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"Whether we decide to employ, to teach, or to avoid worrying about grammar, we need to be informed about it."

Mark Garner


1. Language as a many-sided phenomenon. The problem of its definition.

2. The levels of language and the relations between them. The position of grammar in the structure of language.

3. The three aspects in the study of language: syntactics, semantics and pragmatics.

4. General characteristic of the grammatical structure of the English language.

1. Language is a complex, many-sided and many-functional phenomenon and therefore not easy to define. Today it is studied by linguists, logicians, philosophers, psychologists, anthropologists, culturologists and other specialists. As it has been justly pointed out, language is "many things - a system of communication, a medium for thought, a vehicle for literary expression, a social institution, a matter for political controversy, a factor in nation building" [Grady & Dobrovolsky 1993, 1]. Thus language has many aspects, or 'faces' and the definition of language depends largely upon which aspect comes into the focus of the researcher, upon what becomes the subject matter of research. Even in linguistic studies the definitions of language vary considerably.

Speculating about the so called ostensive (i.e. based on the subject matter) definitions of language, linguists point out three main aspects and, consequently, three main ways of representing language:

- as a result of speech activity of native speakers, presented in various kinds of speech products: literary texts, newspapers, recorded conversations, interviews, various documents etc.;

- as a result of linguistic research presented in dictionaries, grammar books, monographs and dissertations devoted to various aspects of language and aimed at revealing its systemic regularities;

as lingual competence of a native speaker, the language in the speaker's mind, i.e. language "in potentia", not yet realized in speech activity, but ready for such a realization.



Thus language can be represented in three ways: language as text, language as system, and language as competence [KapayjioB 1999, 8-9]. Certainly, these three ways of representing language are, in fact, just representations, or ways of viewing one and the same unique and many-sided phenomenon - language. It -remains one integral whole though its representations may vary according to the viewpoint of the observer and the metalingual means of its description. These three ways of language representation are interrelated and interdependent. We can form an idea about the systemic peculiarities of a language only by observing speech activity in this language in its various forms. Similarly we can judge about the lingual competence of language speakers only in the process of observing and analyzing their performance in the language. And such an analysis is possible only on the basis of our knowledge about the systemic peculiarities of the language under study.

The definitions of language are also directly related to its main functions and its internal systemic properties. Viewed from the point of its cognitive function (which is now in the focus of linguistic attention) language is defined as a means of forming, storing and transmitting information (knowledge). Language is actively studied today as a means of reconstructing cognitive processes which are not accessible for direct observation but can be understood on the b.asis of analyzing lingual facts. Viewed from its social function language is defined as a means of communication. It is essential to remember that the aim of k any meaningful communication is to exchange information from which it follows that the two functions of language: cognitive and communicative are closely interrelated - we communicate in order to exchange thoughts and information. Viewed from the point of its internal properties language is defined as a structured system of signs and thus it is a part of semiotics. This system of signs was created by people (and it is one of the most wonderful creations of humanity!) to satisfy their need in communication - one of the most essential needs of people as social beings. Thus with respect to its internal properties and its main functions language may be defined as a structured system of signs used for forming, storing and exchanging information in the process of human communication.

2. Now let us turn to the analysis of language from the point of its internal properties. The attribute ''structured' in its definition suggests that the language system presents a hierarchy and consists of subsystems, or levels. The notion of the level presents one of the basic logical notions and is widely employed in various spheres of knowledge and practical activities of people. In linguistics it is applied to lingual units which form hierarchal relations within the language system. Thus the notions of a language level and a language unit are interdependent [Bnox 2000, 56].


A level can be defined as a subsystem of language which presents a totality of homogeneous units and a set of rules regulating their use and classification (J13C 1990, 539).

Language structure consists of three main domains: phonetics, lexicon and grammar which are further subdivided and form six levels: phonemic, morphemic, lexemic, phrasemic, sentential, or proposemic, and suprasentential, or dictemic. The terms 'proposemic' and 'dictemic' were introduced by M.Y.Blokh [Blokh 1983,15; bjiox 2000, 60-61] and seem to be quite appropriate as they are in accordance with the emic theory of language and are formally correlated with units of the other levels of language. On the other hand, the, terms 'sentential' and 'suprasentential' have the advantage of being traditional and more familiar.

