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Lectures On Theoretical Grammar For Students

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Topics: Linguistics, Grammar
Lecture 1

The importance of studying theoretical grammar
English is generally acknowledged to be the world’s most important language. Why? 1) One criterion is the number of speakers of English, which is more than three hundred million, and English ranks well below Chinese. 2) The second is the geographical dispersal of the language.
3) The third criterion is that it is the language of Shakespeare
4) English is a language of powerful, productive and influential nations. Language is a means of understanding ourselves and our society.
The problem is how the language is constructed. The central role in the structurizing any language is played by grammar. It is a framework, a
“skeleton” of it. That’s why defining the main goal of the subject one can say that it is а system analysis.
Its necessary to study grammar:
1) it plays a central role in the structure of language;
2) grammar can be used to demonstrate the enormous creative power of language. 3) Learning grammar contributes to identifying similarity and difference of languages. 4) for foreign language learners. The meaning of grammar.

In the history of linguistics grammar had various meanings. At a very start grammar was understood as an art of reading and spelling letters.
The American linguist Noam Chomsky writes that a grammar is “a device for producing the sentences” (1957, 11). But traditionally there are two quite distinct applications of the term “grammar”, yielding a specific sense and a general sense. The specific sense is more traditional, when grammar is presented as just one branch of language structure, distinct from phonology and semantics

language structure

phonology grammar


The general sense of the term, popularized by Chomsky, includes all aspects of sentence patterning, including phonology, semantics and syntax. So we see that grammar phonology



David Crystal distinguishes six types of grammar, though it’s necessary to say that all of them fall into prescientific and scientific.
1) Traditional grammar

The tradition is over 2000 years old, and includes the works of classical
Greek and Roman grammarians, Renaissance writers and 18­th century prescriptive grammarians.
2) Descriptive grammar
An approach that describes the grammatical constructions that are used in a language without making any evaluative judgments about their standing in society. These grammars are commonplace in linguistics, where it is standard practice to investigate a “corpus” of spoken or written material. 3)

Prescriptive grammar lays down rules governing the socially correct use

of language. These grammars were popular in Europe and America in
18­th and 19­th century.
4) Reference grammar/Explanatory grammar.
A grammatical description that tries to be as comprehensive as possible.
The best­known description is one compiled by the Danish grammarian
Otto Jespersen.
5) pedagogical grammar For teaching a foreign language and for developing an awareness of the mother tongue there were specifically designed “teaching books” or
“teaching grammars”

Speaking about scientific approach to language study it’s important to

mark theoretical grammar. This approach goes beyond the study of individual languages. It can be applied in the investigation of any human

language and of linguistic universals. The problem of linguistic universals is very curious/inquisitive and important as it focuses our attention on similarity and difference of languages, explains the nature of linguistic diversity. Questions







transformational grammar, functional grammar, communicative grammar, cognitive grammar, tagmatics, stratificational grammar, dependency grammar, network grammar, realistic grammar.

Lecture 2

General operative units of grammar
Grammar is a complex of structural units (morphological and syntactical). Morphology is understood as a part of grammar that studies the forms of words. Grammarians always used another term, accidence
основы). But accidence deals mainly with the inflectional or inflected word­forms, while morphology as a more general term means also the study of those elements of language which are used to extend or limit the meaning of a word, or to define its relation to other parts of a sentence.
The definition of the “word” as a morphological unit is troublesome until now.

Thus, Maslov defines a word as “minimal unit of language

possessing the positional independence”. This definition emphasizes, on the one hand, that a word is the smallest discrete unit, and, on the other, that it can take different positions in the sentence.
I.P. Ivanova specifies the word as a smallest meaningful unit of

language and a biggest unit of morphology.

For Jyrmunsky the word is the shortest unit of language independent in its meaning and form.

So on the whole there are about 300 definitions of “word” and all can be reduced to the following understanding: a word is a generalized representative of all word­forms (slovoforms, forms) in which it can be performed (what is especially correct for flexical languages). So understanding of the term “word” is relevant only within a system of word­forms, i.e. paradigmatically and we can’t avoid speaking of such a constituent of a word as a morpheme.
As for morphemes they are linguistic signs of a very special nature.
The study of morphemes presupposes the study of their occurrence, order, arrangement, combinability, mutual similarity, or dissimilarity in a systemic way.
Morpheme, being the ultimate unit of the semantic level of language, can’t be divided without breaking the wholeness of a word. There are distinguished 1)

prefixal, suffixal and root morphemes: usual – unusual; careless – careful; admit – admittance, admission;

2) lexical and grammatical morphemes.

The lexical morphemes are units which are semic and morphic, i.e. they have their own individual meaning and don’t admit morphological variation: readable,






phonetic­semantic resemblance of morphemes (­able) stands out. A grammatical morpheme has no partial phonetic­semantic resemblance to any other form, being recurrent and intrinsically structural: dog – dogs [z]; idea – ideas [s], bush – bushes [iz].
Zero in singular is opposed to a number of positional variants – allomorphs [z]


But each allomorph conveys the same meaning of plurality.

The meaning of plurality is understood not individually but only within a system of word­forms, paradigmatically (vertical)






are called word­building and

morphological (inflectional) – word­changing or form­building.

