PARTS OF SPEECH (General Survey)

The words of language, depending on various formal and semantic features, are divided into grammatically rele­vant sets or classes. The traditional grammatical classes of words are called "parts of speech". Since the word is dis­tinguished not only by grammatical, but also by semantico-lexemic properties, some scholars refer to parts of speech as "lexicogrammatical" series of words, or as "lexicogrammatical categories"

It should be noted that the term "part of speech" is purely traditional and conventional, it can't be taken as in any way defining or explanatory. This name was introduced in the grammatical teaching of Ancient Greece, where the con­cept of the sentence was not yet explicitly identified in dis­tinction to the general idea of speech, and where, consequent­ly, no strict differentiation was drawn between the word as a vocabulary unit and the word as a functional element of the sentence.

In modern linguistics, parts of speech are discriminated on the basis of the three criteria: "semantic", "formal", and "functional". The semantic criterion presupposes the evalu­ation of the generalized meaning, which is characteristic of all the subsets of words constituting a given part of speech. This meaning is understood as the "categorial meaning of the part of speech". The formal criterion provides for the exposition of the specific inflexional and derivational (word-building) features of all the lexemic subsets of a part of speech. The functional criterion concerns the syntactic role of words in the sentence typical of a part of speech. The said three factors of categorial characterization of words are con­ventionally referred to as, respectively, "meaning", "form", and "function".

The problem of parts of speech is one that causes great controversies both in general linguistic theory and in the analysis of separate languages. We shall have to examine here briefly a few general questions concerning parts of speech which are of some importance for Modern English.

The term "parts of speech" (as well as the corresponding terms in Russian, German, French, and other languages), though firmly established, is not a very happy one. What is meant by a "part of speech" is a type of word differing from other types in some grammatical point or points. To take the clearest example of all, the verb is a type of word different from all other types in that it alone has the grammatical category of tense. Thus, while it is perfectly reasonable to ask, "What is the past tense of the word live?" (the answer of course is, lived), it would make no sense to ask, "What is the past tense of the word city?" or "What is the past tense of the word big?" Those words just have not got any past tense, or any tense whatever, for that matter: the notion of tense cannot be applied to them. Tense is one of the distinctive features characterising the verb as against every other type of word. However, the question is much less simple with reference to some other types of words, and a general definition of the principles on which the classification of parts of speech is based becomes absolutely necessary.

We cannot here go into the controversy over these principles that has lasted a considerable time now, and we will limit ourselves to stating the principles of our classification and pointing out some difficulties inherent in it.

The principles on which the classification is based are three in number, viz. (1) meaning, (2) form, (3) function. Each of these requires some additional explanations.

(1) By meaningwe do not mean the individual meaning of each separate word (its lexical meaning) but the meaning common to all the words of the given class and constituting its. essence. Thus, the meaning of the substantive (noun) is "thingness". This applies equally to all and every noun and constitutes the structural meaning of the noun as a type of word. Similarly, the meaning of the verb as a type of word is that of "process", whatever the individual meaning of a separate verb may happen to be. We shall have to dwell on this later in considering every part of speech in detail.

(2) By formwe mean the morphological characteristics of a type of word. Thus, the noun is characterised by the category of number (singular and plural), the verb by tense, mood, etc. Several types of words (prepositions, conjunctions, and others) are characterised by invariability.

(3) By functionwe mean the syntactical properties of a typo of word. These are subdivided into two, viz. (a) its method of combining with other words, (b) its function in the sentence; (a) has to deal with phrases, (b) with sentence structure. Taking, as we did previously, the verb as a specimen, we can state that, for example, a verb combines with a following noun (write letters) and also with a following adverb (write quickly). As to (b), i. e. the syntactical function of a verb in a sentence, it is that of a predicate.1

Two additional remarks are necessary before we proceed to the analysis of parts of speech in detail.

In the first place, there is the question about the mutual relation of the criteria. We cannot be sure in advance that all three criteria will always point the same way. Then, again, in some cases, one of them may fail (this especially applies to the criterion of form). Under such circumstances, it may prove necessary to choose between them, i. e. to attach to one of them greater value than to another. We may say, provisionally, that we shall treat them in the order in which they have been enumerated, viz. meaning shall come first, form next, and function last.

It will also be seen that the theory of parts of speech, though considered by most scholars to be a part of morphology,2 cannot do without touching on some syntactical problems, namely on phrases and on syntactical functions of words (point 3 in our list of criteria). We shall regard the theory of parts of speech as essentially a part of morphology, involving, however, some syntactical points.