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Language is a multifaceted, complex phenomenon which can be studied and described from various points of view: as a psychological or cognitive phenomenon, as a social phenomenon, from the point of view of its historic changes, etc. But first and foremost, in modern linguistics, language is treated as a semiotic system or, a system of signs. In general, a system is defined as a structured set of elements united by a common function. Thus, language is a system of specific interconnected and interdependent lingual signs united by their common function of forming, storing and exchanging ideas in the process of human intercourse. The systemic approach prevails in many spheres of linguistics, but it is particularly relevant in the sphere of grammar studies.

The foundations of systemic language description were formulated at the turn of the 20th century in the works of many linguists, among them the Russian linguists I. A. Baudoin de Courtenay, A. A. Potebnya and others. The originator of the systemic approach in linguistics is considered to be a Swiss scholar Ferdinand de Saussure. He was the first to divide the phenomenon of language in general (in French: ‘language’) into two sides: an ‘executive’ side (‘parole’), concerned with the production, transmission, and reception of speech, and an underlying language system (‘langue’). This is one of the basic postulates of modern systemic linguistics: language in general comprises two aspects: the system of special lingual units, language proper, and the use of the lingual units, speech proper. In other words, language in the narrow sense of the term is a system of means of expression, while speech is the manifestation of the system of language in the process of intercourse. Other terms are used in linguistics by different authors to denote the two basic aspects of language: Noah Chomsky wrote about ‘language competence’ and ‘language performance’, Luis Hjelmslev used the terms ‘linguistic schema’ – ‘linguistic usage’, ‘linguistic system’ – ‘linguistic process’ (‘text’), Roman Jacobson opposed ‘code’ and ‘message’, etc. Still, the terms ‘language’ and ‘speech’ are the most widely used in systemic linguistic studies.

F. de Saussure was also among the first scholars who defined lingual units as specific signs - bilateral (two-sided) units that have both form and meaning. Ferdinand de Saussure spoke about an indissoluble link between a phonetic ‘signifier’ (French: ‘signifiant’), and a ‘signified’ (‘signifie’). In the system of language, a lingual sign has only a potential meaning; in speech, in the process of communication, this potential meaning is “actualized”, connected with a particular referent. That is why a lingual sign is graphically presented in the form of a triangle, including the material form, the meaning and the referent.

The units of language are of two types: segmental and supra-segmental. Segmental lingual unitsconsist of phonemes, which are the smallest material segments of the language; segmental units form different strings of phonemes (morphemes, words, sentences, etc.). Supra-segmental lingual units do not exist by themselves, their forms are realized together with the forms of segmental units; nevertheless, they render meanings of various kinds, including important grammatical meanings. Supra-segmental lingual units are: intonation contours, accents, patterns of word-order, etc. For example, the change of word-order and intonation pattern makes the difference in the following syntactic strucures: He is at home (statement). – Is he at home? (question).

Segmental lingual units form a hierarchy of levels. The term ‘hierarchy’ denotes a structure in which the units of any higher level are formed by the units of the lower level; besides, the units of each level are characterized by their own specific functional features and cannot be seen as a mechanical composition of the lower level units. The 1st level is formed by phonemes, the smallest material lingual elements, or segments. They have form, but they have no meaning. Phonemes differentiate the meanings of morphemes and words, including their grammatical meanings, e.g.: man – men. The 2nd level is composed of morphemes, the smallest meaningful elements built up by phonemes. The shortest morpheme can consist of one phoneme, e.g.: step-s; -s renders the meaning of the 3rd person singular form of the verb, or, the plural form of the noun. The meaning of the morpheme is abstract and significative: it does not name the referent, but only signifies it. The 3rd level consists of words, or lexemes, nominative lingual units, which express direct, nominative meanings: they nominate various referents. The 4th level is formed by word-combinations, the combinations of two or more notional words, which represent complex nominations of various referents (things, actions, qualities, and even situations), e.g.: a beautiful girl, their sudden departure. The 5th level is the level of sentences, lingual units which name certain situations, or events, and at the same time express predication, i.e. they show the relations of the event named to reality - whether the event is real or unreal, desirable or obligatory, stated as a fact or asked about, affirmed or negated, etc., e.g.: Their departure was sudden (a real event, which took place in the past, stated as a fact, etc.). Thus, the sentence is often defined as a predicative lingual unit. The 6th level is formed by sentences in a text or in actual speech. Textual units are traditionally called supra-phrasal unities. They are characterized by a number of features, the main one of which is the unity of topic. As with all lingual units, supra-phrasal unities are reducible to one unit of the lower level; e.g., the text of an advertisement slogan can consist of just one sentence: Just do it!

