes of words called "parts of speech".

In Modern Linguistics parts of speech are differentiated either by a number of criteria, or by a single criterion.

The polydifferential ("traditional") classification of words is based on the three criteria: semantic, formal, and functional. The semantic criterion presupposes the evaluation of the generalized (categorial) meaning of the words of the given part of speech. The formal criterion provides for the exposition of all formal features (specific inflectional and derivational) of all the lexemic subsets of a particular part of speech. The functional criterion concerns the typical syntactic functions of a part of speech. Contractedly the set of these criteria is referred to as "meaning, form, function".

2. Traditional Classification of Words

In accord with the traditional criteria of meaning, form, and function, words on the upper level of classification are divided into notional and functional.

In English to the notional parts of speech are usually referred the noun, the adjective, the numeral, the pronoun, the verb, the adverb.

On the lines of the traditional classification the adverb, e.g., is described in the following way: the adverb has the categorial meaning of the secondary property (i.e. the property of process or another property); the forms of the degrees of comparison for qualitative adverbs, the specific derivative suffixes; the syntactic functions of various adverbial modifiers.

The notional parts of speech are the words of complete nominative value; in the utterance they fulfill self-dependent functions of naming and denoting things, phenomena, their substantial properties. Opposed to the notional parts of speech are the functional words which are words of incomplete nominative value, but of absolutely essential relational (grammatical) value. In the utterance they serve as all sorts of mediators.

To the basic functional parts of speech in English are usually referred the article, the preposition, the conjunction, the particle, the modal word, the interjection. As has been stated elsewhere, functional words are limited in number. On the lines of the traditional classification they are presented by the list, each of them requiring its own, individual description.


In giving a list of parts of speech, we have not so far mentioned the terms "notional" and "formal". It is time now to turn to this question. According to the view held by some grammarians, 2 words should be divided into two categories on the following principle: some words denote things, actions, and other extralinguistic phenomena (these, then, would be notional words), whereas other words denote relations and connections between the notional words, and thus have no direct bearing on anything extralinguistic (these, then, would be the formal words, or form words). Authors holding this view define prepositions as words denoting relations between words (or between parts of a sentence), and conjunctions as words connecting words or sentences.3

However, this view appears to be very shaky. Actually, the so-called formal words also express something extralinguistic. For instance, prepositions express relations between things. Cf., e. g., The letter is on the table and The letter is in the table: two different relations between the two objects, the letter and the table, are denoted by the prepositions. In a similar way, conjunctions denote connections between extralinguistic things and phenomena. Thus, in the sentence The match was postponed because it was raining the conjunction because denotes the causal connection between two processes, which of course exists whether we choose to express it by words or not. In the sentence It was raining but the match took place all the same the conjunction but expresses a contradiction between two phenomena, the rain and the match, which exists in reality whether we mention it or not. It follows that the prepositions on and in, the conjunctions because and but express some relations and connections existing independently of language, and thus have as close a connection with the extralinguistic world as any noun or verb. They are, in so far, no less notional than nouns or verbs.

Now, the term "formal word" would seem to imply that the word thus denoted has some function in building up a phrase or a sentence. This function is certainly performed by both prepositions and conjunctions and from this point of view prepositions and conjunctions should indeed be singled out.

But this definition of a formal word cannot be applied to particles. A particle does not do anything in the way of connecting words or building a phrase or a sentence.

There does not therefore seem to be any reason for classing particles with formal words. If this view is endorsed we shall only have two parts of speech which are form words, viz. prepositions and conjunctions. 1

It should also be observed that some words belonging to a particular part of speech may occasionally, or even permanently, perform a function differing from that which characterises the part of speech as a whole. Auxiliary verbs are a case in point. In the sentence I have some money left the verb have performs the function of the predicate, which is the usual function of a verb in a sentence, In this case, then, the function of the verb have is precisely the one typical of verbs as a class. However, in the sentence I have found my briefcase the verb have is an auxiliary: it is a means of forming a certain analytical form of the verb find. It does not by itself perform the function of a predicate. We need not assume on that account that there are two verbs have, one notional and the other auxiliary. It is the same verb have, but its functions in the two sentences are different. If we take the verb shall, we see that its usual function is that of forming the future tense of another verb, e. g. I shall know about it to-morrow. Shall is then said to be an auxiliary verb, and its function differs from that of the verb as a part of speech, but it is a verb all the same.

Grammatical categories identifying the parts of speech are known to be expressed in paradigms. We generally distinguish inflectional and analytical types of the paradigm. In the former the invariable part is the stem, in the latter the lexical element of the paradigm. The so-called interparadigmatic homonymy resulting from the fact that the root, the stem and the grammatical form of the word may be identical in sound, is most frequent.

