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Re: THEORY: Parts of speech, was: Syntaxy-Turvy

From:Ed Heil <edheil@...>
Date:Saturday, July 1, 2000, 5:48
>===== Original Message From Constructed Languages List
<CONLANG@...> ===== [...]
>Here I don't understand only the last point: when I think of what >sentences are structured around, I feel that I deal with 'syntactic' >or 'formal' nouns and verbs, which IMO only *tend* to be correlated >with the respective 'lexemic' or 'semantic' classes. ><...> >>I >>usually think of linguistics in terms of people like Ronald Langacker, who >>defines *everything* semantically, and does not believe in autonomous >syntax >>at *all*. > >I think I have a difficulty here, too, but a slightly different one. >I would say that I don't really understand what is so specifically >verbal in 'syntactic verbs', or nominal in 'syntactic nouns', *if not* >their typical semantics. > >That is, I accept the idea of formal classes, I only can't see clearly >any other reason to call them 'nouns' and 'verbs' except the tendency >for the 'semantic' nouns and verbs to belong to the respective formal >classes for the most part. > >Moreover, I can't say why we perceive English subjects as 'subjects', >and English predicates as 'predicates', and not the reverse! - unless >I accept that we term 'subject' the role which is more typical of nouns, >which we call 'nouns' since they are the class where most of the >'semantic nouns' belong, etc. ...
Ah, very good question. Langacker insists that there is a semantic distinction between nouns and verbs, even ones that seem to be all but identical in meaning (e.g. a verb and its corresponding gerund). But he counts some fairly subtle and abstruse things as semantic distinctions, and as I mentioned before, he might be accused of making these distinctions _ad hoc._ First of all, Langacker insists that construal is part of meaning. Construal here includes things like point of view, figure/ground relationships, and all sorts of other elements of the way we create mental images of things. That makes sense -- after all, the difference between "the cup is on the table" and "the table is under the cup" is almost entirely a matter of figure-ground relationships. They can describe the same objective situation. But they have different meanings. Langacker would say that the meaning common to and unique to finite verb forms is that they indicate that a scene should be processed sequentially, as an ongoing, possibly changing image in *mental time*, whereas other parts of speech do not. So when you nominalize a verb, you are indicating that it should not be mentally "played out" in *mental time* but it should be processed as a single chunk, even though it may have, as part of its meaning, an extended stretch of *conceived time*. Obviously, then, conceptualizations of things which include processes extended in time are going to tend to be verb forms. He also has a unique definition for noun forms, which I can't remember well enough to write it down at this time of night, I'm afraid. But he does insist on unique defining semantic characteristics for each of the parts of speech. They may not be unique characteristics of the real-world referent -- in fact, they usually are not. But they are unique characteristics of the word's conceptual meaning.
>>I'd best keep working on it and see how it works itself out in practice. > >Yes, please! I'm really interested to know where you come and why! >
I'm a bit frustrated now, not sure just what I think of prepositions, though I like Christophe's suggestion that they are somehow to nouns what conjunctions are to verbs, I'm not sure how to make that all work out. We shall see. :) Ed ------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------