ТОП 10:

CONTROVERSIAL ASPECTS OF THE ENGLISH VERB



 

The verb in English distinguishes the following categories: the category of person and number, tense, aspect, voice and mood. The basic problems with the interpretation of verbal forms are caused by typological restructuring of the English language, which has led to the extinction of most inflectional verbal forms, the appearance of new analytical forms, reduction of and confusion in verbal paradigms in the history of English.

The most controversial are the categories of tense and aspect. The major problem is the fusion of temporal and aspectual semantics and the blend in their formal expression; that is why in practical grammar they are traditionally treated not as separate verbal forms but as specific tense-aspect forms, cf.: the present continuous – I am working; the past perfect continuous – I had been working; the future indefinite – I will work, etc.

In theoretical grammar the two categories are treated separately, but still, there is a lot of dispute among linguists. As for the category of tense, the problem is that there are not just three tense forms of the verb like in Russian – the past, the present and the future, but four forms – the past, the present, the future and the future-in-the-past (ate – eat – will eat – would eat). The future-in-the-past is particularly controversial from the point of view of its theoretical interpretation, because, logically speaking, one and the same category cannot be expressed twice in one and the same grammatical form; the members of one paradigm should be mutually exclusive. Some linguists, O. Jespersen and L. S. Barkhudarov among them, go as far as to state the there is no future tense in English at all. They claim that the verbs shall/will and should/would are not auxiliary verbs, but modal verbs denoting intention, command, request, promise, etc. in a weakened form, e.g.: I’ll go there by train means I intend (want, plan) to go there by train.

Some of the controversies can be tackled if verbal categories are treated oppositionally on the basis of their functional semantics. Semantically, tense, as the grammatical expression of time, may be either oriented toward the moment of speech, absolutive, or it may be “relative”, when it shows the correlation of two or more events. The “absolute time embraces the past, the present and the future; the “relative time” embraces the priority, the simultaneity and the posteriority. The present and the past forms of the verb in English render absolutive time semantics, referring the events to either the plane of the present or to the plane of the past, while the two future tense forms of the verb express relative future: they present the process as an after-event in relation to the present, e.g.: He will work tomorrow (not right not), and as an after-event in relation to the past, e.g.: He said he would work the next day. So, according to the approach formulated by professor Blokh, there is not just one verbal category of tense in English but two interconnected tense sub-categories: the first, which can be called “primary time”, “absolutive time, or retrospective time, is expressed by the opposition of the past and the present forms (e.g.: work-worked); the second, which may be called “prospective”, or “relative”, is formed by the opposition of the future and the non-future separately in relation to the present or to the past (e.g.: work(s) - shall/will work, or worked - should/would work).

As for the aspect, the analysis of this category has always been a highly controversial area of English linguistics: the four aspective forms of the verb - the indefinite, the continuous, the perfect, and the perfect continuous - have been treated by different scholars as tense forms, as aspect forms, as forms of mixed tense-aspect status, and as neither tense nor aspect forms, but as forms of a separate grammatical category.

For example, the grammatical meaning of the continuous was originally treated as a tense form, denoting a process going on simultaneously with another process; this temporal interpretation was developed by H. Sweet, O. Jespersen and others. I. P. Ivanova treated the continuous as rendering a blend of temporal and aspective semantics, denoting an action in progress, simultaneous with another action or time point. The majority of linguists today support the point of view developed by A. I. Smirnitsky, B. A. Ilyish, L. S. Barkhudarov, and others, that the meaning of the continuous is purely aspective, denoting “action in progress”, or developing action”. The fact is, simultaneity is rendered by either the syntactic construction or the broader semantic context, since it is quite natural for the developing action to be connected with a certain time point. Actually, simultaneous actions can be shown with or without the help of the continuous verbal forms, cf.: While I worked, they were speaking with each other. – While I worked, they spoke with each other.

