The Parts of Speech Problem. Grammatical Classes of Words
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:
1. Classical, or logical-inflectional, worked out by prescriptivists
2. Functional, worked out by descriptivists
3. Distributional, worked out by structuralists
The Principles of Classification as Used by Prescriptive Grammarians
Prescriptive grammarians, who treated Latin as an ideal language, described
English in terms of Latin forms and Latin grammatical constraints. Similar to
Latin, words in English were divided into declinables (nouns, adjectives, pronouns,
verbs, participles) and indeclinables (adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions,
interjections, articles). The number of parts of speech varied from author to author:
in early grammars nouns and adjectives formed one part of speech; later they came
to be treated as two different parts of speech. The same applies to participles,
which were either a separate part of speech or part of the verb. The article was first
classed with the adjective. Later it was given the status of a part of speech and
toward the end of the 19th century the article was integrated into the adjective. The
underlying principle of classification was form, which, as can be seen from their
treatment of the English noun, was not only morphologic but also syntactic, i.e. if
it was form in Latin, it had to be form in English.
The Principles of Classification as Used by Non-Structural Descriptive
Non-structural descriptive grammarians adopted the system of parts of
speech worked out by prescriptivists and elaborated it further. Henry Sweet
(1892), similar to his predecessors, divided words into declinable and indeclinable.
To declinables he attributed noun-words (noun, noun-pronoun, noun-numeral,
infinitive, gerund), adjective-words (adjective, adjective-pronoun, adjectivenumeral,
participle), verb (finite verb), verbals (infinitive, gerund, participle) and
to indeclinables (particles), adverb, preposition, conjunction, interjection. Henry
Sweet speaks of three principles of classification: form, meaning, and function.
However, the results of his classification reveal a considerable divergence between
theory and practice: the division of the parts of speech into declinable and
indeclinable is a division based on form. Only within the class can we see the
operation of the principle of function.
Otto Jespersen, another noted descriptivist, also speaks of three principles
of classification: “In my opinion everything should be kept in view, form, function
and meaning...” (O Jespersen, 1935:91). On the basis of the three criteria, the
scholar distinguishes the following parts of speech: substantives, adjectives,
pronouns, verbs, and particles (adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, interjections).
Otto Jespersen’s system is a further elaboration of Henry Sweet’s system. Unlike
Henry Sweet, Otto Jespersen separates nouns (which he calls substantives) from
noun-words, a class of words distinguished on the basis of function – a noun word
is a word that can function as a noun; he also distinguishes pronouns as a separate
part of speech, thus isolating them from Henry Sweet’s noun-words and adjectivewords.
Both scholars treat the verb alike: to Henry Sweet the verb includes
primarily finite forms: he doubts as to the inclusion of non-finites in the verb.
Although the scholar speaks of form, function and meaning, in practice he gives
preference to form.
Date: 2015-12-17; view: 2342