Some type of structural ambiguity always results in English whenever the form-classes of the words are not clearly marked.

Vivid examples of such kind of ambiguity are given by Ch. Fries  with reference to the use of the article in Modern English:

"The utterance ship sails today (which might appear in a telegram) is ambiguous as it stands because of the absence of clear part-of-speech markers. If a clear part-of-speech marker the is put before the first word as in 'The ship sails today', there is no ambiguity; we have a statement. If, however, the same marker is put before the second word as in 'Ship the sails today', there is also no ambiguity, but the utterance is different; we have a request. Other clear part-of-speech markers would also resolve the ambiguity, as with the addition of such a marker as the ending -ed: 'Shipped sail today'; 'Ship sailed today'."

Newspaper headlines very frequently are structurally ambiguous because of the lack of definite part-of-speech or form-class markers. Some typical examples out of many are the following:

(1) "Vandenberg Reports Open Forum". The ambiguity of this heading could be cleared by the use of such markers as the or an, as: 'Vandenberg Reports Open the Forum', 'Vandenberg Reports an Open Forum'.

(2) "Unfavourable Surveyor Reports delayed Michigan Settlement". The ambiguity of this heading would be cleared by the use of such markers as have or a 'Unfavourable Surveyor Reports Have delayed Michigan Settlement'; 'Unfavourable Surveyor Reports a Delayed Michigan Settlement' .

We cannot fail to see that in such cases the article as a clear part-of-speech marker serves to contrast the paradigmatic forms. This is closely related to the development of conversion which is one of the most peculiar features of English and presents a special point of interest in its structure. By conversion we mean a non-affix word-making device where the paradigm of the word and its syntactical function signal the lexico-grammatical nature of the word. The newly formed word differs both lexically and grammatically from the source word and the latter becomes its homonym.

It is to be noted that some modern linguists have abandoned many of the commonly held views of grammar. With regard to the methodology employed their linguistic approach differs from former treatments in language learning. Structural grammatical studies deal primarily with the "grammar of structure", and offer an approach to the problems of "sentence analysis" that differs in point of view and in emphasis from the usual treatment of syntax.

Some linguists prefer to avoid the traditional terminology and establish a classification of words based only on the distributive analysis, i. e., their аbility to combine with other words of different types. Thus, for instance, the words and and but will fall under one group, while because and whether are referred to as belonging to another group.

Two additional remarks are necessary before we proceed to the analysis of parts of speech in detail.

In the first place, there is the question about the mutual relation of the criteria. We cannot be sure in advance that all three criteria will always point the same way. Then, again, in some cases, one of them may fail (this especially applies to the criterion of form). Under such circumstances, it may prove necessary to choose between them, i. e. to attach to one of them greater value than to another. We may say, provisionally, that we shall treat them in the order in which they have been enumerated, viz. meaning shall come first, form next, and function last.

It will also be seen that the theory of parts of speech, though considered by most scholars to be a part of morphology,2 cannot do without touching on some syntactical problems, namely on phrases and on syntactical functions of words (point 3 in our list of criteria). We shall regard the theory of parts of speech as essentially a part of morphology, involving, however, some syntactical points.


1. Proceeding in the usual order, we start with


  1.  Meaning. The adjective expresses property.1
  2.  Form. Adjectives in Modern English are invariable. Some adjectives form degrees of comparison (long, longer, longest).
  3.  Function. (a) Adjectives combine with nouns both preceding and (occasionally) following them (large room, times immemorial). They also combine with a preceding adverb (very large). Adjectives can be followed by the phrase "preposition + noun" (free from danger). Occasionally they combine with a preceding verb (married young). (b) In the sentence, an adjective can be either an attribute (large room) or a predicative (is large). It can also be an objective predicative (painted the door green).

2. The pronoun.

(1) The meaning of the pronoun as a separate part of speech is somewhat difficult to define. In fact, some pronouns share essential peculiarities of nouns (e.g. he), while others have much in common with adjectives (e. g. which). This made some scholars think that pronouns were not a separate part of speech at all and should be distributed between nouns and adjectives. However, this view proved untenable and entailed insurmountable difficulties. Hence it has proved necessary to find a definition of the specific meaning of pronouns, distinguishing them from both nouns and adjectives. From this angle the meaning of pronouns as a part of speech can be stated as follows: pronouns point to the things and properties without naming them. Thus, for example, the pronoun it points to a thing without being the name of any particular class of things. The pronoun its points to the property of a thing by referring it to another thing. The pronoun what can point both to a thing and a property.