The lowest is the phonemic level with its central unit - the phoneme, the smallest unit of language whose function is to differentiate meanings. This level is closed, it comprises a limited set of phonemes and it is relatively stable -no sounds are borrowed from other languages and phonetic changes even if they do occur develop very slowly and embrace long periods of time.

The next level is morphemic and its central unit is the morpheme - the smallest meaningful part of language. The morpheme may present a combination of two or more phonemes, but it may also be presented by one phoneme, e.g. Чs in cats. The main difference between the phoneme and the morpheme is not in the form but in the function: phonemes are used to differentiate meanings whereas morphemes express meanings, they are meaningful. The function of morphemes is either to build grammatical forms and express grammatical meanings (formbuilding morphemes) or to derive new words and express new lexical meanings (derivational, or wordbuilding morphemes). As compared to the phonemic, the morphemic level is less closed and more subject to changes. In the course of the language development its units may change their status and evolutionize from words to morphemes (such was the case with the morphemes -dom, -hood and some others which developed from notional words. One of the most characteristic features of the English language is a limited number of form-building morphemes and a great number of homonymous morphemes (compare the function of the morpheme -s in the following words: books, reads, news, yours).

Combining morphemes we- produce words, which constitute the lexemic level with the word as its central unit. The lexemic level presents the most open, densely populated and the most changeable domain of any language. The vocabulary system of a developed language is enormous and comprises thousands of words. It never remains stable: some words fall out of use (e.g. brine was used by William Shakespeare in the meaning of "ocean" but is almost forgotten now), new words are coined daily (e.g. coffeeholic, ecocide, dinks, stoly, netiquette, webliography etc.) or borrowed (palimpsest, pampa, rajah, guru etc.), still others acquire new meanings (stress, cripple, crib etc.). Words fulfil a nominating function in the language, by means of words we give names to various objects of reality, i.e. physical phenomena (the world outside us) and to various abstract notions, i.e. mental phenomena (the world within us).

A combination of words results in the formation of a phrase - the constituent of the phrasemic level - which serves as a pre-fab for building a sentence. Combining words into phrases enriches the nominative potential of the language, e.g. a blue sky, sky blue (her eyes were sky blue); a university city, a city university.

Combining a noun-phrase with a verb phrase we build a sentence, the central unit of the sentential, orproposemic level. From the point of view of its semiotic nature the sentence presents a complex sign, it names not an object, but a situation of reality and forms a judgment (a proposition) about this situation. Another essential difference between the sentence and the word is that the sentence fulfils not only a nominating function, but a communicative one whereas words fulfil only a nominating function. We communicate with the help of sentences even if they contain just one word (Winter.Night.) A combination of at least two sentences results in the formation of a suprasentential unit, or a dicteme which constitutes the highest level in the language structure, the level of text, or the dictemic level. It must be especially pointed out that semantics does not constitute a level of its own, but rather cuts across the levels and is present at all the levels.

The definition of the level given above points out two aspects of this phenomenon. On the one hand, a level is a totality of homogeneous means, i.e. a lingual reality; on the other it is a set of rules regulating the use and classification of these units, which brings us to the classification of linguistic branches that study the language units. These main branches, or subsystems of linguistics recognized traditionally are phonetics, lexicology and grammar. Grammar includes two parts: morphology which studies the grammatical classes of words and their grammatical categories and syntax which studies the ways of combining words into phrases, sentences and suprasentential structures. And there is no one-to-one correlation between the levels as ontological realities and the levels as the subject matter of the linguistic branches. Phonetics does study phonemes but not only them. It also studies stress and intonation, which means that it deals not only with" phonemes, but with words, phrases and sentences. Similarly, morphemes which include both form-building and word-building types are studied correspondingly by lexicology and morphology. Likewise words are studied by all branches of linguistics but from different aspects. The subject matter of lexicology is what the words mean and how they are created; how they are pronounced is the subject matter of phonetics; words as representatives of certain parts of speech that possess certain grammatical categories are the subject matter of morphology; how we arrange them into sentences in the process of communication constitutes the subject matter of syntax.

