VI. Parts of speech and the principles of their classification

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The words of the language, depending on various formal and semantic features, are divided into grammatically relevant sets of classes. Parts of speech are lexico-grammatical categories of words. The term was introduced in ancient Greece, where there was no strict differentiation between the word as a vocabulary unit and the word as a functional element of the sentence.

In modern linguistics, parts of speech are discriminated on the basis of the three criteria: semantic, formal, and functional. The semantic criterion is based on evaluation of the generalized meaning, categorial meaning of the part of speech (noun-things). Words are corelated with classes of reality. The formal criterion is based on the specific word-building features (-ness, -tion – nouns) and paradigmatic sets (-s, ‘s – nouns). The functional criterion concerns the syntactic role of words in the sentence typical of a part of speech or methods of combining with other words in the phrase. For example, verb combines with a noun (write a letter), with an adverb (write quickly) and in the sentence functions as a predicate. The said three factors of categorial characterization of words are referred to as, respectively, meaning, form, and function.

The difficulty in defining clear categories of words arises from having to apply the three criteria, which are often in conflict. (loyalty, cattle – are nouns by some definitions, but not by all, they don’t meet the morphological criterion, the paradigm, but ‘loyalty’ has a specific suffix, and ‘cattle’ means ‘thing’). A satisfactory definition can’t be based on such a thing as meaning. Some grammarians used different criteria for defining different parts of speech. Inconsistency might result in overlapping categories or in uncovered gaps. So, the right approach is the pole method – in every PS there is central part of words, which belongs to this class by all the criteria, and there is field of words, that can be attributed to the class only gradually.

Ancient Greek grammarians used only one criterion for classification of PS – formally morphological, a word was attributed to a class on the basis of its morphological changability.

Jespersen, a linguist from the Copenhagen school, offered a ‘three ranks theory’. He analyzed morphological and semantic features of words, but also their subordination in connected speech. He found that in every syntactic combination there is one word of supreme importance to which the others are joined as subordinates. This chief word is defined by another word, which in its turn may be defined by a third word, etc. The ranks of words are established according to their mutual relations. (primary, secondary, tertiary) – a furiously barking dog. In this classification morphological, semantic functions and the three ranks interfere with each other too often.

A different technique has been employed by American linguists Trager and Smith. They set up 2 systems of classes. One is based on inflectional criteria. We can distinguish nouns, personal pronouns, adjectives and verbs on this criterion. They are defined as words showing the following types of inflection:





The remaining words, which show no inflection at all, are classified together as particles. Trager and Smith’s second system is classified by syntactic criteria. The two systems do not match exactly. Though the facts of English are complex, and no simple system of PS can be expected to be adequate, the different criteria has to be worked into the most integrated system possible. London linguist Strang introduces a term “form-class meaning’. Words bear in themselves a lexical meaning, but what they do in the sentence results from the fact that they are members of classes. A full description of a language would include an inventory of all forms with their lexical and class functions, but this inventory will be too big to manage. So, lexical descriptions is carried out in the dictionary, while the establishment of classes, as having more general meaning, belongs to the grammar. One of the divisions is into variable and invariable words, The first class constitute an open class, whose members can’t be catalogues, they are subject to continual growth, can be described in the dictionaries by using synonyms and are at the lexical pole. Invariables constitute a closed system, in the sense that they cannot normally be extended by the creation of additional members, can be described in the dictionary by giving uses in a sentence and are at the grammatical pole, they are usually lexically empty. We can make a complete list of members of the closed system.

4. The division into notional and functional parts of speech reflects the division into variable and invariable words. Notional parts of speech denote distinct lexical meaning and perform independent syntactic function in the sentence. They have certain grammatical categories, they can be connected with each other directly or with the help of the formal words. To the notional parts of speech belong the noun, the adjective, the numeral, the pronoun, the verb, the adverb, the stative.

name meaning derivation Grammar form Combinabi-lity in phrases Function in the sentence
noun substance -er, -ist, -ess, -ness, etc Gender, number, case, article determination Another noun (prepositional), verb, adjective, numeral Subject, object, predicative, attributive, adverbial
adjective property -ful, — less, -ish, -ous, -ive, -ic, -ly, un-, im-. Degrees of comparison for qualitative adjectives Noun, adverb, verb Attribute, predicative
Nume-ral number -teen, -ty, -th no Noun, adverb attribute
Pro-noun Indica-tion Some-, any-, no- Some categories have number, some have case Noun, adjective, verb Attribute, subject, predicative, object
verb process -ise, -ate, -ute, -er, -erve, etc Mood, voice, person, number, aspect, tense Noun, adverb, adjective, pronoun predicate
adverb Property of process or another property -ly, -wise, —ways, —ward(s) Degrees of comparison for qualitative adverbs Verbs, adjectives Various adverbial midifiers
statives Different states, mostly temporary Prefix a- no Verb, noun Predicative, rarely – post-positional attributes

