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The grammatical system of language

Lecture 1

The Development of the English Grammatical Theory.

The first attempts to describe the English language were made by Alfrie (955-1020). He wrote colloquy which was a series of dialogues of daily speech of boys at the monastic schools. It was just designed to instruct the scholars in the daily speech or monastery. Besides he wrote a Latin Grammar with some comments written in OE in it. He translated Latin terms by means of loans. We don't know whether there were any other important attempts we find some commentaries, some glossaries, but we don't find any comprehensive book, any comprehensive work which can be considered a grammar.
Prenormative grammars (16-18 centuries). Grammars in the true sense of the word began to appear in the 16"century we refer to them as pronomative grammars, because their aim was just to describe, to
register the grammatical system of the language of that time.

The scientifically sustained and consistent principles of systemic approach to language and its grammar were essentially developed in the linguistics of the twentieth century, namely, after the publication of the works by the Russian scholar Beaudoin de Courtenay and the Swiss scholar Ferdinand de Saussure. These two great men demonstrated the difference between lingual synchrony (coexistence of lingual elements) and diachrony (different time periods in the development of lingual elements, as well as language as a whole) and defined language as a synchronic system of meaningful elements at any stage of its historical evolution.

Language is the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way: a study of the way children learn language (Oxford Dictionary). Language is the system of words or signs that people use to express thoughts and feelings to each other (Merriam Webster Dictionary).Language is a means of forming and storing ideas as re-flections of reality and exchanging them in the process of human intercourse. Language incorporates the three constituent parts ("sides"), each being inherent in it by virtue of its social nature. These parts are the phonological system, the lexical system, the grammatical system. The grammatical system is the whole set of regularities determining the combination of naming means in the formation of utterances as the embodiment of thinking process. The aim of theoretical grammar of a language is to present a theoretical description of its grammatical system, i.e. to scientifically analyze and define its grammatical categories and study the mechanisms of grammatical formation of utterances out of words in the process of speech making. The grammatical system of a language helps arrange lexical units into coherent utterance (членораздельное высказывание): it expresses a certain complete thought and is marked at all the lingual levels: phonetic, lexical, the level of combinability, grammatical level. The grammatical system is a set of devices (grammatical affixes or grammatical morphemes (markers such as the past participle 'ed, the present participle 'ing', or third person singular 's'), form words (article, preposition and etc.), and word order) and their application rules which are employed to produce a coherent utterance. The main unit of the grammatical system is the grammatical category. The grammatical category is an opposition of at least two forms of one and the same lexical unit based on a certain general meaning which is more abstract than the meaning of the members of the opposition. Grammatical category is a system of expressing a generalized grammatical meaning by means of paradigmatic correlation of grammatical forms. The set of grammatical forms constitutes a paradigm.

Paradigm is a typical example or pattern of something; a pattern or model: society’s paradigm of the ‘ideal woman’ (Oxford Dictionary). Paradigm isa theory or a group of ideas about how something should be done, made, or thought about(Merriam Webster Dictionary).

Opposition is a generalized correlation of lingual forms by means of which a certain functions is expressed. The correlated elements of the opposition must possess two types of features: common and differential features. Common serve as a bases of contrast. Differential features express the function in question. The oppositional theory was originally formulated as a phonological theory. There are three main qualitative types of opposition: privative, gradual, equipollent. The binary privative opposition is formed by contrastive pair of members in which one member is characterized by the presence of a certain differential feature while the other member is characterized by the absence of this feature. The member in which the feature is present is called marked or strong or positive member. The member in which the feature is absent is called unmarked or weak or negative member.

The gradual opposition is formed by a contrastive group of members in which the members are distinguished not only by presence or the absence of the feature but by the degree of it.

The equipollent opposition is formed by a contrastive group of members in which the members are distinguished by positive features.

The privative morphological opposition is based on morphological differential feature which is present in its strong member and absent in its weak member (work – negative, worked – positive; cat – unmarked, cats – marked; see – weak, saw – strong).

Equipollent oppositions in the system of English morphology constitute a minor type and are mostly confined to formal relations (am, is, are; the correlation of the case forms of personal pronouns she // her, he // him, the tense forms of the irregular verbs go//went, etc.).

Gradual oppositions are not generally recognized and can be identified as a minor type at the semantic level (strong-stronger-strongest; high-higher-highest; clean-cleaner-cleanest). In various contextual conditions, one member of an opposition can be used in the position of the other. This phenomenon should be treated under the heading of oppositional reduction or substitution: Tonight we start for London (the weak member present, replaces the strong one, future), Man (used in the singular to denote people in general) conquers nature. Sometimes reductional use of the opposition is stylistically marked: That man is constantly complaining of something.


The functioning of the grammatical category.

When we describe the functioning of a grammatical category we should distinguish between the main meaning of the category (its general meaning) and the instances which are to be explained through the main meaning and on the other hand additional, metaphoric or transposed meaning. To get at the main meaning of the category we should study its forms in isolation, as to the additional meanings they are understood through the context. As a rule transposed forms like metaphorically used words have some expressive charge. However sometimes transposition is caused by redundancy.

The nature of grammar as a constituent part of language is better understood in the light of explicitly discriminating the two planes of language, namely, the plane of content and the plane of expression. The plane of content comprises the purely semantic elements contained in language, while the plane of expression comprises the material (formal) units of language taken by themselves, apart from the meanings rendered by them. The two planes are inseparably connected, so that no meaning can be realised without some material means of expression.

