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"The first Project was to shorten Discourse by cutting Polysyllables into one, and leaving out Verb and participles; because in Reality all things imaginable are but Nouns"

Jonathan Swift

1. The general characteristic of the noun and its position in the system of parts of speech.

2. Gender distinctions in the English nouns.

3. The grammatical category of number in the English noun.

4. The grammatical category of case in the English noun.

1. The noun is a part of speech which unites words with the general categorial meaning of substance, or thingness. Substance is a very wide notion. Any concept starting with the most concrete and ending with the most abstract may be .verbalized in a substantive form. Therefore the semantic space of substance, or thingness is very heterogeneous and the class of nouns unites names of objects and persons that make up the center of the class as well as the names of qualities (generosity, viability etc), processes (conversation, debate), states ( illness, oblivion), abstract notions (freedom, love), manner of action (way, manner) which make up the periphery of the class and by means of which the noun interacts with the other parts of speech. This is the most numerous class of words (in English nouns make up about 42% of all words) and it is also


the most frequently used part of speech. According to statistics, every fourth word used in our speech belongs to the class of nouns [Johanson, Hofland 1989, 15]. It is also a very operi and hospitable part of speech which constantly draws into its sphere units of other classes of words, phrases and even sentences that may derive occasional nouns. E.g. But Piper had covered eleven typewritten pages, full of whereas es. ..-(I. Shaw); It's a mean swindle by lazy good-for-nothinss and won't -works (J. Cary); No, it's intolerable! Their smiles, their how-it-zoings (Penguin Modern Stories).

The most productive means of noun-building are suffixation, conversion and compounding. Among the noun-building suffixes the suffix -er has the highest productivity and it can derive nouns both from verbs and from phrases, e.g. a choker, a belonger, a mind-reader, a beer drinker, a winterer in Europe, a butter-spreader, a head-turner, a noun-user, a noun-leaver, a one-nighter etc). Conversion is also a very productive means of noun-building (cf. to go- a go, to say - a say, to think - a think, to smoke -a smoke etc.). Examples of compounds in the sphere of nouns are also very numerous: a copycat, a know-how, a humpty-dumpty etc.

The heterogeneous character of the semantics of nouns finds its explication in the syntactic potential of this class. Besides their primary syntactic functions of the subject and object of the sentence nouns in English are regularly used in the secondary syntactic functions of the attribute and adverbial modifier, e.g. a shadow Prime Minister, a stranger boy, a guest visa, a boy king ; a bit strange, a tiny bit jealous, to go shopping Russian style etc. As for the function of nouns used in the position of the predicative they may expose both their primary and their secondary semantic functions (that of classification and that of qualification, or characterization). Let's compare the following four sentences:

1) This is my husband. I found him on the Bagi Road (R. Kipling)

2) She is but a child, you know, and at heart a heathen (R. Kipling)

3) He wasn't pretty, but he was all soldier and very much man (R.Kipling)

4) He was the only speaker at the moment (I. Murdoch).

As the comparison shows the noun husband in the first sentence fulfils a classifying function, which is the primary semantic function for the class of nouns. In the second sentence the nouns child and heathen carry out a characterizing function, they point out a quality ascribed to children and heathens which bring the nouns closer to adjectives in their semantic function. This function is especially evident in the third sentence where the nouns soldier and man-arQ used without an article and have adjectival combinability with intensifiers. In the fourth sentence the noun speaker denotes an action fulfilled by the person which is easily verified by the possibility of paraphrasing the sentence without changing its meaning considerably, c.f. Only he spoke at the

moment. For this reason we may conclude that the nouns in the second, third and fourth sentences expose their secondary syntactic and semantic functions. They do not name objects of reality but characterize these objects through their qualities or actions.

2. Turning to the analysis of the ways of expressing gender in English nouns we find a number of means for expressing gender distinctions, both lexical and grammatical: suffixes (a waiter - a waitress, a steward- a stewardess, a bachelor- a bachelorette, a widow - a widower), oppositions of lexemes ( a boy- a girl, a niece - a nephew, a bull- a cow, a stallion - a mare, a monk - a nun, components of compound words used as gender indicators (a boy-friend- a girl-friend, a he-bear - a she-bear, a Tom-cat - a Tabby-cat, a landlord - a landlady, a writer - a lady-writer, a male nurse - a female nurse etc.). All these are lexical means of expressing gender distinctions, nouns do not change in gender, but belong to one of the genders.

