English Theoretical Grammar

Lecture-Notes in


Point 1. The subject of theoretical grammar and its difference from practical grammar.

The following course of theoretical grammar serves to describe the grammatical structure of the English language as a system where all parts are interconnected. The difference between theoretical and practical grammar lies in the fact that practical grammar prescribes certain rules of usage and teaches to speak (or write) correctly whereas theoretical grammar presents facts of language, while analyzing them, and gives no prescriptions.

Unlike school grammar, theoretical grammar does not always produce a ready-made decision. In language there are a number of phenomena interpreted differently by different linguists. To a great extent, these differences are due to the fact that there exist various directions in linguistics, each having its own method of analysis and, therefore, its own approach to the matter. But sometimes these differences arise because some facts of language are difficult to analyze, and in this case the only thing to offer is a possible way to solve the problem, instead of giving a final solution. It is due to this circumstance that there are different theories of the same language phenomenon, which is not the case with practical grammar.

Point 2. The main development stages of English theoretical grammar.

English theoretical grammar has naturally been developing in the mainstream of world linguistics. Observing the fact that some languages are very similar to one another in their forms, while others are quite dissimilar, scholars still long ago expressed the idea that languages revealing formal features of similarity have a common origin. Attempts to establish groups of kindred languages were repeatedly made from the 16th century on. Among the scholars who developed the idea of language relationship and attempted to give the first schemes of their genealogical groupings we find the name of J. J. Scaliger (1540-1609).

But a consistently scientific proof and study of the actual relationship between languages became possible only when the historical comparative method of language study was created – in the first quarter of the 19th century.

The historical comparative method developed in connection with the comparative observation of languages belonging to the Indo-European family, and its appearance was stimulated by the discovery of Sanskrit.

Sir William Jones (1746-1794), a prominent British orientalist and Sanskrit student, was the first to point out in the form of rigorously grounded scientific hypothesis that Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Gothic, and some other languages of India and Europe had sprung from the same source which no longer existed. He put forward this hypothesis in his famous report to the Calcutta Linguistic Society (1786), basing his views on an observation of verbal roots and certain grammatical forms in the languages compared.

The relations between the languages of the Indo-European family were studied systematically and scientifically at the beginning of the 19th century by some European scholars, such as Franz Bopp (1791-1867), Rasmus Kristian Rask (1787-1832), Jacob Grimm (1785-1863), and A. Ch. Vostokov (1781-1864). These scholars not only made comparative and historical observations of the kindred languages, but they defined the fundamental conception of linguistic ‘kinship’ (‘relationship’), and created the historical comparative method in linguistics. The rise of this method marks the appearance of linguistics as a science in the strict sense of the word.

After that the historical and comparative study of the Indo-European languages became the principal line of European linguistics for many years to come.

The historical comparative linguistics was further developed in the works of such scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries as F. Dietz (1794-1876), A. F. Pott (1802-1887), A.Schleicher (1821-1868) , F.I.Buslayev (1848-1897), F. F. Fortunatov (1848-1914), F. de Saussure (1857-1913), A.Meillet(1866-1936) and other linguists.

At the beginning of the 20th century the science of linguistics went different ways and later formed into various trends or schools, each of them contributing greatly to English theoretical grammar. The process is still under way nowadays, and it is going to be considered in detail further on.

Thus, we may tentatively trace three main development stages of English theoretical grammar: first (the 16th century - the first quarter of the 19th century), second (the first quarter of the 19th century - the 1930s) and third (the 1930s - present day).

Point 3. The classical scientific grammar of the late 19th century and the first

half of the 20th century.

As it has been stated above, the main method of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century was the historical comparative method. Valuable as it was for the scientific study of languages, it had definite shortcomings and limitations.

The historical comparative method did not give any exact definition of the object of linguistics as an independent science. Logical, psychological, and sociological considerations were involved in linguistic studies to such an extent as to obscure linguistics proper.

The study of numerous languages of the world was neglected, the research being limited to the group of the Indo-European languages.

It was mainly the historical changes of phonological and morphological units that were studied; syntax hardly existed as an elaborate domain of linguistics alongside of phonology and morphology. The painstaking study of the evolution of sounds and morphemes led to an atomistic approach to language.

As a reaction to the atomistic approach to language a new theory appeared that was seeking to grasp linguistic events in their mutual interconnection and interdependence, to understand and to describe language as a system.

The first linguists to speak of language as a system or a structure of smaller systems were Beaudouin de Courtenay (1845-1929) and Academician F.F.Fortunatov of Russia, and the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure.

There were three major linguistic schools that developed these new notions concerning language and linguistics as the science that studies it: the Prague School that created Functional linguistics, the Copenhagen School which created Glossematics, and the American School that created Descriptive linguistics. The Immediate Constituents Grammar was a further development of descriptive linguistics; the Transformational Grammar, the latest.

The Prague School was founded in 1929, uniting Czech and Russian linguists: Mathesius, Trnka, Nikolay Trubetskoy, Roman Jakobson, and others. The chief contribution of early Praguians to modern linguistics is the technique for determining the units of the phonological structure of languages. The basic method is the use of oppositions (contrasts) of speech sounds that change the meaning of the words in which they occur.

