Linguistics 105 * Words and Sounds
Lecture Number Nine
Major Morphological Categories

  1. Functions of the Major Linguistic Categories

    1. NOUNS:

      1. NUMBER: Singular, Dual, Plural

        Nouns in some languages reflect the number of objects to which they refer. English distinguishes only two numbers, singular and plural. The former is used to indicate singular objects or referents that can be neither singular nor plural (mass nouns like contemplation). Plural sometimes refers to singular objects, too, e.g. glasses, so the category is clearly grammatical and not semantic.

        Some languages, Arabic or Old Church Slavonic, for example, also distinguish objects occurring in pairs by assigning dual number to the noun and a few languages distinguish a paucal, used for referring to a few objects without specifying number.

        Yupik Nouns
        Singular Dual Plural
        tafsi 'belt' tafsi-k '2 belts' tafsi-t 'belts
        tuma 'trail' tum-k '2 trails' tum-t 'trails
        yuk 'person' yug-k '2 people' yug-t 'people'

      2. GENDER (natural & grammatical): Masculine, Feminine, Neuter (Animate, Vegetable; AND AGREEMENT

        Some languages discriminate two types of gender. There is natural gender, which relates to the gender of the referent and distinguishes nouns referring to males from those referring to females. There is also grammatical gender, which has nothing to do with natural gender, but is only a system of noun classes . The Indo-European languages generally combine the two, i.e. do not distinguish one from the other so that in French, for example, la table 'the table' reflects feminine gender (purely grammatical) as does la femme 'the woman' (combined natural and grammatical).

        Languages which distinguish either type of gender usually also have an agreement system whereby adjectives modifying gendered nouns must have an ending which reflects the gender of the noun they modify. Verbs also often reflect the gender of their subject nouns and, sometimes, their object nouns as well. The most common genders are Masculine ('M' in the example below) and Feminine ('F' in the example below) but some languages have Neuter ('N' in the example below) as well.


        Russian grammatical gender and agreement

      3. DEFINITENESS: Definite, Indefinite

        Most languages also have a way of distinguishing definite and indefinite objects. A definite object is one that the speaker expects the listener to already know about either from previous discussion or from experience. If you don't expect the listener to know what you are talking about, you would say, for example, I bought an armadillo today. If the listener can see the armadillo or if you have already mentioned it to the listener, you would normally say I bought the armadillo today.

        Two Ways of Indicating Definiteness
        une femme 'a woman' la femme 'the woman'
        un cachet 'a seal, stamp' le cachet 'the seal, stamp'
        ena 'a woman' ena-ta 'the woman'
        ovek 'a man' ovek-t 'the man'
        selo 'a village' selo-to 'the village'

      4. POSSESSION: 1st, 2nd, 3rd; Singular & Plural

        The category of possession indicates that the referent possesses the noun marked with this category. The functions of this category are the same as those of verbal person, i.e. 1st, 2nd, 3rd person singular and plural. English marks possession with possessive pronouns: my/mine, your/yours, his, her/hers, its, etc. Other languages, such as Turkish, use inflectional affixes and 'conjugate' their nouns.

        Turkish Possessive Paradigm
        Singular Plural
        baba-m 'my father' baba-m-z 'our father'
        baba-n 'your father' baba-n-z 'yall's father'
        baba-s 'his/her father' baba-lar- 'their father'

      5. NOUN CLASS (Grammatical gender): Declension types I, II, III, etc.

        Noun class is often closely linked to grammatical gender; in Indo-European languages, the two generally overlap. Noun class is an arbitrary set of categories and all nouns must belong to one of them. There is no semantic meaning attached to them, although there is a tendency for nouns with similar meanings or of the same gender to belong to the same class, e.g. all feminine nouns tend to belong to the same class, often the names of trees or cities will mostly belong to the same class. In Chinese and some African languages, noun class can be based on the physical shape of the referent. While there are always exceptions to these tendencies, there is no exception to the rule that all nouns must belong to some noun class.