Describing the character of relations between the levels in language structure the American scholar Dwight Bolinger says: "Sounds, words, and


grammar are the three great layers - more like the layers of atmosphere than the layers of a cake, for it is impossible to cut clearly between them" [Bolinger 1980, 25]. This apt simile points at the relations between the levels of the language. The boundaries between them are not hard and fast, but rather fuzzy. There are a lot of transitional cases between a morpheme and a word (e.g. a seaman in which the function of the element - man is very similar to the function of the suffix -or in the word sailor), and also between an analytical grammatical form and a free syntactic combination (e.g. the combination to be going to Inf. which is often similar in its function to the grammatical form of the future. E.g. What's going to happen to us!.

These relations are also - characterized by constant interaction which takes place in the process of the language functioning. As soon as the language system starts functioning its units begin interacting with one another to produce speech. This interaction between the levels is manifested in many ways. The interaction between the phonemic and lexemic levels follows from the very function of the phoneme - to differentiate meanings. Thus the change of a phoneme results in the change of a word meaning, e.g. warm - ward - card -cord - cold - the distance between warm and cold is just three words long. The change of the stress converts a word from one part of speech to another: a ^present Ч to pre ^sent, a * record Ч to re ^cord, an * increase Ч to in ^crease.

The interaction between the phonemic and syntactic levels is manifested in the fact that a statement can be turned into a question by a mere change of intonation, without changing the word order: "So you are going away?" Pauses as well as logical stress, too, can be crucial for the understanding of a message. Compare the following example: "”чительница 50 лem идem pa6om"', in which pausation plays the main role in understanding the meaning of the sentence.

The interaction between the lexical and grammatical levels takes numerous and various forms because words are the domain of both lexicon and grammar. The grammatical neighbours can modify the lexical meaning of a word, e.g. the verb 'to try' has different meanings depending on whether it is followed by an Infinitive, a Gerund or a finite form of another verb. E.g.

1)7 tried to concentrate on the lecture but soon felt bored.

2) Have you ever tried growing bananas in Siberia?

3) Try and behave like a gentleman.

As we can see from the examples in the first sentence try has the meaning of make an attempt, in the second - make an experiment and in the third its lexical meaning is somewhat weakened and it carries out an intensifying function.

Likewise, the lexical next door neighbours can modify the grammatical meaning of a form. Let us analyze the following examples: She is having a party now and she is having a party tomorrow. In the first sentence the Present Continuous expresses an action going on at the moment of speaking, in the second sentence the same form expresses a future action, the grammatical meaning of the Present Continuous is modified by the adverb tomorrow which expresses futurity.

The interaction of the language levels is not an exception, just on the contrary, it is one of the main principles of the language system - all its levels or subsystems are constantly interacting with one another thus revealing the dynamic character of the language and its ability to adequately serve all the needs of communication.

Each level of language is indispensable and each fulfils its own specific function in the language system. Phonemes present the material part of language thus providing the conditions for uttering words, words give names to various phenomena of the world outside and within us and thus constitute the object of our thought, and grammar fulfills an organizing function - it arranges our thought according to the rules of the language.

