Principles of Grammatical Classification of Words

In modern linguistic descriptions different types of word classes are distinguished: grammatical, etymological, semantic, stylistic, etc., one can presume, though, that no classification can be adequate to its aim if it ignores the grammatical principles. It is not accidental that the theoretical study of language in the history of science began with the attempts to identify and describe grammatical classes of words called "parts of speech".

In Modern Linguistics parts of speech are differentiated either by a number of criteria, or by a single criterion.

The polydifferential ("traditional") classification of words is based on the three criteria: semantic, formal, and functional. The semantic criterion presupposes the evaluation of the generalized (categorial) meaning of the words of the given part of speech. The formal criteri­on provides for the exposition of all formal features (specific inflec­tional and derivational) of all the lexemic subsets of a particular part of speech. The functional criterion concerns the typical syntactic func­tions of a part of speech. Contractedly the set of these criteria is re­ferred to as "meaning, form, function".

2. Traditional Classification of Words

In accord with the traditional criteria of meaning, form, and func­tion, words on the upper level of classification are divided into no­tional and functional.

In English to the notional parts of speech are usually referred the noun, the adjective, the numeral, the pronoun, the verb, the adverb.

On the lines of the traditional classification the adverb, e.g., is described in the following way: the adverb has the categorial mean­ing of the secondary property (i.e. the property of process or another property); the forms of the degrees of comparison for qualitative ad­verbs, the specific derivative suffixes; the syntactic functions of vari­ous adverbial modifiers.

The notional parts of speech are the words of complete nomina­tive value; in the utterance they fulfil self-dependent functions of nam­ing and denoting things, phenomena, their substantial properties. Opposed to the notional parts of speech are the functional words which are words of incomplete nominative value, but of absolutely essential relational (grammatical) value. In the utterance they serve as all sorts of mediators.

To the basic functional parts of speech in English are usually re­ferred the article, the preposition, the conjunction, the particle, the modal word, the interjection. As has been stated elsewhere, function­al words are limited in number. On the lines of the traditional classi­fication they are presented by the list, each of them requiring its own, individual description.

3. Syntactic Classification of Words

The syntactic (monodifferential) classification of words is based on syntactic featuring of words only. The syntactic classification of words, in principle, supplements the three-criteria classification spec­ifying the syntactic features of parts of speech. For the Russian lan­guage the basic principles of the syntactic classification of words were outlined in the works of A.M. Peshkovski. In English the syntactico-distributional classification of words was worked out by L. Bloom-field and his followers Z. Harris and especially Ch.C. Fries.

The syntactico-distributional classification of words is based on the study of their .combinability by means of substitution tests. As a result of this testing, a standard model of four main syntactic positions of notional words was built up. These positions are those of the noun, verb, adjective, and adverb. Pronouns are included into the correspond­ing positional classes as their substitutes. Words incapable to occupy the said main syntactic positions are treated as functional words.

4. The Three-Layer Classification of Words (M. Blokh)

The evaluation of the differential features of both cited classifica­tions allows us to work out a classification of the lexicon presenting some essential generalizations about its structure (Blokh 2000: 44-48). The semantico-grammatical analysis of the lexicon shows that it is explicitly divided into two parts: the notional words and the func­tional words. The open character of the notional part and the closed character of the functional part have the status of a formal grammat­ical feature. Between these two parts there is an intermediary field of

semi-functional words.

The unity of the notional lexemes, as well as their division into four infinitely large classes, is demonstrated in the inter-class system of derivation. This inter-class system of derivation is presented as a four-stage series permeating the lexicon; it has been given the name of "Lexical Paradigm of Nomination". For example: "fancy - to fan­cy fanciful - fancifully".

As the initial position in a particular nomination paradigm can be occupied by a lexeme of any word class, one can define the con­crete "derivational perspective" of the given series in accord with a part of speech status of the constituent in the initial position. Thus, in the following paradigm of nomination the derivational perspec­tive is verbal (V —»): "to decide - decision - decisive - decisively".

The universal character of the nomination paradigm is sustained by suppletivity, both lexemic and phrasemic, e.g.: "an end - to end -final - finally" (lexemic), "gratitude - grateful - gratefully - to ex­press gratitude" (phrasemic).

The lexical paradigm of nomination has a parallel substitutional representation: "one, it, they... - to do, to make, to act ... - such, same, similar... -thus, so, there..."

In consequence of the identification of the said pronominal para­digm representation, the functional part of the lexicon is to be divid­ed into two sets: first, the pronominal; second, the functional proper, or "specifier".

Thus, the general classification of the lexicon, not denying or in any sense depreciating the merits of their classification, but rather deriving its essential propositions from their positive data, is to be presented in a brief outline in the following way:

- the whole of the lexicon is divided into three layers;

- the first, the upper layer, having an open character, is formed by four classes of notional words; since these words have full nominative value, they may be referred to as "names": respec­tively, substance-names (nouns), process-names (verbs), pri­mary property names (adjectives), secondary property names (adverbs);

- the names are consolidated into an integral system by the lex­ical paradigm of nomination - the paradigmatic series whose function is to form and distribute any given word root among the four lexical class-types (parts of speech);

- the second, intermediate layer, having a closed character is formed by pronominal words or "substitutes of names"; here belong pronouns and replacer lexemes of all kinds (noun-, verb-, adjective-, adverbal-replacers), words of broad mean­ing (cf.: thing, matter, etc.), and also numbers;

- the third, the lower layer, having a closed character, is formed by functional words proper, or "specifiers of names": deter­miners, prepositions, conjunctions, particles, etc.

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


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