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    #1

    Form and Function

    This is a continuation of the discussion started here.

    Originally Posted by Piscean
    The borders between word classes are sometimes fuzzy.



    By fuzzy, I read 'confused'.


    Most modern grammarians appear to feel that both form and function are vital elements in effective definition.


    That's because it is not possible to define words solely by their form outside of their use in context. In my view it is a mistake to say that young is an adjective. It's untrue and ultimately meaningless. What you can say is that it can be an adjective and it can also be a noun. The best you can possibly do is say that statistically, it is very likely to be an adjective. But then the response to that would be why use the word 'adjective' at all? Why not just use the label 'modifier'?


    Not so long as you keep the two things distinct.


    But this is not possible, as is being demonstrated here. What we're discussing is the confusion of form and function as I perceive it in your (and many notable grammarians') view of grammar.


    Form. To say (for example) simply that a word that has a comparative and superlative form is an adjective unhelpful. Some adjectives don't, and comparative and superlative forms forms are typical of many adverbs.


    Yes. So in I ran fastest, you accept that fastest is an adverb. I'm not clear on whether you regard it as an adjective as well?


    Function:To say (for example) that a word that modifies a noun is an adjective is equally unhelpful. Nouns, prepositional phrases and whole clauses can also modify a noun.


    Yes, I think it isn't very helpful. I don't know about 'equally', though. My current view is that it's a bit less unhelpful.



    Originally Posted by Piscean
    It is a pronoun.



    Again, by what criteria do you measure this? What evidence is there? It is preceded by very, which is good evidence of it not being a pronoun. Is the reasoning you're using purely statistical? I mean, is it simply the fact that it is almost always used in the way that pronouns are used which makes it a pronoun? I don't really see how other uses of the same word have a bearing on this word used in this specific context. Do you consider very you as an adjective phrase with a pronoun as a head?



    When the word Italian refers to language or a person, it is a noun. When it refers to the nationality/origin of a person or thing, it is an adjective.


    Now you seem to be confusing form and function, by claiming that the class depends on what it refers to.


    The same thing happens with other word classes: act can be a noun or verb, fear a verb or adjective.


    But I'd like you to clarify two things before we move forward. 1) Do you consider act as a noun or a verb or as both or as neither? 2) Does it depend on how the word is used in the context or not?


    It depends on both form and function. In His fear showed in his face, for example, fear is a noun because it is preceded by a determiner and could be used with a plural suffix (form) and because it is the subject of the verb/sentence, and could be the direct object in His face showed his fear (function).


    The fact that it is preceded by a determiner (function) is not strong evidence. We can say the rich, the poor, the many, etc. The fact that it can be used with a plural suffix (form) is very strong evidence. The fact that it is the subject/object (function) is not strong evidence. You cannot use function as the criteria by which to classify form. This is a confusion of form and function. This is my main point.



    As you suggested yourself, we can say, with the same meaning, The Chinese people are coming. We can't say The Italians people are coming. This is because Chines is an adjective and Itlian is a noun.


    My point was that the Italians and the Chinese mean the Italian people and the Chinese people. We ought really to say the Chineses, but there is (or was at some point in the past) a phonological resistance, as it were, which disallowed a plural suffix in the regularisation process. The words ending with /z/ and the other sounds in the group created an irregular pattern.


    so there appears to be no phonological objection to such forms.


    There doesn't have to be, but there was in the case of referring to Chinese/French, etc. We can be as creative and novel as we wish when there is a need for us to do so.

  2. jutfrank's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: Form and Function

    Posted by Piscean:

    Originally Posted by jutfrank
    In my view it is a mistake to say that young is an adjective. It's untrue and ultimately meaningless. What you can say is that it can be an adjective and it can also be a noun.



    You can say that if you wish. Many modern grammarians would not.


    The best you can possibly do is say that statistically, it is very likely to be an adjective. But then the response to that would be why use the word 'adjective' at all? Why not just use the label 'modifier'?


