|From:||Philippe Caquant <herodote92@...>|
|Date:||Tuesday, February 17, 2004, 7:55|
Some interesting discussion started about the very
concept of 'adverbs'. As I haven't a definite theory
about that yet, I think we could try developing it.
The 2 main questions I tried to consider are:
1/ What is the usual definition of an adverb, in
various grammars for various languages ? Do these
definitions look satisfactory ? Are they syntactical,
semantical, or a mix of both ? Are there languages
where the word corresponding to 'adverb' is unknown,
because there is nothing like it in that language ?
(There already was an answer on that topic).
2/ Is it possible to define something like a general
conceptual definition of an adverb (what I called an
'adverbial concept', that means, not sticking to some
particular language syntax ? Or is 'adverb' a mere
syntactic notion, regrouping various heterogeneous
concepts, all of them subject to more adequate
definitions than just 'adverbial concept' ?
The usual definition of an adverb (for French
language) sounds somehow like:
a) it is a not-varying (invariable) word (or group of
words): that's morphology
b) it is neither a preposition, neither a conjunction,
neither any sort of other not-varying words already
defined before (so it is what remains, and what we
don't know how to handle else): that's, uh, pragmatics
? heuristics ? hiding dust under the carpet ? dunno
how it can be called
c) an adverb modifies the meaning, either of a verb,
either of an adjective, either of another adverb,
either of the whole sentence or proposition: that's
semantics with some syntax mixed in. Looks like an
adverb cannot modifiy the meaning of a noun (a
substantive), because that's the task of the
Maybe I missed something or wasn't quite precise
enough, but I think it's something more or less like
Now, in a purely semantic view: if you analyse
different sorts of so-called adverbs, and put on the
side the ones that clearly can be classified under
different concepts, will there be something remaining
in the end, that could not be described any other way
than just 'adverbial concept' ? Ot will it not ? I
don't know yet. I'm just proposing a methodology to
get to an answer.
For ex, in the sentence:
'Luckily, the man didn't become President'
- *luckily* seems to be what we usually call,
grammatically, an adverb
- *luckily* looks very much, semantically speaking, as
a modal, meaning: the speaker finds that it was a good
thing that the man didn't become President. It is
probably not the man's opininion, nor is it any
In another sentence, *luckily* might have another
meaning, but the fact is that, if I wanted to
represented that very sentence in a formalized,
semantic way, I would handle the idea carried by
'luckily' as a modal.
So adverbs can be used for representing modal
concepts. What else can they be used for ?
--- John Cowan <cowan@...> wrote:
> Christophe Grandsire scripsit:
> > Also, isn't it strange that you describe "for many
> years" as a
> > circumstant while you treat "many times" as an
> adverb. Semantically, the
> > difference between them is so minimal (if "many
> times" is a "process
> > quantifier", then so is "for many years". It very
> much quantifies the
> > process as on-going and begun in the past, and in
> many languages would be
> > rendered as an aspect mark on the verb) that
> putting such a strong
> > distinction in between is just not justified.
> There is a significant distinction in fact. "For
> many years" specifies
> an interval duration (it doesn't necessarily specify
> the actual tense
> or aspect, as in "I hope to continue coming here for
> many years"),
> whereas "many times" specifies the occurrences
> within the overall
"Le langage est source de malentendus."
(Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
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