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Classifications of Parts of Speech.
Scholars believe that it is impossible to describe a language without describing word classes. As language is a structure, words are to be structurally organised. For centuries the writers of grammars distinguished classes of words which they referred to as parts of speech. The term “parts of speech” was introduced in Ancient Greece. The ancient scholars saw no difference between a word as a vocabulary unit and a word as a functional element of a sentence. The conventional term, being obviously inadequate, still remains in use, as no better term has been proposed.
At present there exist different lines of approach: traditional, functional (Prague linguistic school), descriptive (American descriptive linguistics), onomaseological approach ( the theory of nomination). Each linguistic trend advances its own criteria of classifying words and the number of these classes.
Traditionalists rely upon meaning as the essential criterion. This criterion is subjective and cannot be absolutely relied upon. In some grammars an adjective is defined as an attribute of substance. But in the following examples attributes of substances are expressed by an adverb(The then director. The now president), an infinitive (She is not a woman to drop ), a noun (a space pilot), etc. So this definition doesn’t work. When this approach is not reliable, traditionalists refer to form or function. Words were divided dichotomically into declinables ( nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs) and indeclinables ( articles, particles, prepositions, conjunctions). It is the criterion of form. This criterion underlies the following definition “A noun is a word which forms the plural by adding -s or its equivalents”. The following definition of an adverb is based on the functional criterion “An adverb is a word which modifies a verb, an adjective or another adverb”.
Prague linguistic school called parts of speech as bundles of morphologically relevant features and described words in terms of their paradigms (sets of all possible forms of a word). It’s a purely formal approach. Form, taken alone, is seldom helpful in English because of the scantiness of inflexions. It results in the frequency of homonymy and polysemy (Ship sails today. Flying can be dangerous). Form alone is inadequate as a criterion in English. Words are not easily identifiable as nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs: N. is a regular (a substantivized adjective is used as a noun).
The compromising solution was offered by H. Sweet and O. Jespersen, a synthetic approach, combining meaning, form and function. A word is described as belonging to this or that class on the basis of its semantic meaning ( e.g. table names a thing, it denotes thingness), as having some morphological form (table is inflected for the plural by adding –s) and as having peculiar syntactical properties (table occurs in typically n- positions in a sentence).
Structuralists (descriptivists) rejected the traditional approach, they preferred to rely only upon the positional arrangement of words and their structural characteristics (types of inflexions and derivational suffixes). This interpretation is represented by Ch. Frees. He operated with the artificial structure Woggles ugged diggles (compare it with The Students attended lectures). Intuitively we feel that woggles positionaly and structurally can be likened to a thing word (a noun); ugged can be compared with an action word (a verb); diggles with a noun. So, he wanted to prove that meanings should be disregarded in classifying words, as it is the arrangements of words and their structural characteristics which are most important for referring words to classes.
Relying upon the transformational procedure of substitution, Ch. Fries classifies words into 4 form classes, designated by numbers (I, II, III, IV) and 15 function groups of functional words designated by letters (a, b, c,…) He groups words with the help of the diagnostic frames: The concert is good and The team went there (I II III, I II IV), where I is like a noun, II is like a verb, III is like an adjective, IV is like an adverb. Class I includes all words which can be used in this frame (Smth is good; To dance is good)., etc. The positional criterion is supplemented by 7 other criteria( the plural inflection, the use of the apostrophe ‘s, the use of determiners (articles), etc. Groups of function words are defined by listing. Ch. Fries was not afraid to set up very small groups of words, such as a group comprising articles, groups carrying pronouns, conjunctions, prepositions, etc. He distinguished 154 functional words in English.