The system of English verbs (43061)

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The ministry of Higher and Secondary Special Education of the republic of Uzbekistan

Gulistan State University






«The System of English Verbs»




















Gulistan 2008


1. Theoretical background


In contemporary semantics a broad distinction is drawn between denotation (referential) approach and language-intrinsic (or language-immanent) approach. This distinction follows from the opposition of two aspects of meaning: denotation and sense. As a rule the analysis of denotation results in the description of specific properties of extralinguistic objects denoted by a word (e.g. B. Pottier’s analysis of the field siege (chaise, fauteuil, tabouret, canape, pouf – chair, armchair, stool, sofa, pouf) is known to result in the distinction of such concrete and unique denotational components as S1 – with back, S2 – with legs, S3 – for a single person, S4 – for sitting, S5 – with arms, S6 – made from hard material).

The procedure proposed in the study is based on the principles of language-immanent approach in semantics (cf. E.N. Bendix, E. Coseriu, H. Geckeler, J. Lyons, J. Apresjan, A. Ufimtseva). It is assumed that it is definition of sense in terms of a limited number of semes that can provide the description of the semantic system of language.

Sense (being opposed to denotation) is considered as linguistic (language-immanent) meaning expressing the most essential features of an object denoted by a word.

Sense components, or SEMES (semantic markers in Katzian semantics; classemes in B. Pottier’s and A. Greimas’s approach) – such as abstract – concrete, definite – indefinite, etc. – reveal structural relations within semantic system. They are few in number and recur throughout the entire vocabulary. Semes are represented as binary / tertiary oppositions. For example, the seme definite – indefinite has binary structure: definite is the positive value (variant) of the seme; indefinite is the negative value (variant).

At present there is no elaborate integral method of the analysis of sense structure of lexemes, and traditionally semantic analysis is carried out only on the paradigmatic level of the lexicon. In this study an attempt was made to propose the technique of the analysis of sense structure which involves the description of both syntagmatic relations (in particular, interrelations of semes and semantic concord of lexemes in the text) and paradigmatic relations in the lexicon (the structure of semantic fields).

Though the technique proposed in this study cannot claim to provide an integrated description of the semantic structure of natural language, it proved to be effective in the analysis of the semantic fields of different language systems. The results of the research can be relevant to structural semantics (description of semantic relations, elaboration of formal representations (frames, thesauri)), they may be applied in lexicography, computational linguistics and language teaching.

The problem of the theme is that the system of the English verb is rightly considered to be the most complex grammatical structure of the language. The most troublesome problems are, indeed, concentrated in the area of the finite verb, and include, in particular, questions tense, aspect and modal auxiliary usage. This seems to be an aim of our work which has always gained the greatest interest in language learning. We can say with little fear of exaggeration that learning a language is to a very large degree learning how to operate the verbal forms of that language.

In Modern English, as well as in many other languages, verbal forms imply not only subtle shades of time distinction but serve for other purposes, too; they are also often marked for person and number, for mood, voice and aspect.

The general categorial meaning of the verb is process presented dynamically, i.e. developing in time. This general processual meaning is embedded in the semantics of all the verbs, including those that denote states, forms of existence, types of attitude, evaluations, etc., rather than actions. Edgar's room led out of the wall without a door. She had herself a liking for richness and excess. It was all over the morning papers. That's what I'm afraid of. I do love you, really I do. And this holds true not only about the finite verb, but also about the non-finite verb. The processual semantic character of the verbal lexeme even in the non-finite form is proved by the fact that in all its forms it is modified by the adverb and, with the transitive verb, it takes a direct object. Mr. Brown received the visitor instantly, which was unusual. – Mr. Brown's receiving the visitor instantly was unusual. – It was unusual for Mr. Brown to receive the visitor instantly. But: An instant reception of the visitor was unusual for Mr. Brown1.

The processual categorial meaning of the notional verb determines its characteristic combination with a noun expressing both the doer of the action (its subject) and, in cases of the objective verb, the recipient of the action (its object); it also determines its combination with an adverb as the modifier of the action.

From the point of view of their outward structure, verbs are characterised by specific forms of word-building, as well as by the formal features expressing the corresponding grammatical categories.

The verb stems may be simple, sound-replacive, stress-replacive, expanded, composite, and phrasal.

The original simple verb stems are not numerous, such verbs as go, take, read, etc. But conversion (zero-suffixation) as means of derivation, especially conversion of the «noun – verb» type, greatly enlarges the simple stem set of verbs, since it is one of the most productive ways of forming verb lexemes in modern English, a cloud – to cloud, a house – to house; a man – to man; a park – to park, etc.




2. The main part


2.1 Categories of verb morphology


What properties of the events described in the following sentences do the morphemes in bold tell us about?

Jimmy will graduate in June.

Jimmy would graduate if he studied.

Jimmy is sleeping.

In the last section we saw how grammatical morphology can specify one or another abstract category for the things that nouns refer to. In this section, we'll look at how grammatical morphology can do the same for verbs, focusing on one particular kind of verb morphology, morphemes that indicate general properties of the participants in the event or state that the verb designates.

Just as things divide naturally into a small number of categories on the basis of dimensions such as number, countability, and shape, events and states also divide naturally into a small number of categories on the basis of several basic dimensions.


2.1.1 Time

The Grammies realized early on that when an event occurred or a state was true often mattered. An utterance like Clark eat berries wasn't much use if the hearer didn't know whether Clark had already eaten the berries, was eating them at that moment, or was going to eat them at some later time. The Grammies developed two kinds of expressions to help them talk about the time of an event or state, absolute and relative expressions. This is a distinction we've seen before, in the context of adjective meaning.

Absolute time expressions label specific points in time, such as January 20, 1203, or points within a repeating unit of time, such as 3:00 pm (which labels a time within the day) and Tuesday (which labels a day within the week). The second type of expression may be used for repeating events or states (I get up at 7:00) or for a single event or state, in which case the Hearer has to be able to figure out which unit of time the Speaker has in mind. That is, I got up at 7:00 is only meaningful if we know which day the Speaker is talking about.

Expressions like yesterday and ago express times relative to the utterance time.

Relative time expressions label points in time relative some other reference point. The most obvious reference point is the utterance time, which is one of the roles in the utterance context and is directly accessible to the Hearer. Thus referring to time in this way is an example of a deictic use of language. For an event or state that is going on at the time of speaking, we have a word like now. For a past or future event or state, we can mention the length of time that has elapsed or will elapse between the time it occurred or will occur and the utterance time (an hour ago, in an hour), or we can simply say that it happened before the utterance time or will happen after the utterance time (already, in the future). There are other possible reference points for relative time reference. We can say things like before that time and after the wedding.

Just as number ended up grammatical in languages such as English, we might expect reference to the time of events and states to end up grammatical too. In fact, many, if not most, modern languages have a system for this, called tense, built into their grammar. For example, we distinguish Clark fell asleep, Clark is falling asleep, and Clark is going to fall asleep. Tense morphology divides events and states into the general grammatical categories past, present, and future; or a smaller set such as past and non-past; or a larger set, depending on the language.

As with other grammatical morphology, tense marking is normally obligatory in languages that have it, even when it is redundant. Both of the following English sentences have the past morpheme, even though that morpheme is redundant in the second example because the phrase last night makes it clear that the event happened before the utterance time.


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