The traditional treatment of the perfect was also primarily as the tense form denoting the priority of one action in relation to another; the so-called “perfect tense” interpretation was developed by H. Sweet, G. Curme, and others. M. Deutchbein, G. N. Vorontsova and other linguists consider the perfect to be a purely aspective form, laying the main emphasis on the fact that the perfect forms denote some result, some transmission of the pre-event to the post-event. I. P. Ivanova treats the perfect, as well as the continuous, as the verbal form expressing temporal and aspective functions in a blend. A. I. Smirnitsky was the first to put forward the idea that the perfect forms its own category, which is neither a tense category, nor an aspect category; he suggested the name “the category of time correlation”. One of Smirnitsky’s arguments was the status of the perfect-continuous form in connection with the logical controversy already mentioned: one and the same category cannot be expressed twice in one grammatical form.

According to professor Blokh’s approach, this contradiction can be solved in exactly the same way that was employed with the tense category: the category of aspect, just like the category of tense, is not a unique grammatical category in English, but a system of two sub-categories. The first sub-category is realized through the paradigmatic opposition of the continuous (progressive) forms and the non-continuous (indefinite, simple) forms of the verb; this category can be called the category of development. The second aspective sub-category is formed by theopposition of the perfect and the non-perfect forms of the verb; this category can be called “the category of retrospective coordination”. This sub-category is semantically intermediate between aspective and temporal, because the perfect combines the meanings of priority (relative time) and coordination, transmission, or result (aspective meaning).

Oppositional presentation helps provide functional explanation for various cases of contextual use of tense and aspect forms in terms of oppositional reduction - either neutralization of the opposition or transposition. For example, the neutralization of the category of development regularly takes place with unlimitive verbs, especially statal verbs like to be, to have, verbs of sense perception, relation, etc., e.g.: I have a problem; I love you. Their indefinite forms are used instead of the continuous for semantic reasons: statal verbs denote developing processes by their own meaning. Since such cases are systemically fixed in English grammar, the use of the statal verbs in the continuous can be treated as “reverse transposition (“de-neutralization” of the opposition): their meaning is transformed, they become actional for the nonce, and most of such cases are stylistically colored, cf.: You are being naughty!; I’m loving it! The cases of the tense category reduction include the cases of the present tense form of the verb used to describe past events in order to create a vivid picture of the past, e.g.: I stopped to greet him and what do you think he does? He pretends he doesn’t know me! This type of transposition is known as “historic present” (or, “preterite present”). The transposition of the past tense forms into the context of the present is used to express various degrees of politeness, e.g.: Could you help me, please? These cases are known as “preterite of modesty”, or “attitudinal past”. Oppositional treatment can explain other cases of contextual use of tense and aspect verbal forms too.

Another verbal category which has given rise to much dispute is the category of mood in English. The nomenclature of the oblique mood types, denoting unreality of action, presents a great problem because most of its forms are homonymous with the forms of the indicative, denoting real actions. Different classifications of the oblique mood types are based either on formal criteria or on functional criteria: scholars distinguish synthetical and analytical moods (e.g.: If I were you… - synthetical mood, … I would stay – analytical mood), past and present moods (e.g.: I wish I stayed – I demand that he stay); semantically the so-called imperative, subjunctive, conditional and suppositional moods are distinguished. Today, there is no universally accepted classification of verbal mood forms; their number varies from as many as sixteen (in the classification of M. Deutschbein) to practically no mood at all (according to L. S. Barkhudarov).