Analyzing the role of lexical and grammatical systems of the language from the cognitive point of view, L. Talmy points out that these systems characterize different components of the experience presented in our consciousness (he calls this experience 'cognitive representation'). The lexical system presents the contents of this experience whereas the grammatical system determines the structure of this experience [TajiMH 1999, 91]. So we see that the conclusion about the role of grammar in the cognitive linguistics does not differ in principle from the traditional approach - the role of grammar is to arrange our thoughts, to present them in a certain structure. Grammar presents a bridge by which words enter the sphere of speech and participate in communication. Words alone, even spelt or pronounced properly fail to communicate meanings unless they are properly arranged. Let me give an example illustrating the truth of this statement. After a visit to the USA a Japanese professor wrote a thank-you-letter to his American colleague who gave him a jar of honey as a gift to take back home. Wishing to sound very thankful and polite the Japanese professor wrote: "Thank you for the honey. It is eating my whole family". As we can see, he failed to communicate meaning because he did not arrange the words properly, i.e. according to the rules of the English grammar (He actually arranged them according to the rules of his native language. Both English and Japanese are fixed word-order languages, but Japanese is an Obj-V-Subj. language whereas English is a Subj-V-Obj. language and this difference played a trick on the Japanese professor).

This example shows the role of grammar in the language system and the importance of grammatical knowledge for mastering a foreign language. The British linguist and methodologist Robert Close once said that the most sensible way of teaching English is to teach it on a grammatical basis. A similar idea was expressed by the prominent Russian scholar N.I. Zhinkin who defined communication as an exchange of thoughts and grammar as a springboard, from which we should start in order to find ourselves in the sphere of thought.

The majority of teachers and methodologists agree that a grammarless approach in teaching a foreign language often results in a broken, ungrammatical, pidginized form of the learners' performance beyond which they seldom progress. Sadly enough, this type of performance often appears as a result of trying to pick up a foreign language very quickly through various intensive programmes that sometimes discard grammar, allegedly for the sake of communication. Yet it is obvious that an utterance can be grammatical without being communicatively appropriate, but it can never be communicatively appropriate without being grammatical. The most sensible judgement about the role of grammar was pronounced by the famous writer George Orwell who said: "Grammar is of no importance so long as we make our meaning clear".

If we travel a short way into history we shall see that for 2,500 years the teaching of grammar had been synonymous with the teaching of a foreign language. Benjamin Whorf tells a story about an attitude to grammar held by ancient Arabians: two princes quarreled over the honour of putting on the shoes of the learned grammarian of the realm; whereupon their father, the caliph, is said to have remarked that it was the <glory of his kingdom that great grammarians were honoured even before kings [Whorf 1968, 41].

Another good reason for learning and understanding the grammar of a foreign language is the fact that grammar is closest to thought and the grammar of any language reflects the mentality of a nation that speaks this language. Learning the grammar of a foreign language helps you to understand the mentality, the psychology and the whole culture of another nation. It is worth remembering that at the Renaissance universities grammar was taught as a part of culture. The American scholar Martha Kolm says in the preface to her book "Understanding English Grammar": "The more we know about the grammar of our language, the more we know about ourselves" [Kolin 1982, preface]. We can rephrase her statement and say: "The more we know about the grammar of another language, the more we know about a nation that speaks this language ". For example, a very frequent use of various means of epistemic modality in English (such words and phrases as: / believe, I suppose, probably, hopefully, perhaps, I am afraid etc.) reveals such a characteristic feature of the British mentality and speech etiquette as reserve of opinion, tentativeness, lack of assertiveness, politeness. E.g.

1) I don't think for a moment that you 're in love with you husband I think you dislike him. I shouldn 't be surprised if you hated him. But I'm quite sure you're afraid of him (S. Maugham).

Each statement in this extract is preceded by a performative phrase which serves to make the statements sound more personal presenting them as just the speaker's opinion which may not coincide with the listener's.

2) "/ thought it would be such a splendid place for - you or - someone to build a country-house " (J. Galsworthy).

In this example the use of the performative phrase / thought, coupled with the so called Preterite of modesty makes the statement very tentative. June, a character from J.Galsworthy's .famous novel is trying tentatively, but persistently to realize her pet plan that her uncles should "benifit themselves andBosinney by building country-houses".

