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The Category of Person and Number

The categories of person and number are closely connected with each other because of the situational semantics referring the process to the subject of the situation that is to its central substance which exists in inseparable unity of quality and quantity. Secondly they are immediately related to the subject. Both categories are different from the other categories of the finite verb as they do not convey any inherently verbal semantics, the nature of both of them is purely reflective. These two categories are purely formal: they formally mark the relationship between the action and the doer (the recipient) of the action.

In the present tense the expression of the category of person is divided into three peculiar subsystems.
The first subsystem includes the modal verbs that have no personal inflexions: can, may, must, shall, will, ought, need, dare. So, in the formal sense, the category of person is wholly neutralized with these verbs, or, in plainer words, it is left unexpressed.
The second subsystem is made up by the unique verbal lexeme be. The expression of person by this lexeme is the direct opposite to its expression by modal verbs: if the latter do not convey the indication of person in any morphemic sense at all, the verb be has three different suppletive personal forms, namely: am for the first person singular, is for the third person singular, and are as a feature marking the finite form negatively: neither the first, nor the third person singular. It cannot be taken for the specific positive mark of the second person for the simple reason that it coincides with the plural all-person (equal to none-person) marking.
The third subsystem presents just the regular, normal expression of person with the remaining multitude of the English verbs, with each morphemic variety of them. From the formal point of view, this subsystem occupies the medial position between the first two: if the verb be is at least two-personal, the normal personal type of the verb conjugation is one-personal. Indeed, the personal mark is confined here to the third person singular -(e)s (-z, -s, -iz], the other two persons (the first and the second) remaining unmarked, e.g. comes- come, blows - blow, stops - stop, chooses - choose.
Passing on to the expression of grammatical number by the English finite verb, we are faced with the interesting fact that, from the formally morphemic point of view, it is hardly featured at all.
As a matter of fact, the more or less distinct morphemic featuring of the category of number can be seen only with the archaic forms of the unique be, both in the present tense and in the past tense. The opposition of the category consists of the unmarked plural form for all the persons being contrasted against the marked singular form for each separate person, each singular person thereby being distinguished by its own, specific form.
In the common conjugation of be, the blending of the person and number forms is more profound, since the suppletive are, the same as its past tense counterpart were, not being confined to the plural sphere, penetrate the singular sphere, namely, the expression of the second person (which actually becomes non-expression because of the formal coincidence).
As for the rest of the verbs, the blending of the morphemic expression of the two categories is complete, for the only explicit morphemic opposition in the integral categorial sphere of person and number is reduced with these verbs to the third person singular (present tense, indicative mood) being contrasted against the unmarked finite form of the verb.
The semantic core of the substantial (or pronominal, for that matter) category of person is understood nowadays in terms of deictic, or indicative signification. The deictic function of lingual units in pointing out entities of reality in their relation to the participants of speech communication. In this light, the semantic content of the first person is the indication of the person who is speaking, but such an indication as is effected by no other individual than himself. This self-indicative role is performed lexically by the personal pronoun. The semantic content of the second person is the indication of the individual who is listening to the first person speaking - but again such an indication as viewed and effected by the speaker. This listener-indicative function is performed by the personal pronoun you. Now, the semantic content of the third person is quite different from that of either the first or second person. Whereas the latter two express the immediate participants of the communication, the third person indicates all the other entities of reality, i.e. beings, things, and phenomena not immediately included in the communicative situation, though also as viewed by the speaker, at the moment of speech.

In Russian subject – predicate agreement is purely formal: if the subject is in the plural the predicate is also in the plural and vice versa. In English we should consider several factors:

o formal agreement: the table is / the tables are;

o the semantic factor (the meaning of the subject and its structure):

nouns of multitude (the agreement is purely semantic): people, police, cattle – are used in plural if they denote a multitude and in singular if they are collective nouns:

The family was united on this question. The enemy is suing for peace.

My family are always fighting among themselves. The enemy were showing up in groups of three or four to turn in their weapons. The government have not announced a new policy. The team are playing in the test matches next week.

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