  1.  Form. As far as form goes pronouns fall into different types. Some of them have the category of number (singular and plural), e. g. this, while others have no such category, e. g. somebody. Again, some pronouns have the category of case (he him, somebody somebody's), while others have none (something).
  2.  Function. (a) Some pronouns combine with verbs (he speaks, find him), while others can also combine with a following noun (this room). (b) In the sentence, some pronouns may be the subject (he, what) or the object, while others are the attribute (my). Pronouns can be predicatives.

3. Numerals. The treatment of numerals presents some difficulties, too. The so-called cardinal numerals (one, two) are somewhat different from the so-called ordinal numerals (first, second).

  1.  Meaning. Numerals denote either number or place in a series.
  2.  Form. Numerals are invariable.
  3.  Function. (a) As far as phrases go, both cardinal and ordinal numerals combine with a following noun (three rooms, third room); occasionally a numeral follows a noun (soldiers three, George the Third). (b) In a sentence, a numeral most usually is an attribute (three rooms, the third room), but it can also be subject, predicative, and object: Three of them came in time; "We Are Seven" (the title of a poem by Wordsworth); I found only four.

4. The adverb.

  1.  The meaning of the adverb as a part of speech is hard to define. Indeed, some adverbs indicate time or place of an action (yesterday, here), while others indicate its property (quickly) and others again the degree of a property (very). As, however, we should look for one central meaning characterising the part of speech as a whole, it seems best to formulate the meaning of the adverb as "property of an action or of a property".
  2.  Form. Adverbs are invariable. Some of them, however, have degrees of comparison (fast, faster, fastest).
  3.  Function. (a) An adverb combines with a verb (run quickly), with an adjective (very long), occasionally with a noun (the then president) and with a phrase (so out of things). (b) An adverb can sometimes follow a preposition (from there). (c) In a sentence an adverb is almost always an adverbial modifier, or part of it (from there), but it may occasionally be an attribute.

5. Prepositions. The problem of prepositions has caused very heated discussions, especially in the last few years. Both the meaning and the syntactical functions of prepositions have been the subject of controversy. We will treat of this matter at some length in Chapter XVIII, and here we will limit ourselves to a brief statement of our general view on the subject.

(1) Meaning. The meaning of prepositions is obviously that of relations between things and phenomena.

  1.  Form. Prepositions are invariable.
  2.  Function. (a) Prepositions enter into phrases in which they are preceded by a noun, adjective, numeral, stative, verb or adverb, and followed by a noun, adjective, numeral or pronoun. (b) In a sentence a preposition never is a separate part of it. It goes together with the following word to form an object, adverbial modifier, predicative or attribute, and in extremely rare cases a subject (There were about a hundred people in the hall).

We have drawn a general outline of the division of the lexicon into part of speech classes developed by modern linguists on the lines of traditional morphology.

It is known that the distribution of words between different parts of speech may to a certain extent differ with different authors. This fact gives cause to some linguists for calling in question the rational character of the part of speech classification as a whole, gives them cause for accusing it of being subjective or "prescientific" in essence. Such nihilistic criticism, however, should be rejected as utterly ungrounded.

Indeed, considering the part of speech classification on its merits, one must clearly realize that what is above all important about it is the fundamental principles of word-class identification, and not occasional enlargements or diminutions of the established groups, or re-distributions of individual words due to re-considerations of their subcategor-ial features. The very idea of subcategorization as the obligatory second stage of the undertaken classification testifies to the objective nature of this kind of analysis.

For instance, prepositions and conjunctions can be combined into one united series of "connectives", since the function of both is just to connect notional components of the sentence. In this case, on the second stage of classification, the enlarged word-class of connectives will be subdivided into two main subclasses, namely, prepositional connectives and conjunctional connectives. Likewise, the articles can be included as a subset into the more general set of particles-specifiers. As is known, nouns and adjectives, as well as numerals, are treated in due contexts of description under one common class-term "names": originally, in the Ancient Greek grammatical teaching they were not differentiated because they had the same forms of morphological change (declension). On the other hand, in various descriptions of English grammar such narrow lexemic sets as the two words yes and no, the pronominal determiners of nouns, even the one anticipating pronoun it are given a separate class-item status — though in no way challenging or distorting the functional character of the treated units.

It should be remembered that modern principles of part of speech identification have been formulated as a result of painstaking research conducted on the vast materials of numerous languages; and it is in Soviet linguistics that the three-criteria characterization of parts of speech has been developed and applied to practice with the utmost consistency. The three celebrated names are especially notable for the elaboration of these criteria, namely, V. V. Vinogradov in connection with his study of Russian grammar, A. I. Smirnitsky and B. A. Ilyish in connection with their study of English grammar


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