A site for spellers, teachers of spelling and reading, and students of english words
cummings, spell, spelling, english, words, spellers, teachers, reading, read, reader cummings, spell, spelling, english, words, spellers, teachers, reading, read, reader cummings, spell, spelling, english, words, spellers, teachers, reading, read, reader
cummings, spell, spelling, english, words, spellers, teachers, reading, read, reader cummings, spell, spelling, english, words, spellers, teachers, reading, read, reader
 
cummings, spell, spelling, english, words, spellers, teachers, reading, read, reader cummings, spell, spelling, english, words, spellers, teachers, reading, read, reader

Questions and Answers

>> Search questions and answers

Keyword or phrase:   
Topic: 
     or view all answers

Bulletin board

Jesperson categorises the traditional grammar into 3 parts. Will you please show the differences between such divisions and modern ones? Please summarise his contributions to linguistics.

This question raises some of the same issues as an earlier one on Jespersen. You can find the answer offered to that question by going back to the Question and Answer opening page and clicking on “View all questions.” Then click on the Edit menu and search on “jesperson” (which was the questioner’s spelling of Jespersen’s name).

Beyond what is said in that earlier answer, I would offer the following: Jespersen describes the three-part division of traditional grammars on pages 37-39 of his Philosophy of Grammar in the section called “Usual Division of Grammar”. The three parts are (I) accidence or morphology, (ii) word-formation, and (iii) syntax. The first part covers inflections and parts of speech; the second part covers derivational prefixes and suffixes; and the third covers phrase and clause structure. Jespersen feels that this traditional division is unacceptably unsystematic.

In their recent 1,800-page Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (Longmans, 1985) Quirk et al are not too far from that traditional three-part division. They say, “We shall be using ‘grammar’ to include both SYNTAX and that aspect of MORPHOLOGY (the internal structure of words) that deals with INFLECTIONS (or ACCIDENCE)” (12). Their discussion of derivational morphology is relegated to Appendix I, Word-formation.

Under the rubric of “Systematic Grammar” in chapters two and three of Philosophy of Grammar Jespersen develops his own two-part division. He points out that “any linguistic phenomenon may be regarded either from without or from within, either from the outward form or from the inner meaning” (Philosophy, 33). In the first part of grammar, which he calls morphology, “we take a form as given and then inquire into its meaning or function” (40). In the second part, which he calls syntax, the inner meaning is the given and the inquiry is into its outer form.

This two-part division informs his seven-volume Modern English Grammar on Historical Principles: Volumes two, three, four, five, and seven deal with syntax; volume six deals with morphology. A complication is that volume one, Sounds and Spellings, deals with phonological and orthographic forms, which in his two-part system would at first seem to be part of morphology. However, he also distinguishes between grammar and what he calls dictionary (or lexicology). Grammar deals with general facts about language; dictionary deals with specific facts. Within this distinction sounds and spellings (that is, phonology and orthography) are clearly part of lexicology and not part of grammar at all.

(Notice that this dictionary-grammar distinction is like Steven Pinker’s distinction between rules and words in his Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language (Basic Books, 1999): Words are specific facts; grammar deals with general facts.)

Jespersen points out the difficulty of fitting semantics into his two-part division and chooses simply to omit it from his system – except, of course, to the extent that semantics has to be involved with any discussion of the inner meanings of linguistic forms.

I’m not qualified to say much about how all of this compares with modern divisions of the study of grammar. But I recall some years ago working with a transformational grammarian who always thought and spoke in terms of a three-part division: semantics – syntax – phonology. Notice the centrality of syntax. His contention was that syntax allows us to give meaning (semantics) to sound (phonology), while it also allows us to give sound to meaning. This seems to me to be quite close to Jespersen’s outward-inward division and to be consistent with the fact that in Jespersen’s grammar, syntax takes up five of the seven volumes.

I suspect that as is the case with a lot of academic disagreements, this one grows out of a striving for cleanly-drawn distinctions and categories when in fact it is the nature of the beast to be shaggy and fuzzy, with categories that overlap and blur into one another, depending more or less on with which eye you are looking at it. This gets us back to the conclusion to the earlier question on Jespersen – namely, his insistence on being systematic and tidy in one's thinking while doing justice to the more messy human meaning-making function of language and its changing, evolving history.

  cummings, spell, spelling, english, words, spellers, teachers, reading, read, reader
cummings, spell, spelling, english, words, spellers, teachers, reading, read, reader