According to professor Blokh’s approach, since all the oblique mood types share a common meaning of unreality, they may be terminologically united as subjunctive; and then several types of the subjunctive can be distinguished according to the form of expression and various shades of unreality expressed. The mood which is traditionally called subjunctive I, expresses various attitudes of the speaker: desire, consideration (supposition, suggestion, hypothesis), inducement (recommendation, request, command, order), etc. The form of subjunctive I is homonymous with the bare infinitive: Long live the king! I demand that the case be investigated thoroughly. Subjunctive II in form is homonymous with the past tense forms of the verbs in the indicative mood, except for the verb to be, which, according to standard grammar, in all persons and numbers is used in the form were. Subjunctive II is used mostly in the subordinate clauses of complex sentences with causal-conditional relations, such as the clauses of unreal condition, e.g.: If she tried, (she would manage it); If I were you…; and a number of related meanings, for example, of urgency, e.g.: (It’s high time) she tried to change the situation; or of unreal wish, e.g.: (I wish) she tried harder; If only she tried! Subjunctive III (traditionally known as the “conditional”) denotes the corresponding consequence of an unreal condition in the principal part of the causal-conditional sentences; in form it is homonymous with the analytical future in the past tense forms (the past posterior) of verbs in the indicative mood, e.g.: (If she tried), she would manage it. Subjunctive IV (traditionally referred to as “modal suppositional”) is built with the help of modal verbs, and expresses the same semantic types of unreality as subjunctive I, cf.: may/might + infinitive – is used to denote wish, desire, hope, and supposition, e.g.: May it be so! (cf. with subjunctive I: Be it so!); should + infinitive, e.g.: Whatever my mother should say about him, we’ll marry one day (cf. with subjunctive I: Whatever my mother say about him, we’ll marry one day).

In traditional grammar, besides the direct and oblique moods, the so-called imperative mood is distinguished, as in Open the door! or Let’s agree to differ; Let him do it his own way! The analysis of such examples shows that there is basically no difference between what is traditionally called the imperative and subjunctive I for the 2nd person or subjunctive IV for the other persons: the meaning rendered by the so-called imperative is that of a hypothetical action appraised as an object of desire, recommendation, supposition, etc. and its forms are homonymous either with the bare infinitive or the constructions with the semi-notional verb “to let”. Thus, inducement can be treated as a specific type of unreality and the imperative mood can be treated as a subtype of subjunctive I or subjunctive IV. It can be noted that L. S. Barkhudarov, who denied the existence of the oblique moods in English, treated subjunctive I, vice versa, as a subtype of the imperative.

Problems in treating the category of mood in English are also caused by the fact that the whole system of the mood is not stable; it is still developing and the use of forms fluctuates a lot: for example, the form was today is often used instead of were in the third person singular in subjunctive II (If he was here…), the auxiliaries should and would are often interchangeable, etc. In colloquial speech the semantic and formal contrasts between the indicative, the past subjunctive and the modal subjunctive are often neutralized, e.g.: It is impossible that he is right/ that he should be right/ that he be right.

SYNTACTIC SEMANTICS

 

The main object of study in syntax is the sentence, its structure and, what is more important, its semantics. Semantically, the sentence comprises two aspects: the nominative aspect, which is the way the sentence reflects the situation named, and the predicative aspect, which is connected with the expression of various relations between the nominative content of the sentence and reality.

Traditionally, the sentence has been studied from the point of view of its nominative aspect in terms of so-called grammatical division, or nominative division into nominative (positional) parts, or members of the sentence: the principal parts - the subject and the predicate, and the secondary parts - the object, the attribute,the adverbial modifier,the apposition, the parenthesis (parenthetical enclosure), the address (addressing enclosure), and the interjection (interjectional enclosure). They reflect the basic components of the situation named: a certain process as its dynamic center, the agent of the process, the objects of the process, various conditions and circumstances of the process.