The grammatical expression of gender distinctions is manifested in the fact that there exists a certain gender correlation between nouns denoting animate things and personal pronouns replacing them. From the point of view of gender distinctions English nouns can be divided into two groups: person-nouns and non-person nouns, and non-person nouns are further subdivided into feminine and masculine nouns. However, this opposition is not absolute and does not embrace the whole class of nouns. There are a lot of nouns in English that belong to the so-called 'common gender', e.g. person, cousin, parent, president, prime minister etc.

Besides, the choice of a personal pronoun to replace a noun in English is often a matter of tradition or the individual choice of an author. Thus, cars and ships in English are traditionally treated as feminine nouns. However, in the present-day English when the driver is a woman, the noun car is regularly treated as masculine. For a person not quite familiar with this tradition the reference to a car as a male or a female is not always easy to understand. The following extract may serve as an illustration to it: / heard my father ask him how the car was running. 'Oh, she runs beautifully', Abe replied, and looking through the windshield down the blue surface of the long hood to the silver encased thermometer sticking up from the nickel radiator, I envisioned a running woman attached to the car underneath, making it go. 'Is there a body in there?' I asked Uncle Abe and he and my father started laughing, and of course they did not understand how an engine worked either. Since obviously there was no woman in there and yet the car ran, I was left with its she-hers to account for its motive power, a living person of its own (A. Miller).

The reasons for the choice of the personal pronoun to replace such nouns as the sun, the moon, the war and some others when they are personified can be traced in classical mythology and depend on whether they are associated with the % names of gods or goddesses ( e.g. the Sun is masculine, according to

Helios, the sun god and the Moon is feminine, according to Selene, the goddess of the moon).

In fiction the choice of the personal pronoun to replace a personified common noun is often the matter of a writer's individual perception and fantasy. E.g. One night there flew over the city a little Swallow. His friends had gone to Egypt six weeks before and_he stayed behind, forhe_ was in love with the most beautiful Reed (O. Wilde. The Happy Prince); Every snow/lake thinks he is not responsible for the snowstorm (M Garner). Such cases present a certain difficulty for translation into Russian where all nouns belong to a certain gender and cannot change their gender characteristics.

All these arguments speak in favour of treating the category of gender in English nouns as not a purely grammatical, but a lexico-grammatical category because gender finds both a lexical ( special suffixes and lexemes) and a grammatical expression in the language (replacing nouns by personal pronouns).

3. The grammatical category of number in the English noun is conceptual in its nature and presents a specific linguistic reflection of quantitative relations between homogeneous objects of reality conceptualized by the human mind.It is constituted by the binary privative opposition of singular and plural forms. The formal marker of the opposition is represented by several phonetically and historically conditioned allomorphs, such as [-z] (boys), [-s] (cats), [-iz] (classes), [0] (bizon, sheep), [-en] (oxen), [ ae ] (antennae), [ ai] (radii) etc. There are quite a few doublets among the plural forms which differ either lexically (a penny - pennies (coins), pence ( a sum of money); genius - geniuses (men of genius), genii (spirits) or stylistically, as in brother - brothers and brethren, or cow - cows and kine.

Semantically the forms of the plural are not homogeneous either. The paradigmatic meaning of plurality is represented by a number of syntagmatic variants, such as: discrete plurality (books, houses), indiscrete plurality (hours, miles), partitive plurality (spectacles, trousers), variety plurality (wines, cheeses, fruits, teas), space plurality (snows, sands, waters), family, or clan plurality {the Browns, the Smiths). These syntagmatic meanings are the result of the interaction between the general paradigmatic meaning and the semantics of the nouns. Some plural forms of the nouns may acquire a new lexical meaning and become lexicalized (colours, customs, arms, quarters, minutes etc.).

