Readingforhandout-02a - Parts of Speech 0. WORDS AND WHY...

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Parts of Speech 0. W ORDS AND W HY T HEY M ATTER TO S YNTAX It goes without saying that sentences are made up of words, so before we get into the meat of this book, it’s worth looking carefully at different kinds of words. What is most important to us here is the word’s part of speech (also known as syntactic category ). The most common parts of speech are nouns , verbs , adjectives , adverbs , and prepositions (we will also look at some other less familiar parts of speech below). Parts of speech tell us how a word is going to function in the sentence. Consider the sentences in (1). Notice that we can substitute various words that are of the type noun for the second word in the sentence: 1) a) The man loved peanut butter cookies. b) The puppy loved peanut butter cookies. c) The king loved peanut butter cookies. However, we cannot substitute words that aren’t nouns: 1 2) a) *The green loved peanut butter cookies. b) *The in loved peanut butter cookies. c) *The sing loved peanut butter cookies. 1 Remember, the * symbol means that a sentence is syntactically ill-formed.
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36 Preliminaries The same holds true for larger groups of words (the square brackets [ … ] mark off the relevant groups of words). 3) a) [John] went to the store. b) [The man] went to the store. c) * [Quickly walks] went to the store. 4) a) [Norvel] kissed the blarney stone. b) * [To the washroom] kissed the blarney stone. If we have categories for words that can appear in certain positions and categories for those that don’t we can make generalizations (scientific ones) about the behavior of different word types. This is why we need parts of speech in syntactic theory. 1. D ETERMINING P ART OF S PEECH 1.1 The Problem of Traditional Definitions If you were taught any grammar in school, you may have been told that a noun is a “person, place, or thing,” or that a verb is “an action, state, or state of being.” Alas, this is a very over-simplistic way to characterize various parts of speech. It also isn’t terribly scientific or accurate. The first thing to notice about definitions like this is that they are based on semantic criteria. It doesn’t take much effort to find counterexamples to these semantic defini- tions. Consider the following: 5) The destruction of the city bothered the Mongols. The meaning of destruction is not a “person, place, or thing.” It is an action. By semantic criteria, this word should be a verb. But in fact, native speakers unanimously identify it as a noun. Similar cases are seen in (6): 6) a) Sincerity is an important quality. b) The assassination of the president. c) Tucson is a great place to live. Sincerity is an attribute, a property normally associated with adjectives. Yet in (6a), sincerity is a noun. Similarly in (6b) assassination , an action, is func- tioning as a noun. (6c) is more subtle. The semantic property of identifying a location is usually attributed to a preposition; in (6c) however, the noun Tuc- son , refers to a location, but isn’t itself a preposition. It thus seems difficult (if not impossible) to rigorously define the parts of speech based solely on se-
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Readingforhandout-02a - Parts of Speech 0. WORDS AND WHY...

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