Crucial for the systemic description of language are the two fundamental types of relations between lingual units: paradigmatic and syntagmatic. The term “syntagmatic relations” is derived from the word “syntagma”, i.e. a linear combination of units of the same level. Lingual units form various lingual strings, sequences, or constructions. For example, in the sentence He started laughing we can distinguish syntagmatic (linear) relations between the sounds [h+i:] = [hi:]; [s+t+a:+t+i+d] = [sta:tid]; etc.; the morphemes are connected syntagmatically within words: start+ed = started; laugh+ing = laughing; the combinations of words form syntagmas within phrases and sentences: He + started; started + laughing. The sentence can be also connected with other sentences by syntagmatic relations in the process of communication, e.g.: He started laughing. Everybody thought it was rather odd.

The other type of relations, opposed to syntagmatic, are called paradigmatic. The term is derived from the word “paradigm” and denotes the relations between lingual elements in paradigms in the system of language. Ferdinand de Saussure called these relations ‘associative relations’, implying the way different linguistic units are arranged and associated with each other in human minds. Classical grammatical paradigms are those making up grammatical categories of words, or, morphological categories, e.g., the category of number or case of the noun: toy – toys; children – children’s, etc. Paradigm, in most general terms, is defined as a system of variants of the same unit, ‘the invariant’; paradigmatic relations are the relations between the variants of the lingual unit within a paradigm Not only words, but all lingual units are organized in the system of language paradigmatically. For example, sentences may be organized in paradigms according to the category “the purpose of communication”; in such paradigms declarative, interrogative and imperative sentence patterns are opposed, e.g.: He laughed. – Did he laugh? – Let him laugh. Paradigmatic relations exist in the other spheres of language as well. For example, paradigmatic relations connect vowels and consonants, voiced and voiceless consonants, synonyms and antonyms, topical groups of words, etc. Still, paradigmatic relations are of primary importance for grammar, as the grammar of language is above all systemic.

Language as a system is subdivided into three basic subsystems, each of which is also a system with its own set of elements. The phonetical system includes the material units of which language is made up: sounds, phonemes, intonation models, and accent models. The lexical system includes all the nominative means of language – words and stable word-combinations. The grammatical system includes the rules and regularities of using lingual units in the construction of utterances in the process of communication. Each sub-system also distinguishes its own structural organization. For example, within the grammatical system linguists single out morphology (parts of speech) and syntax (sentence patterns). The parts of speech are further subdivided into notional and functional, notional words are subdivided into nouns, verbs, adjective, and adverbs, etc.; sentences are subdivided into simple and composite: composite sentences are subdivided into complex and compound, etc.

In the history of linguistics, there were attempts to separate grammar, as the description of linguistic forms and structures, from semantics, the description of meanings. In modern linguistics, grammatical forms and regularities are interpreted as meaningful, though, of course, the quality of grammatical meanings is different from the quality of lexical meanings. Grammatical meanings are connected with the most abstract and general parts of information, rendered by lingual units. For example, the word hands, apart from its immediate lexical meaning (the referent of the word), bears some grammatical meanings, in particular, ‘thingness’ (the categorical grammatical meaning of nouns), ‘plurality’ (more than one objects are denoted) and others.

Systemic approach distinguishes two language planes - the plane of content and the plane of expression: the plane of content comprises all the meaningful, semantic elements contained in the language, while the plane of expression comprises all the material, formal units of the language. The correspondence between the two planes is not one-to-one. In cases of polysemyand homonymy two or more units of the plane of content correspond to one unit of the plane of expression; in cases of synonymy, vice versa, two or more units of the plane of expression correspond to one unit of the plane of content. The relations of homonymy and synonymy are important in grammar. For example, the grammatical suffix -(e)s is homonymous, because it denotes the 3rd person singular of the verb, the genitive case of the noun, or the plural of the noun, as in breaks, bird’s, birds. Synonymy in grammar can be illustrated by the following example: the future action is expressed with the help of the future indefinite, or the present indefinite, or the present continuous form of the verb, as in We’ll fly tomorrow; We fly tomorrow; We are flying tomorrow.

