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