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Theory of oppositions. Types of oppositions. Oppositions in morphology

In discussing grammatical categories, we shall often have to mention

oppositions, that is, pairs of grammatical forms opposed to each other in some

way. The oppositionmay be defined as a generalized correlation of lingual forms

by means of which a certain function is expressed. The correlated elements

(members) of the opposition must possess two types of features: common features

and differential features. Common features serve as the basis of contrast, while

differential features immediately express the function in question.

The oppositional theory was originally formulated as a phonological theory.

Three main qualitative types of oppositions were established in phonology:

privative, gradual, and equipollent. By the number of members contrasted,

oppositions were divided into binary and more than binary (ternary, quaternary,


The most important type of oppositions is the binary privative opposition;

the other types of oppositions are reducible to the binary privative opposition.

The binary privative oppositionis formed by a contrastive pair of

members in which one member is characterized by the presence of a certain

differential feature (strong, marked, positive), while the other member is

characterized by the absence of the feature (weak, unmarked, negative). Eg.

voiced vs. devoiced consonants

The gradual oppositionis formed by a contrastive group of members

which are distinguished not by the presence or absence of a feature, but by the

degree of it.

(Eg. [ï: - i e - ae] form a quaternary opposition by the degree of their


The equipollent oppositionis formed by a contrastive pair or group in

which the members are distinguished by different positive features. (eg. [m] [b],

both bilabial consonants, form an equipollent opposition, [m] being sonorous

nasalized, [b] being plosive.)

Any opposition can be reformulated in privative terms. Any positive feature

distinguishing an oppositionally characterized element is absent in the

oppositionally correlated element, so that considered from the point of view of

this feature alone, the opposition, by definition, becomes privative.

The most important type of opposition in morphology is the binary

privative opposition. The privative morphological oppositionis based on a

morphological differential feature which is present in its strong member and

absent in its weak member (eg. present past).

Speaking about morphological oppositions we need to keep in mind the fact

that members of morphological oppositions unlike those of phonological

oppositions possess both the plane of expression and the plane of content (eg. cat

cats). The meaning of the weak member is more general and abstract as

compared with the meaning of the strong member, which is more particular and

specific. Due to this difference in meaning, the unmarked member is used in a

wider range of contexts than the marked member. For example, the present tense

form of the verb, as different from the past tense, is used to render meanings

much broader than those directly implied by the corresponding time-plane.

Equipollent oppositions in the system of English morphology constitute a

minor type and are mostly confined to formal relations only (eg. am are is).

Gradual oppositions in morphology are not generally recognized. They can

be identified as a minor type at the semantic level only (eg. strong stronger


In various contextual positions one member of an opposition can be used in

the position of the other. This phenomenon can be referred to as reduction of


eg. US soldier goes to Iraq.

The conference opens next week.

(The weak member replaces the strong one.)

This oppositional reduction is stylistically indifferent. Use of the unmarked

member does not transgress the expressive conventions of ordinary speech. This

kind of oppositional reduction is called neutralization. Another type of

oppositional reduction is called transposition. It is defined as contrastive use of

the counter-member of the opposition (the strong one, as a rule).

eg. She is always finding faults with me.

Date: 2015-12-17; view: 10256

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