In the middle of the 20th century, new approaches to the analysis of the nominative semantics of the sentence were developed. The American linguist Noam Chomsky proposed the distinction between the level of the deep, semantic, or conceptual structure of the sentence and the level of its surface, or syntactic structure, different types of constructions being connected by various transformations. Chomsky’s transformational grammar theory in the sphere of the nominative division of the sentence was further developed by C. J. Fillmore, who formulated the theory of case grammar: its central idea is that each notional part of the sentence correlates with one element of the underlying semantic level and possesses a ‘semantic casewhich represents its semantic role in the situation named. In traditional linguistics, only adverbial modifiers enjoy a detailed semantic sub-classification into adverbial modifiers of time, place, manner, attendant circumstances, etc. In the classification of semantic roles, all semantic components of the situation are taken into consideration. For example, the “Agent” is the personal doer of the action, the “Power” the impersonal doer of the action, the “Patient” the direct object of the action, the “Instrument” the object with the help of which the action is fulfilled, the “Locative” some point or location in space, etc. It must be noted, though, that there is no definite list of semantic cases in modern linguistics; their number, descriptions and names differ from one author to another. The classification of semantic roles in modern linguistics is used as complementary to the classification of notional parts of the sentence, and the two classifications are often employed together to better describe the nominative aspect of the sentence. For instance, the subject can be described as subject-agent, e.g.: I opened the door; as subject-patient, e.g.: The door was opened; subject-power, e.g.: The wind opened the door; subject-instrument, e.g.: The key opened the door; subject-locative, e.g.: Moscow hosted a summit, etc.

One of the first attempts to analyze linguistically the contextually relevant communicative semantics of the sentence was undertaken by the scholars of the Prague Lingistic Circle at the beginning of the 20th century. The Czech linguist Vilém Mathesius was the first to describe the informative value of different parts of the sentence in the actual process of communication, making the informative perspective of an utterance and showing which component of the denoted situation is informationally more important from the point of view of the speaker. By analogy with the grammatical, or nominative division of the sentence the idea of the so-called “actual division” of the sentence was put forward. This linguistic theory is known as the functional analysis of the sentence, the communicative analysis, the actual division analysis, or the informative perspective analysis.

The main components of the actual division of a sentence are the theme and the rheme. The theme (originally called “the basis” by V. Mathesius) is the starting point of communication, a thing or a phenomenon about which something is reported in the sentence; it usually contains some old, “already known” information. The rheme (originally called “the nucleus” by V. Mathesius) is the basic informative part of the sentence, its contextually relevant communicative center, the “peak” of communication, or the information reported about the theme; it usually contains some new information. There may be transitional parts of actual division of various degrees of informative value, neither purely thematic, nor rhematic; they can be treated as a secondary rheme, the “subrhematic” part of a sentence; this part is called “a transition” (this idea was put forward by another scholar of the Prague Linguistic Circle, J. Firbas). For example: Again Charlie is late. – Again (transition) Charlie (theme) is late (rheme).

There are special formal lingual means of expressing the rheme and the theme. They are as: word order patterns, constructions with introducers, syntactic patterns of contrastive complexes, constructions with articles and other determiners, constructions with intensifying particles, and intonation contours. The major lingual means of actual division is intonation, especially the stress which identifies the rheme; it is traditionally defined as “logical accent” or “rhematic accent”. Intonation is universal and inseparable from the other means of actual division, especially from word-order patterns: in cases of direct actual division (which make up the majority of sentences) the logical stress is focused on the last notional word in the sentence in the predicate group, identifying it as the informative center of the sentence; in cases of reverse actual division, the logical stress may indicate the rheme at the beginning of the utterance, e.g.: Charlie (theme) is late (logical accent, rheme). - Charlie (logical accent, rheme) is late (theme).

Another approach to the description of syntactic semantics deals with the sentence as a communicative unit. The primary traditional semantic classification of sentence types is based on the communicative principle, traditionally defined as “the purpose of communication”. According to the purpose of communication, sentences are subdivided into declarative, interrogative and imperative. Declarative sentences are traditionally defined as those expressing statements, e.g.: He (didn’t) shut the window. Imperative sentences express inducements of various kinds (orders or requests), e.g.: (Don’t) Shut the window, please. Interrogative sentences express questions, or requests for information, e.g.: Did he shut the window? The American linguist Charles Fries contributed to a more precise description of communicative sentence types, classifying all the utterances on the kind of responses which they elicit. He distinguished, first, utterances which are followed by oral responses (questions, greetings, calls, etc.), most of them correspond to what is traditionally defined as interrogative sentences or make minor types of declarative and imperative sentences; second, utterances followed by action responses (requests or commands), i.e. imperative sentences in the traditional classification; and third, utterances which elicit signals of attention to further conversation (statements), i.e. declarative sentences. Additionally, he distinguished a minor group of utterances, which are not directed to any interlocutor in particular and presuppose no response (“non-communicative utterances”, e.g., interjectional outcries as in My God!, which can be also characterized as “non-sentential utterances” or “pseudo-sentences”).