Thus, systemic approach in grammar studies presents grammar as a subsystem of language with its own intricately organized set of grammatical units (morphological forms and syntactic structures) rendering various grammatical meanings in the process of communication.



Grammatical units, like all other lingual units in their semiotic presentation, distinguish two sides: grammatical form (the signifier) and grammatical meaning (the signified). In other words, grammatical meanings are rendered by special grammatical forms.

There are two basic types of lingual means with the help of which grammatical forms of words are built: synthetical and analytical. Synthetical (or synthetic) grammatical forms are built by means of the morphemic composition of the word. This includes: outer inflexion with the help of adding grammatical suffixes to the stems of the words, e.g.: cat - cats; inner inflexion, or vowel interchange inside the root, e.g.: goose - geese; and suppletivity, when different roots are combined within the same paradigm, e.g.: go – went. Analytical grammatical formsare built by the combination of the notional word with auxiliary words, e.g.: come - have come. Analytical forms consist of two words which together express one grammatical meaning; in other words, they are grammatically idiomatic: the meaning of the grammatical form is not immediately dependent on the meanings of its parts. Analytical grammatical forms are intermediary between words and word-combinations. Some analytical forms are closer to a word, because the two parts are inseparable in their grammatical idiomatism; for example, the forms of the perfect aspect: come - have come. The components of some other analytical forms are more independent semantically, and they are less idiomatic grammatically; for example, the degrees of comparison: beautiful - more beautiful – most beautiful. Such combinations of an auxiliary component and a basic component are treated by some linguists as free word-combinations, but as they present correlative members of grammatical paradigms and express some specific grammatical meaning, they should be recognized as analytical grammatical forms too. Analytical grammatical forms are prevalent in English; modern English is an analytical type of language.

Grammatical meanings of individual grammatical forms are established as such in paradigmatic correlations: for example, the plural correlates with the singular (cat – cats), the genitive case of the noun correlates with the common case (cat – cat’s), the definite article determination correlates with the indefinite article determination (a cat – the cat), etc.

The generalized meaning rendered by paradigmatically correlated grammatical forms is called “categorial”. Category is a logical notion denoting the reflection of the most general properties of phenomena. Categorial meanings in grammar are expressed by grammatical paradigms. For example, within the system of the English noun the generalized, categorial meaning of “number” is expressed grammatically through the paradigmatic correlation (or, opposition in a paradigm) of two members, of two grammatical forms, each with its own grammatical meaning: the singular (e.g., cat) and the plural (cats).

Thus, the definition of grammatical category is as follows: grammatical categoryis a system of expressing a generalized categorial meaning by means of paradigmatic correlation of grammatical forms. In other words, it is a unity of a generalized grammatical meaning and the forms of its expression.

Paradigmatic correlations of grammatical forms exist as grammatical “oppositions” of the members of a paradigm. Oppositions are analyzed linguistically with the help of a special method known as oppositional analysis. It was developed by N. S. Trubetzkoy, a member of the Prague Linguistic Circle, at the turn of the 20th century for the purposes of phonological research; later it became widely employed in the analysis of grammatical categories. Opposition members are characterized by two types of features: common features and differential features. Common features serve as the basis for uniting the grammatical forms within the same paradigm. For example, the two forms, cat and cats, are paradigmatically united as forms of one and the same word, sharing the categorial grammatical meaning of number. Differential featuresserve to differentiate the members of an opposition; for example, the grammatical form of the plural, cats, has an inflection, or a grammatical suffix, which the form of the singular, cat, has not.

On the basis of various combinations of common and differential features, several types of oppositions are distinguished. The prevalent type of paradigmatic opposition in grammar is a binary privative opposition. The term binary” means, that the opposition consists of two members, or forms; besides binary oppositions, there are oppositions, that may include more than two members (‘ternary’, ‘quaternary’, etc.). The term “privative” means that the members of the opposition are characterized by the presence or absence of a certain differential feature, which serves as the formal mark of one of its members; in the example above, cat – cats, the ending of the plural is its formal mark. The member of the opposition characterized by the presence of the differential mark is called “marked”, “strong, or “positive”. The other member of the opposition, characterized by the absence of the differential feature, is called “unmarked”, “weak”, or “negative”. In the category of number the strong, marked member is the plural form, because it possesses a special formal mark (either the productive suffix -(e)s, or other formal means, such as -en in children, etc.), the weak, unmarked member of the opposition is the singular form, which possesses no special mark. To stress the negative marking of the weak member, it is also defined in oppositional theory with “non-”terms: e.g., the singular is referred to as “non-plural”.