        Swahili agreement

        Swahili agreement

        Nouns may be derived by simply switching their class, e.g. diminutives:

        Class II Class III
        m-lango "door" ki-lango "little door"
        m-lima "mountain" ki-lima "hill"


        Languages require a means of marking certain grammatical relations in sentences: that of the Subject to the verb, the Direct Object to the verb, the Indirect Object to the verb, the Means to the verb. Languages possess a limited number of adverbal relations which could be indicated by lexemes but are in fact always represented by grammatical means: cases, adpositions, or both. These adverbal relations include Locative, Origin, Goal (all of which may be spatial or temporal) and several others. Turkish uses a set of basic cases (Case Paradigm).


The Turkish Nominal Declension
Case 'horse' 'my horse' 'horses' 'my horses'
Nominative (Subject) at- at-m at-lar at-lar-m
Genitive ('of') at-n at-m-n at-lar-n at-lar-m-n
Accusative (D. O.) at- at-m- at-lar- at-lar-m-
Dative ('to/for') at-a at-m-a at-lar-a at-lar-m-a
Locative ('in/at') at-da at-m-da at-lar-da at-lar-m-da
Ablative ('from') at-dan at-m-dan at-lar-dan at-lar-m-dan

Russian Nominal Declension
Case 'book' 'books' 'table' 'tables'
Nominative (Subject) knig-a knig-y stol- stol-y
Genitive ('of') knig-y knig- stol-a stol-ov
Accusative (D. 0.) knig-u knig-y stol- stol-y
Dative ('to/for') knig-e knig-am stol-u stol-am
Locative ('in/at') knig-e knig-ax stol-e stol-ax
Instrumental (by/with) knig-oj knig-ami stol-om stol-ami


Nominative Case Subject
Accusative Case Object
Halil- kitab-i oku-du
Halil-Nom book-Obj read-Past
'Halil read the book'

Genitive Case Possession
Halil-in evi ëimdi Mehmed-in
Halil-Gen house now Mehmed-Gen
'Halil's house is now Mehmed's'

Dative Case Indirect Object
Adam-a yemek verd-im
man-to meat gave-I
The to/for Case: I gave meat to the man'

Dative Case Goal
Halil ev-e gel-di
Halil house-to come-Past
The to/for Case: 'Halil came home'

Ablative Case Source
Kitab-i Halil-den ald-im
Book-Obj Halil-from got-I
The from Case: 'I got the book from Halil'

Ablative Case Origin
Mehmet Istanbul-dan gel-di
Mehmet Istanbul-from come-Past
The from Case: 'Mehmet came from Istanbul'

Locative Case Location The at-Case
Halil ev-de kal-d
Halil home-Loc remain-Past
The at Case: 'Halil stayed at home'

Instrumental Case (Russian)
Maûa napisala pis'mo karandaû-om
Masha wrote letter pencil-Inst
The by/with Case: 'Masha wrote the letter with a pencil'

      There are three types of adjectives in languages.

      adjectives are derived from nouns and function to identify a noun, e.g. dental floss does not tell us anything about this kind of floss but simply identifies its function as having to do with teeth. Importantly, these adjectives cannot compare, occur in predicate position (they may only be placed in attributive position), or undergo derivation.

      adjectives assign some quality to the noun it modifies, so that flimsy floss tells us something about the floss itself, that is has the quality of flimsiness. The test for these adjectives is that they may occur in predicate or attributive positions, may compare, and may undergo derivation (flimsily, flimsiness).

      adjectives like aloft and outdoors only occur in predicate position and also do not undergo derivation or compare.

      English Relational & Qualitative Adjecives
      Relational Qualitative Defective
      budget-ary (decision) delicate (decision) *the adrift boat
      *The decision was budgetary The decision was delicate The boat was adrift
      *budget-ari-ness delicac-y *adrift-ness
      *budget-ari-ly delicate-ly *adrift-ly
      *very budget-ary very delicate *very adrift
      *more budget-ary than more delicate than *more adrift than

    2. DEGREE: Comparative and Superlative

      Qualitative adjectives assign a quality of some sort to the nouns they modify. The noun almost always may possess that quality to varying degrees and therefore qualitative, but not relational or defective adjectives, may be subject comparison. The category of comparison comprises two functions: the comparative degree and the superlative degree. Here is how they work in three Indo-European languages.

      The Comparative & Superlative Degrees
      great-er (than) the great-est
      more beautiful (than) the most beautiful
      schn-er (als) der/die/das schnste
      plus belle (que) la plus belle

  • VERBS:

    1. TRANSITIVITY: Transitive, Intransitive
      Verbs may either accept a direct object or not. Those that do are transitive; those that do not are intransitive. Some verbs can belong to either category depending on the context, as with the English verb "to eat."

