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THE SUBJECT MATTER OF MORPHOLOGY




In books devoted to teaching grammar it is usual to establish two main divisions, these being variously termed:

1. Morphology(Greek: tnorphé — form, logos — learning).

2. Syntax— The Grammar of Sentences (Greek: syn — with, tasso — arrange).

The subject matter of morphology is the grammatical classes and groups of words, their grammatical categories and systems of forms (paradigms) in which these categories actually exist.

The word as a grammatical unit has its meaning and form.

Syntax examines the ways in which words may be combined and the relationships that exist between the words in combination.

Keeping this traditional classification of linguistic studies, we must naturally recognise the affinities between the two parts of grammar. Syntax bears an intimate relation to morphology because morphological devices are greatly conditioned by syntactical arrangements. It is of great importance to our subject to understand the constant reciprocal action of form and function. These two should be studied in their relationships but none should be brought to the front at the expense of the other.

Morphology is inadequate alone, because relatively few kinds of English words are subject to morphological variation. Syntax alone will not do either partly because there are borderline word-forms and phrases not indisputably assigned to any class.

Itseems practical to distinguish between paradigmatic and syntagmaticstudy of morphology. Thus, for instance, if we consider the word-form itself as part of a given paradigm we remain in the sphere of morphology. Analysing the word in its surrounding in the sentence, we discuss the syntagmatic connections of a given word. The statement that an adjective is used to modify a noun, or that an adverb is used to modify a verb, is a statement of syntagmatic or functional morphology.

In importance morphology is far inferior to syntax in Modern English. Of words in Modern English not over one fourth possess any distinctive morphological form, the others being of a common neutral morphological character, and their syntax or context alone can determine their number, case or tense: sheep, deer, set, cost, put. The structure of a language is to a large extent conditioned by its system of formal oppositions proceeding from which we generally identify the morphological classes of words.


In English the formal oppositions may be well illustrated by such pairs as girl: : girls, girl : : girl's; I: : we, and I: : me, and the set of three he : : she : : it. It is around such oppositions (also called "opposemes") that the grammatical system of the language is to a large extent built up.

Similar formal oppositions among the verbs are: play : : plays and play : : played; Cf. also the set of three am : : is : : are.

The pair play : : plays will represent the opposition between the third person singular present tense, on the one hand, and the other persons of the singular plus those of the plural, on the other. In literary English, however, it also represents an opposition on a different plane: the third person singular of a verb may occur either with or without -s; the form without -s is known as the Subjunctive, the one with -s as the Indicative, and the difference is said to be one of Mood. The meaning of each necessary grammatical abstraction makes itself clear in the course of actual usage.

The grammar of any natural language is a bilateral unity of form and content. The content of grammar appears to be generalised in its categorial expression. Organically related to vocabulary, grammar always retains its underlying categories.

A morphological category is an organised set of grammatical forms — grammemes.

The general notions of grammar which determine the structure of language and find their expression in inflection and other devices are generally called grammatical categories. As is known, a grammatical category is generally represented by at least two grammatical forms, otherwise it cannot exist. A simple case of oppositions in pairs of grammatical forms will be found, for instance, between the Singular and the Plural in nouns, or, say, between Active and Passive in verbs.

In dealing with grammar it is often useful to observe such contrasts in terms of "marked" and "unmarked" members.

In binary oppositions between pairs of categories one member (the "marked" member) signals the presence of a general or overall meaning, while the unmarked member may either signal "absence of the marked meaning" or else be noncommittal as to its absence or presence. Thus love and loved are in contrast as "present" and "past" but only the latter is actually "marked" as such; love is "unmarked" and as such may be much more widely used than merely as a present in contrast with loved. It is fairly common that of two members of an opposition one has a definite meaning, whereas the meaning of the other is less definite, or vague. In Penguins live in the Antarctic, live. is, so to say, "tenseless". Since the statement is true not only for the present but for the past and (presumably) the future.

A polynomic opposition falls into binary ones and each of its members enters several binary oppositions. Thus, for instance, in the trinomic oppositions of Moods each member is contrasted to the two others taken together and to each of the two others taken apart, e. g., the Indicative Mood stands in contrast with the Subjunctive and the Imperative; similarly the Imperative Mood is contrasted with the Subjunctive and the Indicative, the Subjunctive Mood is contrasted with the Imperative and the Indicative.


The problem of oppositions on the morphological level has not been completely solved as yet and remains a source of constant interest in modem language learning 1.