The further communicative description of utterances was undertaken at the end of the 1960s by J. R. Searle within the framework of the so-called “theory of speech acts”, on the basis of philosophical ideas formulated by J. L. Austin. Utterances are interpreted as actions or acts by which the speaker does something (the title of the book by J. L. Austin was How to Do Things with Words). On the basis of various communicative intentions of the speaker, J. R. Searle produced a detailed classification of so-called pragmatic utterance types (“pragmatic” means pertaining to the participants and the circumstances of the particular speech act). The two basic utterance types are defined as performatives and constatives (representatives): performatives are treated as utterances by which the speaker explicitly performs a certain act, e.g.: I surrender; and constatives (representatives) as utterances by which the speaker states something, e.g.: I am a teacher; constatives are further subdivided into minor types, such as promissives (commissives), e.g.: I will help you; expressives, e.g.: How very sad!; menacives, e.g.: I’ll kill you!, directives, e.g.: Get out!; requestives, e.g.: Bring the chalk, please; etc. From the purely linguistic point of view, various speech acts correlate structurally and functionally with the three cardinal communicative types of sentences. Later the theory of speech acts developed into a separate branch of linguistics known as “pragmatic linguistics” (“pragmalinguistics”, or “pragmatics”); this approach is used in syntactic studies as complementary to the classification of the grammatically distinguished communicative types of sentences.

Another major development in modern syntax is connected with the introduction of paradigmatic analysis of the sentence. Traditionally, the sentence was studied only syntagmatically, as a string of nominative parts. F. de Saussure stressed the fact that paradigmatics is quite natural for morphology, while syntax should be studied primarily as the linear connections of words. Regular paradigmatic description of syntax started in the middle of the 20th century in the wake of the transformational grammar theory of N. Chomsky, who, as was mentioned before, distinguished deep and surface levels of syntactic structures, transformationally connected with each other. The genuine sentences in “surface” speech are analyzed as derived from kernel sentences, or “basic syntactic patterns”, in “deep” speech through as number of syntactic transformational steps, or syntactic derivational procedures, which include morphological arrangement of the sentence parts, the use of functional words, the processes of substitution, deletion, positional arrangement, and intonational arrangement.

Today it is obvious that the functional meanings of sentences make up syntactic categories, represented by the oppositions of paradigmatically correlated sentence patterns. Predicative semantics of the sentence is seen as expressed by syntactic categorial oppositions, which make up the following syntactic categories: the category of communicative purpose, or rather two communicative sub-categories: first, question is opposed to statement, cf..: Mary put the book on the table. – Did Mary put the book on the table?; and, second, statement is opposed to inducement, e.g.: Mary put the book on the table. – Mary, put the book on the table; the category of existence quality (affirmation and negation), in which affirmation is opposed to negation, cf.: Mary put the book on the table. – Mary didn’t put the book on the table; the category of realization, in which unreality is opposed to reality, cf.: Mary put the book on the table. – Mary would have put the book on the table…; the category of subject-object relations, in which passive action is opposed to active action, cf.: Mary put the book on the table. – The book was put on the table by Mary; the category of informative perspective, in which specialized, reverse actual division is opposed to non-specialized, direct actual division, cf.: Mary put the book on the table. – It was Mary who put the book on the table; the category of (emotional) intensity, in which emphasis (emotiveness) is opposed to emotional neutrality, cf.: Mary put the book on the table. – Mary did put the book on the table! and some other syntactic categories.