      ENGLISH John ate the fish John ate

    2. ASPECT: Perfective, Imperfective
      Some languages distinguish between whether an action or state is completed or not rather than between whether it occurred in the past. (Most languages distinguish both tense and aspect to varying degrees.)

      The Russian Aspect System
      Imperfective Perfective
      Maa pisala pis'ma Maa na-pisala pis'ma
      i. 'Masha was writing letters ''Masha wrote the letters'
      ii. 'Masha wrote letters several times'
      Maa piet pis'ma Maa na-piet pis'ma
      i. 'Masha is writing letters' 'Masha will write the letters'
      ii. 'Mash writes letters'

    3. TENSE: Distant Past, Past, Present, Future, Distant Future Tense indicates the time relative to the speech act when an action or state took place. Languages are limited to five tenses: distant past (past pluperfect), past, future, distant past, and distant future (future perfect). English has all five.

      English Tenses
       Future  I will eat, I'm gonna eat, I eat
       Future Perfective  I will have eaten
       Present  I eat, am eating
       Past  I ate, have eaten
       Past Perfective  I had eaten

    4. VOICE: Active, Passive Most languages have a means of shifting the semantic emphasis from the subject to the object. If the subject is focussed, the verb is placed in the active voice; if the object is focussed, the verb is placed in the passive voice.

      Voice in Western IE Languages
       LANGUAGE  Active Voice    Passive Voice
       ENGLISH  John eats the fish     The fish is eaten by John
       FRENCH  Jean mange le poisson     Le poisson est mang de Jean
       GERMAN  Hans isst den Fisch     Der Fisch ist von Hans gegessen

    5. MOOD: Indicative, Imperative, Subjunctive Verbs may also vary as to mood or modality. The three major modalities are indicative, which mere indicates that something occurs, imperative, which demands that something occurs, and subjunctive, which suggests that something might occur, usually also implying that it doesn't occur.

      The Moods of English
      Indicative John eats
      Imperative Eat!
      Subjunctive I would eat, Were I to eat

    6. Conjugation Class: I, II, III Conjugations and Conjugations: 1st, 2nd, 3rd Person, Sg, Pl Agreement
      Verbs belong to arbitrary lexical classes like the nouns' grammatical gender; the verbal version is called conjugation class. There is no semanic reason why a verb belongs to one class or another; they just do. Latin (French, Italian, Spanish) verbs all must bear a conjugation class marker.

      The Latin Conjugations
      I. Conjugation
      amo 'I love' amamus 'we love'
      amas 'you love' amatis 'yuse love'
      amat 's/he loves' amant 'they love'
      II. Conjugation
      moneo 'I advise' monemus 'we advise'
      mones 'you advise' monetis 'yuns advise'
      monet 's/he advises' monent 'they advise
      III. Conjugation
      tego 'I cover' tegimus 'we cover'
      tegis 'you cover' tegitis 'yall cover'
      tegit 's/he covers' tegunt 'they cover'

  • Participles:

    It isn't clear where participles fit into the framework of grammatical categories. Like verbs they exhibit the categories of tense, aspect, and voice but unlike verbs they modify nouns like adjectives and agree using adjective affixes. Participles are probably deverbal relational adjectives since they do not compare, undergo derivation or intensification and cannot occur in the predicate. Languages are ostensibly limited to six participle functions:

    Present Active
    Present Passive
    Past Active
    Past Passive
    Future Active
    Future Passive

  • Quantifiers:

    Quantifiers include words like many, some, several plus the numbers. The cardinal numbers are quantifiers; ordinal numbers are relational adjectives derived from numbers.

    1. Cardinal: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine
    2. Ordinal: first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, nineth

  • Conclusions

    All languages possess the same set of about 25 categories each of which have several functions (roughly 100). Languages differ in how they express these categories in speech: some use lexemes (Chinese, Vietnamese), some use free-standing grammatical morphemes (pronouns, prepositions, etc.), while others use affixes. When you begin learning a new language, you do not have to learn a new set of grammatical categories since all languages have the same categories; you only have to learn how these categories are expressed in the new language. It is probably the case that children learning their first language have a similar advantage--they are born with these categories built into their brains.

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