The singular form of the noun which is the weak member of the opposition has a wide and extensive meaning which is best defined as 'non-plurality' and includes such meanings as: singularity (A minute of your attention, please), uncountability (We are as different as chalk and cheese), generalization (A child can understand this). Neutralization of the opposition 'singular:: plural' is observed in the case of countable nouns used with the

definite article in the so-called generic function, e.g. The birch tree is a symbol of Russia.

From the point of view of their number characteristics the English nouns fall into two classes: countable and uncountable. This feature of the noun determines its choice of the article, the quantitative pronoun and the form of the predicate (singular or plural). Uncountable nouns are further subdivided into two groups: Singularia Tantum and Pluralia Tantum. The group of Singularia Tantum includes:.

1. names of abstract notions (love, friendship etc.);

2. names of mass materials ( bread, butter, sugar etc.);

3. names of some collective inanimate objects (foliage, machinery etc.);

4. names of sciences and professional activities ( medicine, architecture etc.);

5. nouns of heterogeneous semantics. This is a limited group and includes such nouns as: hair, advice; knowledge, money, information, news.

The first four groups of nouns of Singularia Tantum denote concepts which are incompatible with the idea of countability, which means that the reason for the absence of the plural form is extralinguistic and therefore universal. The equivalents of such nouns in other languages also lack plural forms for the same reason and therefore the use of these nouns presents no difficulties for learners of English. The occasional use of such nouns in the plural is usually stylistically marked: they either expose their figurative meanings or express a peculiar kind of plurality (space or variety plurality). E.g.

1) ... / inadvertently set the house on fire, destroying the carefully garnered fruits of a lifetime of literary frienships ( E. Waugh).

2) It is the silences that hurt more than words (M. Atwood).

3) His parents' attentions had been suffocating and, she felt, in some

•ways, false (S. Turow)

Occasionally, however, even such nouns as money and knowledge are used in the Plural. E.g.

I.If students can learn to write well by studying manuals of errors...

classes can go from ten to fifty and tax moneys can be released for other

purposes (D.Bolinger).

2. Recognizing that readers will construct meaning differently depending

on their 'knowledges', prejudices, [and] resistances has lead within

cultural studies to significant developments in theories of subjectivity


As the analysis of these examples shows such Singularia Tantum nouns, when used in the plural form, always acquire additional meanings. Tax moneys means considerable sums o.f money coming from various taxes (this explanation was suggested by an English speaker who used this noun in the plural). Knowledges presents a very individual use (it's given in quotation marks), it probably implies 'various kinds of knowledge coming from numerous readers' and its Plural form might be the result of its forming a homogeneous chain with other nouns in the plural (prejudices and resistances). Such individual usages however do not refute the general rule, they just reveal the creative potential of the language.

The fifth group which includes nouns with heterogeneous meanings presents difficulties for Russian learners of English because the reasons for the absence of the plural form are language-specific and the number characteristics of these English nouns and their Russian equivalents do not coincide. Therefore these nouns require special attention and a lot of training in the process of learning and teaching English grammar.

The group of Pluralia Tantum nouns includes:

1. nouns denoting objects consisting of two parts ( trousers, spectacles etc.);

2. nouns denoting results of repeated processes (savings, labours, belongings etc.);

3. nouns of multitude (police, gentry, poultry, cattle)',

4. nouns of various semantics ( oats, outskirts, clothes etc.).

The last two groups of Pluralia Tantum nouns present difficulties for learners of English because the number characteristics of the equivalents of these nouns in Russian are different and the mother tongue may have an interfering effect.

In. conclusion it is worth mentioning, however, that number characteristics of an English noun may vary and very often they are determined by the individual perception of the substance by the speaker, and depend on the way the speaker conceptualizes the phenomenon. E.g.

1)7 may be nobody's father but I've got a lot of dad in me (M.H.Masse)

2) The truth was that I did not have much idea about what Raymond thought these days (S. Turow).

3) Would you like a cake? -1 don't like cake.