    That's fine if you wish to refer solely to the function. Remember, however, that not all modifiers are adjectives.


    But this is not possible, as is being demonstrated here. What we're discussing is the confusion of form and function as I perceive it in your (and many notable grammarians') view of grammar.


    I don't think it is we who are confusing them.


    Yes. So in I ran fastest, you accept that fastest is an adverb. I'm not clear on whether you regard it as an adjective as well?


    In that sentence we use the adverb. In The cheetah is the fastest animal in the world, we use the adjective. It just happens that they have the same form.



    1) Do you consider act as a noun or a verb or as both or as neither? 2) Does it depend on how the word is used in the context or not?


    In She was renowned for her beauty, we use the noun beauty. In She was beautiful, we use the adjective beautiful.

    In Her act was despicable, we use the noun act. In They act despicably, we use the verb act.


    This is a confusion of form and function.


    I think I will leave matters there. There is a limit to the number of times I can try to make a point without repeating myself , and I think we have gone beyond the point of offering anything of interest or value to people who come to this forum for help in learning to communicate in English.

    As a teacher of English, I have never found the use of word class labels very helpful in facilitating communication skills except as a shorthand when both teacher and learner use understand the same terminology.

    As a grammarian, I have found the changes in approach to word classes over the last half century or so fascinating. I don't agree with all the modern ideas - but I have found many of them more logically consistent than those I was taught in the 1950s and early 1960s. Incidentally, some of these ideas did not suddenly materialise in recent years. Otto Jespersen was discussing them in his The Philosophy of Grammar in 1924,

  3. jutfrank's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: Form and Function

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    Yes. So in I ran fastest, you accept that fastest is an adverb. I'm not clear on whether you regard it as an adjective as well?


    Quote Originally Posted by Piscean View Post
    In that sentence we use the adverb. In The cheetah is the fastest animal in the world, we use the adjective. It just happens that they have the same form
    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    1) Do you consider
    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    act as a noun or a verb or as both or as neither? 2) Does it depend on how the word is used in the context or not?
    Quote Originally Posted by Piscean View Post
    In
    Quote Originally Posted by Piscean View Post
    She was renowned for her beauty, we use the noun beauty. In She was beautiful, we use the adjective beautiful. In Her act was despicable, we use the noun act. In They act despicably, we use the verb act.
    So in one sentence, fastest is in the adverb form and in the next, fastest is in the adjective form? Two different formal labels for the same form. So therefore the label that is relevant in each case is determined by the function of the word in the sentence. Is that what you mean? Because I don't see how that's different from what I'm saying.


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    #4

    Re: Form and Function

    Apologies for the disastrous formatting. I'm not able to correct it.

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    #5

    Re: Form and Function

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    So in one sentence, fastest is in the adverb form and in the next, fastest is in the adjective form? Two different formal labels for the same form. So therefore the label that is relevant in each case is determined by the function of the word in the sentence. Is that what you mean? Because I don't see how that's different from what I'm saying.
    Here is a starting point:

    a. I ran fastest
    b. I am the fastest boy in the class.

    It is the form of the two underlined words that tells us that they are either adjectives or adverbs. These are the only two word classes that add the -est suffix in the superlative form.

    It is the function, modifying a verb, that tells us that the underlined form in (a) is an adverb.
    It is the function, modifying a noun, that tells us that the underlined form in (b) is an adjective.

    Neither form alone (there are two word-classes in which -est is used) nor function alone (words in other classes, and phrases and clauses, can function as modifiers) is decisive.

  6. jutfrank's Avatar
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    #6

    Re: Form and Function

    I see. That's nice and clear. So to summarise: the function determines which label applies, from a set of possible labels, which means:

    The word form fastest can be classed as an adjective or adverb (depending on function).
    The word form act can be classed as a noun or verb (depending on function).