Modern linguistics lays a special stress on the systemic character of language and all its constituent parts. It accentuates the idea that language is a system of signs (meaningful units) which are closely interconnected and interdependent. Units of immediate interdependencies (such as classes and subclasses of words, various subtypes of syntactic constructions, etc.) form different microsystems (subsystems) within the framework of the global macro system (super system) of the whole of language.

The system of language includes, on the one hand, the body of material units — sounds, morphemes, words, word-groups; on the other hand, the regularities or "rules" of the use of these units. Speech comprises both the act of producing utterances, and the utterances themselves, i.e. the text. Language and speech are inseparable, they form together an organic unity. As for grammar (the grammatical system), being an integral part of the lingual macro system it dynamically connects language with speech, because it categorially determines the lingual process of utterance production.

Units of language are divided into segmental and supra- segmental.

Segmental units consist of phonemes, they form phonemic strings of various status (syllables, morphemes, words, etc.). Supra-segmental units do not exist by themselves, but are realised together with segmental units and express different modificational meanings (functions) which are reflected on the strings of segmental units. To the supra-segmental units belong intonations (intonation contours), accents, pauses, patterns of word-order: `I was at the seaside today; I was at the `seaside today; I was at the seaside `today .

The segmental units of language form a hierarchy of levels. This hierarchy is of a kind that units of any higher level are analysable into (i.e. are formed of) units of the immediately lower level.

The lowest level of lingual segments is phonemic: it is formed by phonemes as the material elements of the higher -level segments. The phoneme has no meaning, its function is purely differential: it differentiates morphemes and words as material bodies. Since the phoneme has no meaning, it is not a sign. Phonemes are combined into syllables. The syllable, a rhythmic segmental group of phonemes, is not a sign, either; it has a purely formal significance. Due to this fact, it could hardly stand to reason to recognise in language a separate syllabic level; rather, the syllables should be considered in the light of the intra-level combinability properties of phonemes.

Units of all the higher levels of language are meaningful; they may be called "signemes" as opposed to phonemes (and letters as phoneme-representatives).

The level located above the phonemic one is the morphemic level. The morpheme is the elementary meaningful part of the word. It is built up by phonemes, so that the shortest morphemes include only one phoneme.

E.g.: ros-y [-i]; a-fire [э-]; come-s [-z].The morpheme expresses abstract, "significative" meanings which are used as constituents for the formation of more concrete, "nominative" meanings of words.

The third level in the segmental lingual hierarchy is the level of words, or lexemic level. The word, as different from the morpheme, is a directly naming (nominative) unit of language: it names things and their relations. Since words are built up by morphemes, the shortest words consist of one explicit morpheme only.

Cf.: man; will; but; I; etc. The next higher level is the level of phrases (word-groups), or phrasemic level. To level-forming phrase types belong combinations of two or more notional words. These combinations, like separate words, have a nominative function, but they represent the referent of nomination as a complicated phenomenon, be it a concrete thing, an action, a quality, or a whole situation.

Cf., respectively: a picturesque village; to start with a jerk; extremely difficult; the unexpected arrival of the chief.

Furthermore, bearing in mind that the phonemic level forms the subfoundation of language, i.e. the non-meaningful matter of meaningful expressive means, the two notions of grammatical description shall be pointed out as central even within the framework of the structural hierarchy of language: these are, first, the notion of the word and, second, the notion of the sentence. The first is analysed by morphology, which is the grammatical teaching of the word; the second is analysed by syntax, which is the grammatical teaching of the sentence.


1. What is the grammatical system and the grammatical category?

2. What is the difference between common and differential features of the opposition?

3. Give your own examples illustrating different kinds of opposition.

4. Give your own examples illustrating different kinds of segmental and supra-segmental units of language.

5. What do the segmental units of language form? How many lower levels do you know?

6. Read the information about the development of the English grammatoul theory Prepare a report on the theoretical views of one of the scientists mentioned in the Appendix



Colloquy Loans Glossaries Prenormative Sustained Essentially Coexistence Intercourse Inherent Virtue Utterances Embodiment Correlation Gradual Feature Equipollent Privative Inseparably Interdependencies Regularities Modificational Significative Nominative Phenomenon   | ˈkɒləkwi | | ləʊnz | |ˈɡlɒsərɪz | |preˈnormativ | |səˈsteɪnd | |ɪˈsenʃəli | |ˌkəʊɪɡˈzɪstəns | |ˈɪntəkɔːs | |ɪnˈhɪərənt | |ˈvɜːtʃuː | |ˈʌtərənsɪz | |ɪmˈbɒdɪmənt | |ˌkɒrəˈleɪʃn̩ | |ˈɡrædʒʊəl | |ˈfiːtʃə | |ˌiːkwɪˈpɒlənt | |ˈprɪvətɪv | |inˈseparabli | |interdeˈpendensis | |ˌreɡjʊˈlærɪtɪz | | ˌmɒdɪfɪˈkeɪʃn̩l | |sɪɡˈnɪfɪkətɪv | |ˈnɒmɪnətɪv | |fɪˈnɒmɪnən | разговор займы словари преднормативный устойчивый по существу сосуществование общение присущий добродетель высказывания воплощение корреляция постепенное особенность равноценный отнимающий в неразрывной взаимозависимость закономерности модификационный свидетельствующий именительный явление



1) A Course in Theoretical English Grammar,1983, Blokh M.Y .

2) Concise Theoretical Grammar, 2006, Kostinikova O.A.,

Chekulaeva N.Y.

3) Online dictionary Oxford http://www.oxforddictionaries.com

4) Online dictionary Merriam Webster http://www.merriam-webster.com


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