Unit 1: Words and Word Classes
References and examples taken from: Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English (chapter 2), by D. Biber, S. Conrad, G. Leech. Adapted by P. Quezada
Introduction to words. In grammar, we first need to identify the types of grammatical units, such as words and phrases, before describing the internal structure of these units, and how they combine to formlarger units. Grammatical units are meaningful elements which combine with each other in a structural pattern. Essentially, grammar is the system which organizes and controls these form-meaning relationships.
What are words? Words are generally considered to be the basic elements of language. They clearly show up in writing, and they are the items defined in dictionaries. Yet the definition of’word’ is not simple. Words are relatively fixed in their internal form, but they are independent in their role in larger units. For example, insertions can usually be made between words but not within words: There were two pedal-bins against the wall. There were two (large new) pedal-bins (standing) against the (side) wall. 1. Different senses of the word ‘word’ The notion of ‘word’ is complex,and so it is useful to identify a number of slightly different senses of ‘word’: Orthographic words: These are the words that we are familiar with in written language, where they are separated by spaces. For example, They wrote us a letter contains five distinct orthographic words. Grammatical words: A word falls into one grammatical word class (or ‘part of speech’) or another. Thus theorthographic word leaves can be either of two grammatical words: a verb (the present tense -s form of leave) or a noun (the plural of leaf). This is the basic sense of ‘word’ for grammatical purposes, and the one we normally intend in this course. 2. Two major families of words Words can be grouped into two families, according to their main function and their grammatical behavior: lexical words and functionwords. A) Lexical words ? Lexical words are the main carriers of information in a text or speech act. ? They can be subdivided into the following word classes (or parts of speech): nouns, lexical verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. ? Of all the word families, lexical words are the most numerous, and their number is growing all the time. In other words, they are members of open classes. ? They oftenhave a complex internal structure and can be composed of several parts: e.g. unfriendliness = un +friend + li + ness. ? Lexical words can be heads of phrases: e.g. the noun completion is the head (or main word) of the noun phrase [the completion of the task]. ? They are generally the words that are stressed most in speech. ? They are generally the words that remain if a sentence is compressed in anewspaper headline: e.g. Elderly care crisis warning.
B) Function words ? Function words can be categorized in terms of word classes such as prepositions, coordinators, auxiliary verbs, and pronouns. ? They usually indicate meaning relationships and help us to interpret units containing lexical words, by showing how the units are related to each other. ? Function words belong to closedclasses, which have a very limited and fixed membership. For example, English has only four coordinators: and, or, but, and (rarely) nor. ? Individual function words tend to occur frequently, and in almost any type of text.
3. Closed classes and open classes A closed class contains a limited number of members, and new members cannot be easily added. For example, it is not easy to create a newcoordinator or a new pronoun: those word classes have a fairly fixed set of members. The membership of open classes is indefinitely large, and can be readily extended by users of the language. Lexical classes such as nouns and adjectives are open classes. For example, we can easily form new nouns with the suffix -ee, adjectives with -ish, verbs with -ize, and adverbs with -wise: gossipee, franchisee,…