LECTURE 4: THE PARTS OF SPEECH PROBLEM. WORD CLASSES
The parts of speech are classes of words, all the members of these classes having certain characteristics in common which distinguish them from the members of other classes. The problem of word classification into parts of speech still remains one of the most controversial problems in modern linguistics. The attitude of grammarians with regard to parts of speech and the basis of their classification varied a good deal at different times. Only in English grammarians have been vacillating between 3 and 13 parts of speech. There are four approaches to the problem:
The classical parts of speech theory goes back to ancient times. It is based on Latin grammar. According to the Latin classification of the parts of speech all words were divided dichotomically into declinableand indeclinableparts of speech. This system was reproduced in the earliest English grammars. The first of these groups, declinable words, included nouns, pronouns, verbs and participles, the second – indeclinable words – adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and interjections. The logical-inflectional classification is quite successful for Latin or other languages with developed morphology and synthetic paradigms but it cannot be applied to the English language because the principle of declinability/indeclinability is not relevant for analytical languages.
A new approach to the problem was introduced in the XIX century by Henry Sweet. He took into account the peculiarities of the English language. This approach may be defined as functional. He resorted to the functional features of words and singled out nominative units and particles. To nominative parts of speech belonged noun-words (noun, noun-pronoun, noun-numeral, infinitive, gerund), adjective-words (adjective, adjective-pronoun, adjective-numeral, participles), verb (finite verb, verbals – gerund, infinitive, participles), while adverb, preposition, conjunction and interjection belonged to the group of particles. However, though the criterion for classification was functional, Henry Sweet failed to break the tradition and classified words into those having morphological forms and lacking morphological forms, in other words, declinable and indeclinable.
A distributionalapproachto the parts to the parts of speech classification can be illustrated by the classification introduced by Charles Fries. He wanted to avoid the traditional terminology and establish a classification of words based on distributive analysis, that is, the ability of words to combine with other words of different types. At the same time, the lexical meaning of words was not taken into account. According to Charles Fries, the words in such sentences as 1. Woggles ugged diggles; 2. Uggs woggled diggs; and 3. Woggs diggled uggles are quite evident structural signals, their position and combinability are enough to classify them into three word-classes. In this way, he introduced four major classes of words and 15 form-classes. Let us see how it worked. Three test frames formed the basis for his analysis:
Frame A - The concert was good (always);
Frame B - The clerk remembered the tax (suddenly);
Frame C – The team went there.
It turned out that his four classes of words were practically the same as traditional nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. What is really valuable in Charles Fries’ classification is his investigation of 15 groups of function words (form-classes) because he was the first linguist to pay attention to some of their peculiarities.
All the classifications mentioned above appear to be one-sided because parts of speech are discriminated on the basis of only one aspect of the word: either its meaning or its form, or its function.
In modern linguistics, parts of speech are discriminated according to three criteria: semantic, formal and functional. This approach may be defined as complex. The semantic criterion presupposes the grammatical meaning of the whole class of words (general grammatical meaning). The formalcriterion reveals paradigmatic properties: relevant grammatical categories, the form of the words, their specific inflectional and derivational features. The functionalcriterion concerns the syntactic function of words in the sentence and their combinability. Thus, when characterizing any part of speech we are to describe: a) its semantics; b) its morphological features; c) its syntactic peculiarities.
The linguistic evidence drawn from our grammatical study makes it possible to divide all the words of the language into:
a) those denoting things, objects, notions, qualities, etc. – words with the corresponding references in the objective reality – notionalwords;
b) those having no references of their own in the objective reality; most of them are used only as grammatical means to form up and frame utterances – functionwords, or grammaticalwords.
It is commonly recognized that the notional parts of speech are nouns, pronouns, numerals, verbs, adjectives, adverbs; the functional parts of speech are articles, particles, prepositions, conjunctions and modal words.
The division of language units into notion and function words reveals the interrelation of lexical and grammatical types of meaning. In notional words the lexical meaning is predominant. In function words the grammatical meaning dominates over the lexical one. However, in actual speech the border line between notional and function words is not always clear cut. Some notional words develop the meanings peculiar to function words - e.g. seminotional words – to turn, to get, etc.
Notional words constitute the bulk of the existing word stock while function words constitute a smaller group of words. Although the number of function words is limited (there are only about 50 of them in Modern English), they are the most frequently used units.
Generally speaking, the problem of words’ classification into parts of speech is far from being solved. Some words cannot find their proper place. The most striking example here is the class of adverbs. Some language analysts call it a ragbag, a dustbin (Frank Palmer), Russian academician V.V.Vinogradov defined the class of adverbs in the Russian language as ìóñîðíàÿ êó÷à. It can be explained by the fact that to the class of adverbs belong those words that cannot find their place anywhere else. At the same time, there are no grounds for grouping them together either. Compare: perfectly (She speaks English perfectly) and again (He is here again). Examples are numerous (all temporals). There are some words that do not belong anywhere - e.g. after all. Speaking about after all it should be mentioned that this unit is quite often used by native speakers, and practically never by our students. Some more striking examples: anyway, actually, in fact. The problem is that if these words belong nowhere, there is no place for them in the system of words, then how can we use them correctly? What makes things worse is the fact that these words are devoid of nominative power, and they have no direct equivalents in the Ukrainian or Russian languages. Meanwhile, native speakers use these words subconsciously, without realizing how they work.