So, a morpheme is: 1) the smallest unit of the expression plane

which can be correlated with any part of the content system;
2) a recurrent meaningful form which cannot be analyzed into smaller recurrent meaningful forms;
3) a morpheme is syntactically and positionally bound, it cannot take any arbitrary position; 4) a morpheme is a unilateral unit, it never expresses both a lexical and grammatical meaning – lexical is concrete and material, grammatical is general and abstract.
The expression of grammatical meaning is subservient
(подчиненный) to the lexical one
. Grammatical meaning is recurrent and systemic (forming part of a system), lexical meaning is free, independent and individualized.
5) A morpheme is of historical nature.
And now when we know all the criteria of a morpheme, we can discuss the status of a notoriously known zero­morpheme: 1) a morpheme should be material, but zero­morpheme has no sound expression. At the same time we can’t deny the fact that the absence of the ending in a word­form is sure meaningful. That’s why U.S. Maslov offers instead the term
“zero­morpheme” the term “zero­exponent” which indicates that the absence of an ending bears grammatical meaning. More than that, the

existence of zero­morpheme meets the requirements of binary principle in linguistics and makes rather effective symmetry in description of a paradigm. The problem of binarity
The widely spread methods used in modern linguistics are based on the theory of binary analysis and isomorphism.
The theory of binarity was proposed by Prague structural linguistic circle/society, and main notion transmitted by its representatives/members from phonology was the notion of opposition ( and binary opposition in particular). That was right for phonology, but morphology being of a higher level, more complicated , presupposes the presence of two and more members of category. That is why in case of three lateral categories the term of opposition becomes vague . In morphology in three lateral categories this term means not the opposition but coordination. (Marked and non­marked members of opposition)
In Russian science/Anglistics some scholars keep to the theory of binarity (A.I. Smirnitsky, L.S. Barkhudarov, B.A. Ilyish), some strictly deny it (J.S. Shur), and some use it but not in its pure state (A.B. Bondarko,
G.B. Admoni, V.N. Jartseva).
The theory of isomorphism of three levels – phonological, morphological and syntactical supposed the same types of units and relations between them at all three levels, and according to the principle of isomorphism the relations of a lower level are mechanically transmitted

to the higher one.

Lecture 3

Grammatical meaning and grammatical categories
Grammatical meaning (GM) is a very abstract, generalized meaning deduced on the basis of a large group of words and expressed by definite grammatical forms.
The difference between lexical and grammatical meaning is indefinitely expressed: lexical meaning unlike GM expresses singular objects, while the grammatical one expresses typological ideas, differences, similarity. GM is a meaning of relations.
Typology of GM and GC
GC is a unity of grammatical meaning and grammatical form. More definitely speaking GC is a unity of two and more grammatical forms, opposed to each other and united on the basis of a common grammatical meaning. So we can state that there are no categories having only one form. So, the notions of GM and GC are interconnected and interdependent. And even Leonard Bloomfield explained the word category through the word meaning. Typologically we can define different types of GC (GM):

GC of a smaller or wider coverage. GC of smaller

coveragecovers smaller groups of words, e.g. the category of person ( he speaks
); GC of wider coverage covers bigger groups, e.g. the category of tense ( speaks – spoke – will speak )
2) Overt (category of number) and covert (category of animateness, countability) 3) Dependent and independent
Dependent categories unlike independent have not any forms of expression of their own (category of aspect is expressed on the basis of categorical forms of tense).
Ways /means of expressing grammatical meaning
GM receives different expression in various languages and the type of its expression finally determines the structural type of a language. But it is not correct to speak of any pure type as every language is represented by a mixture of ways of expressing GM. We can state the preferable pattern only.
There are distinguished 4 types of expressing grammatical meaning:

∙ synthetic (flexional), when the GM is expressed within the word itself. Flexion is the wordchanging attribute. Flexion may be outer – suffix ( streets, look­ed
), inner – changing of vowels
foot – feet
), monoflexion ‘s ( my mother and father’s room
) – it is rather syntactic than morphological;

∙ suppletive: to be – am, good – better etc

∙ analytical – they appeared later than flexion. They include not less than one functional word and one notional word
coming, has been asked).
There is another notion of analytical word. Word­combinations of the type “put on”, “take hold” are formally discrete but making up a single semantic unit. Such understanding is based on semantic criteria, but one of properties of the word is its indivisibility, integrity. And we can easily insert a word between the members, parts of such a word­combination. So within grammatical morphology there are no analytical words but analytical forms of the words.

agglutinative – words are built up out of a long sequence of units, with each unit expressing a particular grammatical meaning, in a clear one­to­one way. For example, to express люблю/amo there should be 5 units to express person, number, tense, voice, mood.
The enumerated types of expressing grammatical meaning underlie the typological classification of languages. There are accordingly recognized/distinguished synthetic, analytic, agglutinative languages. It is structural (typological) vs historical (genetic) classification. E.g.
English is a Germanic language according to the genetic method of classification. From a typological view point English is analytical one.
But there are no purely synthetic or purely analytic languages, or agglutinative. Because, as you know, language is a flexible system

(August Schleicher even called it an organism, he thought of language as an organism which could grow and decay), it’s reasonable to speak of language as being predominantly analytic, or synthetic, or agglutinative, though any language can combine features of all three ones.
English –

1) analytical (isolating, root) language:
The boy will ask the girl.

The girl will ask the boy
2) synthetic (inflecting) language:
The biggest boys have been asking. 3) agglutinating: anti­dis­establish­ment­arian­ism re­do though in
English they are rather lexical than grammatical.
But at the same time it is mainly analytical:
1) comparatively few flexions used in English;

English widely uses prepositions to denote relations between objects or to connect words in sentences;


English has more or less fixed word order, and it is used to denote
/express grammatical relations;

4) The borderline between different parts of speech is indefinite, amorphous
(the green, black, a stone wall, a must). His novel is a must for all lovers of crime.
The borderline is so erased that words of one part of speech can easily pass to another.

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