4. In modern linguistics case is understood as a semantic category which presents the underlying set of relations between the action and its participants. This understanding of case as a semantic category, a category of deep syntax was first introduced by Charles Fillmore in his "Case for Case" and later in "Case for Case Reopened" [OnjuiMop 1981]. Due to its valency the verb predetermines the number and the character of other parts of the sentence and first and foremost the semantic role of the nouns that accompany the verb in the sentence. So case appears to be a nominal category which is closely related to the syntactic and semantic valency of the verb. We define case as a grammatical category which marks the semantic role of the noun in the sentence and finds a grammatical expression in the language.

The roles played by the noun in the sentence in its relations with the verb and other parts of the sentence may find different expression in different languages, depending on the type of the language. In highly inflexional, synthetic languages these, relations are expressed morphologically, by inflexions and the case presents a morphological category of the nouns and is manifested in the forms of the nominal declension. Case relations may also be expressed syntactically: by the position of the noun in the sentence in its reference to the position of the verb and also by prepositions which play the same role as inflections. As we remember, in Old English which was primarily an inflectional language, case relations were expressed by the forms of the nominal declension. In present-day English they are expressed syntactically: the position of the noun in the sentence (hence the theory of positional cases), by prepositions (hence the theory of prepositional cases). A detailed criticism of these theories is given by M.Y Blokh [Blokh 1983, 64-65].

The morphological expression of case in modern English is limited to the system of two cases and the specific character of the category of case in English consists in the fact that it embraces the relations only on the level of the phrase (between two nouns), but not on the level of the whole sentence which makes the category of case in English essentially different from this category in other languages.

The category of case of the English noun is constituted by the binary privative opposition of the Common and Possessive cases. The formal marker of the Possessive case is the morpheme 's, represented by three phonetically conditioned variants: [-z] as in boy's, [-s ] as in cat's and [-iz] as in George's. The origin of this morpheme is rather obscure. Scholars are still debating whether it presents a remnant of the OE Genitive case or whether it is the result of the contraction of the phrase the King his head —» the king's head.

The morpheme of the Possessive case has a very peculiar character as it can be joined not only to nouns proper but also to phrases (somebody else's problems, the British Ambassador in Russia's arrival in Barnaul) and even sentences, e.g. / forgot the woman I danced -with yesterday's name (J. Salinger). This peculiar behaviour of the - 's gave rise to an opinion that's is not a grammatical morpheme, but a kind of postpositive element and consequently, the words and phrases with - 's belong to the domain of syntax rather than morphology [Vorontsova 1960, 181-183]. However, studying the category of number in English nouns we also come across the cases when the morpheme of the plural is added to phrases ( good-for-nothings, won't -works) and sentences ( their how- it- goings) and yet we do not doubt the nature of the morpheme. Evidently, the reason does not lie in the character of the morpheme -'s but in the ability of the English language to easily coin occasional nouns from phrases and even from sentential structures.


The general paradigmatic meaning of possessivity is represented by a number of syntagmatic meanings which appear as the result of the interaction between the semantics of the noun in the Possessive case and the semantics of the head-noun. The most common syntagmatic meanings of the Possessive case are the following:

1. pure possessivity (my sister's money);

2. agent, or subject of the action (my brother's arrival);

3. object of the action (the criminal's arrest);

4. authorship ( Shakespeare's sonnets);

5. destination ( a sailor's uniform);

6. measure ( a day's wait);

7. location ( at the dean's);

8. description, or comparison ( a lion's courage).

Limited as it is the system.of cases in English, however, shows no signs of complete disappearance from the language. On the contrary, special research undertaken in this field proves that the use of the Possessive case in present-day English is increasing at the expense of the -of phrase and the Possessive case can be used not only with nouns denoting animate objects but often with names of inanimate objects ( e.g. the tree's branches, the novel's main character, the New Year's day etc). In the system of cases we observe a tendency which appears to run counter to the general trend of the English language towards analytical structures. A question may arise as to why this tendency of using the morphological way of expressing case persists? The answer is not easy to find. "Yet we may suppose that one of the reasons may be the frequent use of English nouns in the position of the attribute to another noun (a tree branch, a sister city etc.). This tendency is so strong in English that the speakers of the language may resort to the use of Possessive case (the pattern is actually the same, only the first noun has - 's element) on analogy with the usual pattern N+N. But this is just a supposition.


Date: 2015-01-12; view: 4322

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