    My question is: how do we know this? From where do we get the set of possible labels? What limits this set? With fastest, you make reference to the suffix, but what is there about the form of the word act that limits it to being only either noun or verb? It seems to me that it must be function that does this.

    In Only the good die young, do you mean to say that the only formal class available to the word good is 'adjective', and so therefore it must be an adjective regardless of its use as a reference to people? Is this also true for the functionally adverbial use in I'm doing good, thanks?

    And what if the function of a word is such that it conflicts with the set of possible word classes? What then would determine the class? In my example, It's very you, you said that the word class of you is pronoun, despite its being modified by very. If 'pronoun' refers to the form, how would a grammarian refer to the function?

    In the English language, the form of the word English is interesting in that it has both an adjective suffix (-ish), obviously associated with adjectives, and a capital letter, which is associated with proper nouns. Functionally, it seems to be a modifier. So how do we select the word class in this case. Also, what would you consider the word class in I speak English, where it seems to me to be adverbial?

    What I'm trying to answer:

    1) How do we know what are the possible classes that a word can fall into?

    2) If the word class is at least partly determined by its role in a sentence, then when there is a conflict between function and form, how do we decide on word class when more than one option is available?

    3) Is it reasonable to accept that if a word is used in context, in a meaningful sentence, in a way that conflicts with the set of possible classes, then this set of possible classes should be extended to include this?

    4) When there is a conflict of internal form (as in English), how do we select word class, if not by function?

    5) If the class of a word is determined by its form as well as its function, then how much weight should be given to each?
    Last edited by jutfrank; 07-Apr-2018 at 19:33.

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    #7

    Re: Form and Function

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    My question is: how do we know this? From where do we get the set of possible labels? What limits this set?
    The idea of word classes has come down to us through the ages from writers on Latin grammar, who themselves took it from writers on Greek , who had taken it from Sanskrit grammarians. When Bullokar published the first know grammar of English in 1586, he simply shoe-horned English words into his understanding of Latin classes. For him, there were eight classes: nouns (including noun-substantives and noun-adjectives), pronouns, verbs, participles, adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions and interjections. Incidentally, Bullokar defined his classes by semantic, syntactic and formal criteria, though he was not always consistent.

    Some later writers made recognised similar classes. Others presented a different picture. In his English Grammatical Categories and the tradition to 1800 (CUP, 1970), Ian Michael lists 56 different schemes of word classes present by various writers. Some of these schemes have only three categories.

    By 1891, Henry Sweet had settled in his A New English Grammar on seven: Noun-words: noun, noun pro-noun, noun-numeral, infinitive, gerund; adjective-words: adjective-pronoun, adjective-numeral, participle; verb: finite verb, verbal (infinitive, gerund, participle); adverb, preposition, conjunction, interjection.

    When I was at grammar (!) school in the late 1950s, F T Wood's The Groundwork of English Grammar (Macmillan, 1954) gave me eight : noun, verb, adjective (including definite and indefinite article), pronoun, adverb, preposition, conjunction, interjection. More recently, Bas Aarts , in his Oxford Modern English Grammar (2011) also has eight categories: noun (including pronoun), determinative (including definite and indefinite article) , adjective , verb, preposition, adverb, conjunction, interjection. His definitions are very different from those of Wood.

    The labels used by most grammarians for the major classes are largely the traditional ones that have been widely used for over two centuries, though writers are free to cone up with their own. The determiner/determinative class recognised by many writers today was unknown in my youth. There is, in theory, no limit to the number of classes we can come up with but, for a variety of reasons, most grammarians today stick to eight or nine, though differ considerably in their definitions.

    With fastest, you make reference to the suffix, but what is there about the form of the word act that limits it to being only either noun or verb? It seems to me that it must be function that does this.
    We know that the noun act is a noun, because it can have a plural form, it can have a genitive form, it can be preceded immediately by determiners, it can be modified by adjectives, etc.