Paradigmatic oppositional evaluation helps explain the use of various syntactic structures in place of the others as contextual reductions of syntactic oppositions which transform the meaning of the sentence or create some additional stylistic colouring in syntax. For example, most of the intermediary communicative types of sentences perform distinct stylistic functions, and can be treated as cases of transposition of the communicative types of sentences presented in oppositions; for example, the rhetorical question is result of the use of the interrogative construction instead of the declarative in order to express strong negative evaluation of the event, cf.: How can you say a thing like this? = It was bad of you to say a thing like this; or, irony is often rendered by the affirmative construction used in the meaning of the negative (supported by specific supra-segmental lingual means), cf.: How clever of you! = It is not clever of you at all.

 

 


 

 

Ривлина А.А. Теоретическая грамматика английского языка

 

СПИСОК ЛИТЕРАТУРЫ

Обязательная литература:

  1. Блох, М.Я. Теоретическая грамматика английского языка = A Course in Theoretical English Grammar: учебник / М.Я. Блох. - 4-е изд., испр. - М.: Высшая школа, 2003. - 423 с.
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  3. Блох, М.Я. Практикум по теоретической грамматике английского языка = Theoretical English Grammar: Seminars: учебное пособие / М.Я. Блох, Т.Н. Семенова, С.В. Тимофеева. – М.: Высшая школа, 2004. – 471 с.
  4. Ривлина, А.А. Теоретическая грамматика английского языка: учебно-методическое пособие / А.А. Ривлина. - Благовещенск: Изд-во БГПУ, 2009. - 118 с.

Дополнительная литература:

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[1][1][1] The original meaning of the Greek word, from which the term ‘paradigm’ comes, is ‘model’: in Ancient Greek linguistics it denoted the models of words from which a pupil could deduce the corresponding forms of other words belonging to the same inflectional class.

[2][1] The term “valency”, or “valence” is a translation of the term in French (‘valence’) or German (’Valenz’), introduced by L. Tesnière by analogy with the chemistry of atoms.

[3][1] Some authors, I. B. Khlebnikova among them, suggest another unifying term for the oblique moods, conjunctive, as in other Germanic languages

[4][2] L. S. Barkhudarov, who denied the existence of the oblique moods in English, treated subjunctive I forms as a subtype of the imperative.

[5][1] Historically, adjectives were once called noun adjectives because they named attributes which could be added (from Lat. adjicere to add) to a noun substantive to describe it in more detail, the two being regarded as varieties of the class noun or ‘name’.

[6][2] A. I. Smirnitsky points out that the suppletive forms of the comparative and superlative degrees share the same root, cf.: bad – worse, worst, which also supports the contention that on the upper level they together oppose the positive degree form.

[7][3] Some linguists, V. Y. Plotkin among them, consider that there is no category of comparison of English adjectives at all, the semantics of comparison being expressed lexically, through free word-combinations and word-building affixes of comparatives and superlatives.

[8][1] L. Tesnière metaphorically described the predicate as a “small drama”, in which the participants are “the actors”.

[9][1] The proponents of the psychological approach in linguistics (H. Paul, F. F. Fortunatov and others) also distinguish “the psychological subject” and “the psychological predicate”.

[10][1] The “drama” terminology in syntax was first proposed by L. Tesnière.

[11][2] C. J. Fillmore used the term ‘case’ because the semantic roles of the types described in many languages (in particular, in Latin) are marked by case forms of the noun. This is not ‘case’ in the morphological treatment of the term.

[12][3] It must be noted, though, that there is no definite list of semantic cases; their number, descriptions and names differ from one author to another.

[13][1] The terms “coherence” and “cohesion” are etymologically related, but have different meanings in text linguistics: cohesion is mostly concerned with surface features of connectivity, while coherence refers to the underlying development of topic.

[14][2] In modern English, in some functional styles, for example, in business letter writing, paragraphs are separated not by an indent, but by double space.







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