The Copenhagen School was founded in 1933 by Louis Hjelmslev (1899-1959) and Viggo Brondal (1887-1942). In 1939 the Prague and the Copenhagen Schools founded the journal ”Acta Linguistica” that had been for several years the international journal of Structural Linguistics. In the early 1930s the conception of the Copenhagen School was given the name of ’Glossematics’ (from Gk. ’glossa’ – language).

Point 4. The American Descriptive Linguistics of the 1940s-1950s.

Descriptive linguistics developed from the necessity of studying half-known and unknown languages of the Indian tribes. At the beginning of the 20th century these languages were rapidly dying out under the conditions of that time. The study of these languages was undertaken out of purely scientific interest.

The Indian languages had no writing and, therefore, had no history. The historical comparative method was of little use there, and the first step of work was to be keen observation and rigid registration of linguistic forms.

Frantz Boas, linguist and anthropologist (1858-1942) is usually mentioned as the predesessor of American Descriptive Linguistics. His basic ideas were later developed by Edward Sapir (1884-1939) and Leonard Bloomfield (1887-1949). Bloomfield’s main work ”Language” was published in 1933. All linguists of the USA at one time or other felt the influence of this book. It is a complete methodology of language study, approaching the language as if it were unknown to the linguist (student). The main concepts of Bloomfield’s book are:

Language is a workable system of sygnals, that is linguistic forms by means of which people communicate.

Grammar is a meaningful arrangement of linguistic forms from morphemes to sentence.

The chief contribution of the American Descriptive School to modern linguistics is the elaboration of the techniques of linguistic analysis. The main methods are the Distributional method and the method of Immediate Constituents.

A recent development of Descriptive linguistics gave rise to a new method – the Transformational grammar. The TG was first suggested by Zellig S. Harris as a method of analyzing the ”raw meterial” (concrete utterances) and was later elaborated by Noam Chomsky as a synthetic method of ”generating” (constructing) sentences. The TG refers to syntax only and presupposes the recognition (identification) of such linguistic units as phonemes, morphemes and form-classes, the latter being stated according to the distributional and the IC-analysis or otherwise. Charles Carpenter Fries is another prominent figure of American linguistic theory. His main work ”The Structure of English” is widely known.

Theme 1. INTRODUCTION (continued).

Point 5. Problems of ’Case’ Grammar.

’Case” Grammar, or role grammar, is a method to describe the semantics of a sentence, without modal or performative elements, as a system of semantic valencies through the bonds of ’the main verb’ with the roles prompted by its meaning and performed by nominal components.

Example: the verb ’to give’ requires the roles, or cases, of the agent, the receiver and the object of giving.

He gives me a book. I am given a book by him. A book is given to me by him.

Case Grammar emerged within the frames of Transformational Grammar in the late 1960s and developed as a grammatical method of description.

There are different approaches towards Case Grammar concerning the type of the logical structure of the sentence, the arrangement of roles and their possible combinations, i.e. ’case frames’, as well as the way in which semantic ties are reflected in a sentence structure by means of formal devices.

Case Grammar has been used to describe many languages on the semantic level. The results of this research are being used in developing ’artificial intellect’ (the so-called ’frame semantics’) and in psycholinguistics.

However, Case Grammar has neither clear definitions nor criteria to identify semantic roles; their status is vague in the sentence derivation; equally vague are the extent of fulness of their arrangement and the boundaries between ’role’ elements and other elements in a sentence.

Point 6. The main conceptions of syntactic semantics (or semantic syntax) and text linguistics

The purpose and the social essence of language are to serve as means of communication. Both structure and semantics of language ultimately serve exactly this purpose. For centuries linguists have focused mainly on structural peculiarities of languages. This may be easily explained by the fact that structural differences between languages are much more evident than differences in contents; that is why the study of the latter was seen as research in concrete languages. The correctness of such an assumption is proved by the fact that of all semantic phenomena the most studied were those most ideoethnic, for example, lexical and semantic structure of words. As for syntactic semantics, which is in many aspects common for various languages, it turned out to be least studied. Meanwhile, the study of this field of language semantics is of special interest for at least two reasons. Firstly, communication is not organized by means of separate words, but by means of utterances, or sentences. Learning speech communication, fully conveyed with the help of language information, is impossible without studying sentence semantics. Secondly, studying the semantic aspect of syntactic constructions is important, besides purely linguistic tasks, for understanding the peculiarities and laws of man’s thinking activities. Language and speech are the basic source of information which is a foundation for establishing the laws, as well as the categories and forms, of human thinking. Thus, language semantics is as important and legal object of linguistic study as language forms are.

Point 7. Modern methods of grammatical analysis: the I.C. method (method of immediate constituents), the oppositional, transformational and componential methods of analysis.

The IC method, introduced by American descriptivists, presents the sentence not as a linear succession of words but as a hierarchy of its ICs, as a ’structure of structures’.

Ch. Fries, who further developed the method proposed by L.Bloomfield, suggested the following diagram for the analysis of the sentence which also brings forth the mechanism of generating sentences: the largest IC of a simple sentence are the NP (noun phrase) and the VP (verb phrase), and they are further divided if their structure allows.

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