    We know that the verb act is a verb because it takes a suffix in the third person present simple, and -ed suffix in the past tense, it has an -ing form, etc.

    In Only the good die young, do you mean to say that the only formal class available to the word good is 'adjective', and so therefore it must be an adjective regardless of its use as a reference to people?
    Basically, yes. Good has meaning only if we understand it to be modified an implied people.
    Is this also true for the functionally adverbial use in I'm doing good, thanks?
    That depends on how prescriptive you are. A prescriptivist would say that, as good is an adjective, this is an ill-formed sentence. A descriptivist might say that good and well are both acceptable adverb forms equivalent, in some varieties of English, to the adjective good.

    And what if the function of a word is such that it conflicts with the set of possible word classes? What then would determine the class? In my example, It's very you, you said that the word class of you is pronoun, despite its being modified by very. If 'pronoun' refers to the form, how would a grammarian refer to the function?
    I'll pass on that for the moment.

    It's past my bedtime, so I'll look at the rest of your questions tomorrqw
    Last edited by Piscean; 10-Apr-2018 at 23:01. Reason: format

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    #8

    Re: Form and Function

    OK, just one more.
    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    In the English language, the form of the word English is interesting in that it has both an adjective suffix (-ish), obviously associated with adjectives, and a capital letter, which is associated with proper nouns. Functionally, it seems to be a modifier. So how do we select the word class in this case.
    It is a modifier and it is modifying a noun - it's an adjective. The fact that we English, unlike the French, capitalise the first letter of of nationality-adjectives is not relevant. We capitalise the first person singular subject pronoun; some Christians capitalise the third person pronouns when writing about their deity; we capitalise the first letter of adjectives referring to people - Newtonian physics, Thatcherite policies. Initial capitals do not necessarily denote a noun.

    Also, what would you consider the word class in I speak English, where it seems to me to be adverbial?
    That sentence does not mean that you speak in an English way. English is not functioning adverbially. The sentence means that you speak a language which we have named English. As the name of something, it is a noun.

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    #9

    Re: Form and Function

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    1) How do we know what are the possible classes that a word can fall into?
    We don't know in advance. When new words come into the language, or existing words are used in different ways, we have to judge how we categorise them - assuming we wish to categorise them.

    2) If the word class is at least partly determined by its role in a sentence, then when there is a conflict between function and form, how do we decide on word class when more than one option is available?
    If we have a clear idea of our criteria for the categories, then there is normally no conflict. The only conflict is between different schools of grammar. I am sure that for many people, brick in brick wall is an adjective because it clearly modifies wall. For Quirk et al, Huddleston and Pullum, Aarts, and me, it has none of the formal characteristics of an adjective (bricker, brickest, very brick, etc). It is a noun(-modifier).

    [3) Is it reasonable to accept that if a word is used in context, in a meaningful sentence, in a way that conflicts with the set of possible classes, then this set of possible classes should be extended to include this?
    I am not sure that I understand this. If you are asking if a new word class can be invented if a word is used in a way that cannot be slotted into the existing word classes, then the answer is yes. For our first grammarian, adjectives were a sub-class of nouns. It was not until the end of the 18th century that adjective was universally recognised as a distinct word class. In our lifetimes we have seen the class of determiner/determinative added to the sets of most writers.
    When there is a conflict of internal form (as in English), how do we select word class, if not by function?
    I think I have dealt with that one.

    5) If the class of a word is determined by its form as well as its function, then how much weight should be given to each?
    How long is a piece of string?

    Writers on grammar do not always agree on which characteristics are key. I, for example, do not go along with H & P on some of the words they have added to their preposition word class. Linguists are not alone in this. Scientists (I am not expert enough in that area to say which type of scientist I should name) disagree on which species or sub-species they should assign to certain living things. I believe that there is some disagreement about whether a virus is a living thing.

    One of the interesting, if sometimes frustrating, things for me about grammar is reading the ideas of grammarians on such topics.

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