Contrasted against the notional parts of speech are words of incomplete nominative meaning and non-self-dependent, mediatory functions in the sentence. These are functional parts of speech. To them belong the preposition, the conjunction, the particle, the modal word, the interjection.

name Grammar meaning usage
preposition Relations between things or phenomena With nouns, pronouns, numerals, adjectives form objects, predicatives, modifiers, attributes
conjunction Connections between things or phenomena Connect any words, phrases or clauses, adding the meaning of addition, contradiction, etc
particle Show subjective attitude (even, only, exclusively) Enter the part of the sentence formed by any word
Modal word Attitude of the speaker (probably, luckily) Show probability, evaluation, affirmation, negation
interjection Signal of emotion Detached position in the sentence

5. Each part of speech after its identification is further subdivided into subseries according to various semantico-functional and formal features. The nouns are subcategorized into proper and common, animate and inanimate, countable and uncountable, concrete and abstract, etc.

Verbs are subcategorized into fully predicative and partially predicative, transitive and intransitive, active and stative, etc.

Adjectives are subcategorized into qualitative and relative.

6. Charles Fries, of the University of Michigan, in his book “The Structure of English” tried to build a system of classes, based on the position of the word in the sentence. His classification is called positional-distributive. Fries studied the combinability of words by a system of tests in substitution models of phrases and sentences.(The ______are good.) They used records of live dialogues comprising about 250,000 word entries (50 hours of talk). Notional words fill in positions in the models: the position of the doer, of the object, etc.) The words were classified into 4 formal classes- N – substantives, V – verbal words, A – adjectival words, D – adverbial words. Functional words appear in the models as occupying their positions as defining and adding to the meaning of the notional words. They form limited groups totalling 154 units. Those are noun determiners (articles, my-his, this), modal verbs that add to the meaning of notional verbs, intensifiers of adjectives and adverbs (rather cold). These are first type function words. The second type were prepositions and conjunctions, which show the relations of notional words. The 3rd type of functional words influence the semantics of the whole sentence: question words, yes-no, requests, addresses. It is clear that this classification reflects traditional in many aspects, which is another proof of the objective character of classifications, as they are based on different methods, while the classification made by Fries is supported by experimental data. Structural grammar must be judged not as a complete system, but as a skeleton.

The semantico-grammatical analysis of the lexicon, the word-stock of the language, shows that it is divided into two parts: the notional words and the functional words. The unity of notional lexemes finds its demonstration in an inter-class system of derivation: strength-to strengthen-strong-strongly.

This derivational series that unites the notional word classes can be named the ‘lexical paradigm of nomination’. The general order of classes in the series evidently corresponds to the logic of mental perception of reality, by which a person discriminates, first, objects and their actions, then the properties of the former and the latter. By the initial class lexeme the lexical paradigms are classified into nounal (power-to empower- powerful – powerfully), verbal (to suppose – supposition – supposed – supposedly), adjectival (clear – clarity – to clarify – clearly), and adverbial (out – outing – to out – outer). Some words (simple adjectives ‘just’) can be nominatively isolated. The universal character of the nomination paradigm is sustained by suppletive completion, both lexemic and phrasemic:

An end – to end – final – finally

King – to reign – royal – royally

Game – to play – playful – playfully

Evidence – evident – evidently – to make evident

Wise – wisely – wisdom – to grow wise

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Friend – to be friends – friendly – in a friendly way.

So, the lexicon can be divided into 3 unequal parts.

The first part of the lexicon forming an open set includes an indefinitely large number of notional words which have a complete nominative function, these words can be referred to as names: nouns as substance names, verbs as process names, adjectives as primary property names and adverbs as secondary property names. The whole notional set is represented by the four-stage derivational paradigm of nomination.

The second, intermediate layer of the lexicon forming a closed set includes substitutes of names (pro-names), Here belong pronouns, and also broad-meaning words and numbers.. Broad meaning words adjoin the pronouns by their substitutional function (one, thing, do, make, such, there, then…

The third part of the lexicon also forming a closed set includes function words.

The function of the second and third layers, within the framework of their specifying role, is to organize together with the categorial means of grammar, the production of speech utterances out of the direct naming means of language (the first layer).

Glossary of Linguistic Terms

1. semantic criterion – основание для классификации по значению

2.noun — существительное

3. verb — глагол

4. adjective — прилашательное

5. adverb — наречие

6. pronoun — местоимение

7. numeral — числительное

8. modal word – модальное слово

9. stative – слово категории состояния

10. preposition — предлог

11. conjunction — союз

12. interjection — междометие

13. particle — частица

14.variable/invariable – изменяемое/неизменяемое

14. combinability — сочетаемость

15. positional/distributional classification – классификация на основе позиции слов в предложениях

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