Words may express a semantic conception and one or more conceptions of a grammatical order. One and the same form of the word may express different grammatical meanings (e. g. person, number, etc.) The following analysis will be very helpful to illustrate the statement. In the sentence The horses ran faster the word horses not only evokes in our mind the idea of a certain animal but the idea of the doer of the action; it also evokes the conception of plurality. The word ran corresponds to the idea of motion, but it also evokes the idea of the character of that motion and the idea of "pastness" (past time). The word faster suggests not only the manner of action, its speed, but a relative speed (relative quality). In the sentence He takes French lessons, for instance, take conveys the idea of an action; the ending -s expresses the relation of this action to the subject as well as the idea of time, person, number, mood, voice, aspect.

It must be emphasised that the difference between notional words and "grammatical" or "function-words" is often not so much a matter of form as of content2. In terms of meaning, function words are known to be semantically depleted and very general. As such they may be referred to as semi-notional. Considered in form, they sometimes coincide with notional parts of speech. Compare, for instance, the verbs get, go and grow in the following patterns: to get dry and to get a letter, to go home and to go bad, to grow potatoes and to grow dark.

Take the sentence The boy says that the guests did arrive. Grammar has done important things here: it has arranged the words in a particular order, making clear subject-predicate relations; it has contributed tense by the change of say into says, and number by the addition of -s; grammar has added the intensifier did to emphasise the verbal idea and has given such additional words as the and that.

Grammatical words which play so large a part in English grammar are for the most part sharply and оbviоиslу different from the lexical words, as one can see by comparing the given units in our example: the, that, did and boy, says, guests, arrive. A ready difference which may seem most obvious is that grammatical words have "less meaning" and may bе opposed to fully lexical words.

1 See: О. С. Ахманова. К вопросу об основных понятиях метаязыка лингвистики. «Вопросы языкознания», 1961, № 5; Р. О. Якобсон. Морфологические наблюдения над славянским склонением. М., 1958; И. Б. Хлебникова. О нейтрализации оппозиций в морфологии. В сб.: «Иностранные языки в высшей школе», вып. 3, 1964; Е. И. Шендельс. Транспозиция морфологических форм (на материале современного немецкого языка). В сб.: «Иностранные языки в высшей школе», вып. 3, 1964.

2 The traditional distinction between "full" and "empty" or "form-words" is familiar in grammar, but students of language should be prepared to meet it under various names: "full words" are now often referred to as "form-classes", "empty words", as "grammatical words", "function-words" or "structure words".


But this should be taken with some point of reservation. Although a word like the isnot the name of something as boy is, it is far from being altogether meaningless, for there is, of course, a difference in meaning between a bog and the boy. Moreover, grammatical words differ considerably among themselves as to the amount of meaning they have, even in the lexical sense. Thus, for instance, the definite article m our example differs considerably from the article used with demonstrative force in patterns like the following:

This is the book I showed him yesterday (the = that). He is the man who brought the letter (the = that).

In Modern English grammatical forms can be made synthetically

and analytically.

Synthetical system will include: 1) inflection, e. g.:He works, he worked; 2) suppletivity (go went gone). Suppletive forms are made by combining different roots; such is the paradigm of the verb to be: a) am; b) is; c) are; d) was, were; e) be, been, being. Formations of this type will be found in adjectives: good better the best; bad worse the worst; in pronouns; I — me, my, mine; we us, our, ours.

Inflection is one of distinguishing characteristics of the family of Indo-European languages. The extent to which these various languages make use of inflection differs greatly, and there is often considerable variation, as in English, even in the periods of one and the same language.

Broadly defined, inflection as a structural device of language is the change or variation in the forms of a word for the purpose of indicating corresponding variations in its meaning and use.

In point of fact, inflections are morphemic changes — the addition of suffixes and concomitant morphophonemic adjustments — which adapt words to perform certain structural functions without changing their lexical meaning.

The definition implies that there is a certain root element which remains constant, but which is given specific application and meaning by additions to this element. As commonly applied, the term refers to such distinctions as those of gender, number, case, mood, tense, voice and so forth.

So few are the inflections of Modern English as compared with synthetic languages that it is sometimes characterised as "a grammarless tongue". This point of view is altogether erroneous and may seem correct only to those who think of grammar as meaning the same thing as inflection.

In synthetical languages where the grammatical function of a word is implicit in the form of the word, inflection or accidence, as itis sometimes called, does play a large part. But still we can hardly say that through the loss of inflection English has become "a grammarless tongue" in the true sense of the word "gramma".


English inflection has been gradually simplified in the course of time but the language has developed other devices to perform the same function and its structure and its rules of right and wrong, and it is as necessary to observe them, as other languages observe their inflectional system and rules of concord.

Modern English is not unique in developing analytical tendencies. Other European languages have done the same, but the idiosyncratic aspect of analytical forms in any language should not escape our notice. The distinctive features characterising English as a mainly analytical language are known to be the following:

a) comparatively few grammatical inflections;

b) scarcity of grammatical forms with sound alternations;

c) a wide use of prepositions to denote relations between objects and connect words in the sentence;

d) a more or less "fixed" or "grammatical" word order to denote grammatical relations.