3.'Besides the division of language into levels (vertical division) which finds its reflection in the linguistic studies (the level is not only a language ontology but also a method of linguistic analysis), there is more approach to the analysis of the language which is also based on the many-sided nature of the language. "As it was pointed out, first by Ch. Morris and later by Y.S. Stepanov, in semiotics language is described in three aspects: syntactics, semantics, and pragmatics. Syntactics deals with the relations between lingual signs; semantics - with the relations between three signs and what they name (objects) and signify (concepts); pragmatics studies the relations between the lingual sign and its users, i.e. human beings [OenaHOB 1998, 175], These three aspects of the language constitute the main source of problems for linguistics, philosophy and literature. The study of language in linguistics, philosophy and literature has been going on along these three dimensions, but not simultaneously. The history of humanities shows that at different periods different aspects of the language were in the focus of scholastic attention. The structural linguistics concentrated its attention on syntactics, i.e the relations between the units of the language. The present-day linguistics is mostly focused on the semantic and pragmatic aspects of the language. The concentration of scholastic attention on any of the three dimensions of the language is the feature that lies at the basis of the so called paradigm (i.e. a methodological approach, a style of thinking). The present-day paradigm in linguistics is characterized as cognitive-pragmatic in its essence and it succeeded (but not ousted!) the systemic-structural paradigm. It is essential to underline the fact that these aspects of language can be pointed out and presented separately only in the process of linguistic studies. In the process of the language functioning as a means of communication ( i.e. language at work) these three aspects of the language are integrated, they come together. Only the integration of these aspects, i.e. the knowledge of whatto speak about (semantics), what units to chooseto make the process of communication successful (pragmatics) and how to arrange the units in accordance with the laws of a concrete language (syntactics) ensures the success of communication. So, we may say that semantics, pragmatics and syntactics are the three pillars that make communication possible.

4. The eminent American scholar Edward Sapir once remarked that each language has a special cut, or design. This special cut finds its manifestation on all levels of the language, but primarily on its grammatical structure. Why do we need to know about the peculiarities of the grammatical structure of English? There appear to be at least two main reasons for it. First, the knowledge of the general tendencies in a language helps to understand the reasons for the speaker's choice of a grammatical form. Thus, the use of a phrase to name an action and not a verbal lexeme in English (e.g. Let me have a say) can be accounted for by marked analytical tendencies of the language. Second, this knowledge is indispensable for a foreign language acquisition. In the processes of this acquisition the learners constantly compare the grammatical structure of a foreign language with that of their mother tongue in order to see points of similarity and transfer the knowledge of the mother tongue into the foreign language, and what is more important, to discover points of difference which are the manifestation of a 'special design' of the language under study. The nicety of a language as we know lies not in its similarity to another language but in its difference. But it is the difference between the languages that serves as the cause of the phenomenon known as interference. According to specialists, approximately 70% of all mistakes in our performance in a foreign language appear as the result of the native language interference. A foreign language teacher- should be aware of these differences in the grammatical structures of the languages under study and develop various exercises aimed at overcoming the interference. This is why comparative linguistics is considered by many methodologists as the most reliable methodological basis for teaching foreign languages.

As we know English has travelled a long way from being a primarily synthetical language to becoming a primarily analytical and a largely isolating language. This evolution and fundamental typological transformation of English has considerably changed its original design. So what are the peculiarities of the grammatical structure of English that constitute the 'special design' of the English language? They are the following:

1) The present-day English is a very flexible language which is the result of a loss of a great number of inflections in the course of its historical development. Many words in English have a simple morphological structure and no special part-of-speech markers and therefore can be put to any variety of uses within a sentence. Words in English are compared to a huge collection of beads of all shapes and colours that can be strung on to various sentence patterns and express different meanings. E.g. Let's round the conversation. They had another round of talks yesterday. Her face was round and cheerful.

He suddenly turned round. They live just round the corner. Due to the morphological simplicity of many words they are easily converted from one part of speech into another. E.g. "Darling", he began. "Don't darling me, Producer" (I. Shaw); The families oohed and aahed (A. Miller); We had a pleasant supper and figs for afters (D. Smith); Teachers talk teacher talk. Describing this feature of the English language Steven Pinker says: "'English is a zany, Iqgic-dejying language, in which one drives on a parkway and parks in a driveway, plays at a recital and recites at a play" [Pinker 1994, 84].