Besides the differences in the form, there are also regular semantic differences between the members of the privative oppositions: the meaning of the weak member is always more general and more abstract, while the meaning of the strong member is always more particular and concrete. Due to this difference in meaning, the weak member of the opposition is used in a wider range of contexts than the strong member and it can even regularly substitute the strong member in certain contexts. For example, the singular form of the noun can be used generically to denote all the objects belonging to a certain class: The rose is my favourite flower meaning (All) Roses are my favourite flowers.

Besides privative oppositions, there are gradual and equipollent oppositions, which are minor types in morphology. Gradual oppositions are formed by a series of members which are distinguished not by the presence or absence of a differential feature, but by the degree of it. A gradual morphological opposition in English can be identified only in the plane of content in the category of comparison, cf.: big – bigger - biggest. Equipollent oppositions are formed by members, which are distinguished by a number of their own features. An equipollent morphological opposition in English can be identified in the plane of expression in the paradigms of suppletive forms, for example, in the correlation of the person and number forms of the verb be: am – are – is (was – were).

Grammatical oppositions can be reduced in some contextual circumstances, when one member of the opposition is used with the meaning of the other member, or, in other words, substitutes for its counter-member. In the theory of oppositions, this phenomenon is treated as oppositional reduction or “oppositional substitution. The further development of the idea of oppositional reduction in grammar was suggested by professor Blokh. He distinguishes two types of oppositional reduction: neutralization and transposition. Neutralization takes place when the grammatical form, which is used, loses its own functional meaning and acquires the meaning of its counter-member; in other words, it becomes functionally equivalent with its oppositional counter-member. This type of oppositional reduction is stylistically indifferent (neutral); in most cases it takes place when the weak member of the opposition is used in the meaning of the strong one, e.g.: The rose is my favourite flower (=Roses are my favourite flowers) - the singular, the weak member of the number category opposition, is used instead of the plural, the strong member. Transposition takes place in cases where one member of the opposition preserves to a certain extent its original functional meaning alongside the meaning of its counterpart; the two functional meanings are actually combined. This type of oppositional reduction is stylistically marked. Because of the combination of meanings and the additional stylistic colouring created, transposition can be treated as a grammatical mechanism of figurativeness, or a grammatical metaphor. In most cases it happens when the strong member of the opposition is used with the meaning of the weak one. E.g.: the waters of the ocean, the sands of the desert – the plural, the strong member of the number category opposition, is used instead of the singular, the weak member.

Grammatical categories are subdivided into several types. “Immanent”categories render the meaning innate (or, natural) for the words of a particular lexical class; for example, the category of number is innate for nouns since the referents denoted by nouns can potentially be counted. Reflective” categories serve as a sign of formal correlation or agreement between the words in an utterance: in English the verbal number formally reflects the number characteristics of the noun or of the pronoun with which the verb corresponds in the utterance; in other words, the verbs agree with the nouns or pronouns in the category of number, e.g.: The man goes - The men go. For verbs the category of number is not immanent; it is reflective. Immanent categories can be either “transgressive” like the category of number, which transgresses the borders of the noun, or they can be “closed”, confined within one word-class; for example, the category of gender of nouns is not reflected by any other word-class in English, so it is a closed category. Another distinction is based on the changeability of the categorial feature. “Variable feature categories” are the categories realized in changeable grammatical forms of words, e.g.: the category of number is a variable feature category, because most nouns have two forms, the singular and the plural, cat – cats. “Constant feature categories” reflect the classification of the words according to certain unchangeable categorial features, e.g.: the category of gender in English is a constant feature category - the noun woman is of feminine gender, substituted only by the feminine pronoun she, man is of masculine gender, invariably substituted by he, and tree - of neuter gender, substituted only by it.

These notions and approaches provide a comprehensive presentation of grammatical forms and grammatical categories in English morphology.

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