An analytical form consists of at least two words but actually constitutes one sense-unit. Only one of the two elements has lexical meaning, the second has none, and being an auxiliary word possesses only grammatical meaning, e. g.: I have come, I had come; I am writing, I have been writing, I should write, I should have written, it is written, it was written, etc. Degrees of comparison formed by more and most are also analytic in structure: interesting more interesting the most interesting; difficult more difficult the most difficult.

All the analytical verbal forms go back to free syntactical groups.

As is known, modern Perfect Tenses are formed by means of the auxiliary verb to have followed by the past participle of the notional verb. In Old English the past participle was not an intrinsic part of the tense but was regarded as an adjective in apposition to the object governed by the verb have; the participle agreed in case (accusative) with the object: I have written my letter meant I have my letter written. It was quite natural that these forms were at first used with transitive verbs; the corresponding forms of intransitive verbs were generally formed with the verb be. In such constructions the participle always agreed with the subject. He is come meant He is in the state of being come.

But when the origin of the have-forms had been forgotten, they were gradually extended to intransitive verbs as well: He has gone; He has come; He had gone; He had come.

In Modern English to be is still used in some cases to imply a state rather than an action, e. g.: Good-bye, Mr. M. M.! she called and was goneamong the rose-trees! (Galsworthy)

The passive forms, analytic in their structure, have likewise originated from free syntactical groups. In Modern English they are presented by the association of the auxiliary verb to be with a past participle; to be written, to be done, etc. There is also a more expressive form of the passive made up with the auxiliary verb to get, most frequent in colloquial English, e.g.: The animal got struck by a stone. The two passive formations will often differentiate in their aspective character. Cf. He was tired :: He got tired.


When new devices had become well established, they came to express grammatical categories which had not been expressed in this way, or at all, in Old English period.

Modern English grammatical relations expressed by the devices that did not exist at earlier stages of language development are:

1) future, perfect and continuous tenses expressed with auxiliaries;

2) case-relationships expressed by means of prepositions;

3) passive voice (in embryo in Old English);

4) case-relationships, modification, agreement indicated by word- order.

Analytical verbal forms are most specific analytical formations. To understand their nature we should examine both their structure and their function. Considered in their outer aspect, they are free combinations of at least two words, which stand to each other in the same syntactical relation as words in a phrase. Considered in function, they go parallel with synthetical forms as belonging to a certain grammatical category and doing the duty of the form of the word.

The general criteria of defining the linguistic nature of analytical forms seem to be equally applicable to all languages but in certain concrete phenomena of every language we may easily trace their specific peculiarities associated in each case with concrete conditions of language development. Their very nature in any modern language gives every reason to exclude them from the realm of syntax as belonging to morphology. They now represent a special type of form-making, different from that of ordinary word-changing, and, as already remarked, historically connected with syntax. In fact, there seems no small justification for adopting V. V. Vinogradov's term «синтаксическое формообразование» which he aptly uses to characterise all the double-sidedness of these specific indivisible unities: their participation in morphology and their structural resemblance to word-combination.

On the whole, analytical forms are characterised by:

1) semantic indivisibility,

2) idiomatic character,

3) generalisation and abstraction from the concrete,

4) belonging in the paradigm of the word as one of its structural elements.

It comes quite natural that there are no grammatical categories in language represented only by analytical forms, for the very distinction of the latter from other word-combinations is based upon their parallelism and relationship with synthetical forms.

As we have already said, analytical forms in different languages may have their specific peculiarities associated with concrete conditions of language development. A few examples for illustration: English analytical forms in the Perfect Tenses are, no doubt, more free and "mobile" than, say, in Modern German: Have you ever been to Paris? Yes, I have. No, 1 haven't. Short answers of the given type are quite impossible in German.

A noticeable feature of English analytical forms is the use of the auxiliary verb to do: Do you speak French? Yes, I do. No, I don't. Did you see him yesterday? Yes, I did. No, I didn't.


Deep-rooted in English idiom is the use of the emphatic auxiliaries do and did functioning as expedients to produce intensity and emphasis in such emphatic forms of the Present Indefinite, Past Indefinite and the Imperative Mood, as: (1) I do so wonder what Jolyon's boy is like. (Galsworthy) (2) Irene's visit to the house but there was nothing in that except that she might have told him; but then, again, she never did tell him anything. (Galsworthy) (3) Oh! Do be serious, Michael! you never give me any help in arranging. (Galsworthy)

The idiosyncratic aspect of analytical form in any language should not escape our notice. We find here those additional structural potentialities of grammatical forms which contribute significantly to the specific development of the grammatical system of a given language.







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