2) The two most specific features that penetrate all levels of the English language and that are directly related to the simplicity of morphological structure of words and the scarcity of form-building means are polysemy and homonymy. These two features make the English language a very good tool for creating various paradoxes and puns, e.g. Then he had tried selling dry sherry. That did not answer; the sherry was a little too dry (O. Wilde). The pun is based on the interplay of two meanings of the adjective dry in English: free from sweetness (dry wine) and unprofitable. Another example: "Order, children, order!" "OK, a coke and a hamburger, please!" This example of punning is based on the homonymy of the noun order which means discipline and the verb to order, one of the meanings of which is to direct a servant, a waiter (e.g. to order a dish in the restaurant).

This borderline between polysemy and homonymy is often hard to draw. As many homonyms appear to be the result of a polysemantic word splitting into two (often in the process of grammaticalization) grammarians are still arguing about the nature of will in such sentences as: Boys will always be boys. They will always fight. Is will an auxiliary or a modal verb here? Do we deal with two homonyms or one polyfunctional verb here? Another no less debatable question is the nature of-ing forms: in the case of bathing kids and bathing kits do we have one polysemantic form or two homonyms - Gerund and Participle? The answer actually depends on what you consider to be of primary importance - the form or the meaning. Adherents of the formal approach treat such cases as examples of polysemy, those who lay emphasis on meaning consider them as homonyms because the meanings are mutually exclusive and cannot coexist in one form.

3) As the grammatical meaning of a word in English often manifests itself through its syntactic position in the sentence English is a fixed word-order language, and more specifically, it is a Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) language. In Russian the grammatical relations between the words in a sentence are expressed by the morphological markers and therefore the word-order is relatively free. Because of this fundamental difference between the languages Russian learners of English are expected to fumble with the word-order in an English sentence, especially at the beginners' level. A specific feature of English which is absolutely unthinkable in Russian is the ability of the preposition to be placed at the end of a sentence which is directly related to the fixed word-order. Since the first word in the sentence is usually the subject it is always prepositkmless and if the preposition is required it is placed at the end of the sentence, e.g. He was taken a good care of. Some grammarians have argued against this use claiming that it is poor English to end a sentence with a preposition. Probably the best answer to this would be the witty remark ascribed to Winston Churchill. When he was accused of ending his sentence with a preposition he retorted by saying: "This is the sort of pedantic nonsense up with which I will not put". Don Le Pan gives another joke on this account: "Where do you come from?" "From a place where we don't end sentences with prepositions " "Let me rephrase. Where do you come from, you stupid pedant? " (Don Le Pan 2000, 45).

4) It is a subject-prominent language which means that all sentence must have a subject, even if it is a dummy one, as in It's never too late to learn', There is no getting away from it.

5) English has a predominantly analytical character and a limited number of inflections whereas the Russian language is predominantly inflectional. Most of the tense-aspect forms of the English verb are analytical formations.

6) Speaking in terms of preferences scholars point out that English appears to have a marked tendency towards nominalization. For this reason R. Lees described it as a nominalizing language and Germans point out that the English have a 'noun disease'. An English speaker often prefers a nominal form of expression where Russian speakers employ a verb. Compare: Make a guess! Ч Vzadau! She gave him a surreptitious look Ч Qua eszjiHHyna ua uezo yKpadKou; You should do some more reading ЧBam cnedyem eu^e nonumamb.

7) English has a more abundant use of the non-finite forms of the verb than Russian, therefore sentences in English are often characterized by a greater degree of compression. Structures of secondary predication will often occur in English where Russian will employ a complex sentence. Compare: I've never seen him smile like this Ц я никогда не видел, чтобы он так улыбалс€; A lot depends on your being diplomatic enough Цћногое зависит om mozo, 6ydeme лu ¬ы достаточно дипломированны.

With these general remarks about the structural peculiarities of the English language we shall proceed to the analysis of basic terms of morphology and in the course of our analysis we shall give more consideration to the structural peculiarities mentioned here.


Date: 2015-01-12; view: 6502

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