Word Classes and Parts of Speech Research Paper

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There is a long tradition of classifying words, for the purpose of grammatical description,  into the ten word classes  (or  parts  of  speech)  noun,   verb,  adjective, adverb,  pronoun, preposition, conjunction, numeral, article, interjection. While each of these terms is useful, and they are indispensable for practical purposes, their status in a fully explicit description of a language or in general grammatical theory remains disputed.  Although  most of the traditional word class distinctions can  be made  in most  languages,  the  cross-linguistic applicability  of  these  notions  is often  problematic. Here  I  focus  primarily  on  the  major  word  classes noun, verb, and adjective, and on ways of dealing with the cross-linguistic variability  in their patterning.

1.    The Classification Of Words

Words  can  be classified by various  criteria,  such  as phonological properties  (e.g., monosyllabic  vs. polysyllabic   words),   social   factors   (e.g.,   general   vs. technical vocabulary), and language history (e.g., loanwords  vs. native  words).  All of these are classes of words, but as a technical term, word class refers to the  ten  traditional categories  below (plus perhaps  a few others),  most of which go back to the Greek and Roman  grammarians. In addition  to the terms, a few examples are given of each word class.

Noun                                    book, storm, arrival

Verb                                     push, sit, know

Adjective                            good, blue, Polish

Adverb                                 quickly, very, fortunately

Pronoun                               you, this, nobody

Preposition/adposition         on, for, because of

Conjunction                         and, if, while

Numeral                               one, twice, third

Article                                  the, a

Interjection                          ouch, tsk

(In this article, the more general term ‘adposition’ will be used rather  than  preposition, because  many  languages  have  postpositions rather  than  prepositions, and word order is irrelevant  in this context.)

The special status of the classification above derives from the fact that these are the most important classes of words for the purpose  of grammatical description, equally relevant  for morphology, syntax,  and  lexical semantics. This makes the classification more interesting,  but  also  more  complex  and  more  problematic than  other  classifications  of words.  Besides the term word class, the older term part  of speech (Latin  pars orationis) is still often used, although it is now quite opaque (originally it referred to sentence constituents). The term word class was introduced in the first half of the twentieth  century  by structuralist linguistics. Another  roughly equivalent  term, common  especially in Chomskyan linguistics is ‘syntactic category’ (although technically this refers not only to lexical categories such as nouns and verbs, but also to phrasal categories such as noun phrases and verb phrases).

The  main  two  problems  with  the  maximal  word-class above  are (a) that  some of the classes intersect (e.g., the English word ‘there’ is both  a pronoun and an adverb),  and  (b) that  the different  classes do not have equal  weight; while most  languages  have hundreds of verbs and thousands of nouns,  there are far fewer pronouns and  conjunctions, and  often  only a handful  of adpositions and articles. The solution  that is often adopted explicitly for the second problem is to make  a further  subdivision  into  major  word  classes (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs) and minor word classes (all others).  (Alternative  terms for major  and minor classes are content  words  function  words and, especially  in  Chomskyan  linguistics,   lexical  categories  functional  categories.)  This distinction  is discussed  further  in  Sect.  2.  The  solution  to  the  first problem that is implicit in much contemporary work is that pronouns and numerals are not regarded as word classes on a par with nouns,  verbs, prepositions, and so  on.  Instead,   they  are  regarded   as  semantically highly specific subclasses of the other classes. For instance,  there are nominal  pronouns (e.g., he, who), adjectival  pronouns (e.g., this, which, such) and  adverbial pronouns (e.g., here, thus). Similarly, there are adjectival  numerals  ( fi e, fifth),  adverbial  numerals (twice), and  nominal  numerals  (a fifth,  a fi e). Some languages also have verbal pronouns and verbal numerals.  Accordingly,  this article will not deal with pronouns and  numerals.

2.    Content Words And Function Words

In all languages,  words (and entire word classes) can be divided into the two broad classes of content words and  function  words.  Nouns,   verbs,  adjectives,  and adverbs are content  words, and adpositions, conjunctions,  and  articles,  as well as auxiliaries  and  words classified as ‘particles’ are function words. While there is  sometimes  disagreement   over  the  assignment   of words and even entire word classes to these two broad categories,  their  usefulness and  importance is not  in doubt.  Content  word classes are generally open (i.e., they accept new members in principle) and large (comprising  hundreds  or  thousands of  words),  and content   words   tend   to   have   a  specific,  concrete meaning. They tend to be fairly long (often disyllabic or longer),  and  their  text frequency  is fairly low. By contrast, function  word  classes are  generally  closed and small, and function  words tend to have abstract, general meaning (or no meaning at all, but only a grammatical function  in specific constructions). They tend to be quite short  (rarely longer than  a syllable), and their text frequency is high. This is summarized in Table 1.

Word Classes and Parts of Speech Research Paper

The reason  why auxiliaries are not included  in the traditional list of word classes is probably  merely that they are not prominent in Greek and Latin grammar, but in many languages these ‘function verbs’ are very important (English examples are be, ha e, can, must, will, should ). The class ‘particle’ is really only a wastebasket  category:  function  words  that  do not  fit into any  of the  other  classes are  usually  called  particles (e.g., ‘focus particles,’ such as only and also, ‘question particles,’ such as Polish czy in Czy mowisz po polsku? ‘Do you speak Polish?,’ or ‘discourse particles’ such as German  ja in Das ist ja schon! ‘That’s nice! (expressing surprise).’

The precise delimitation of function  words and content words is often difficult. For instance, while the conjunctions if, when, as, and  because are unequivocally function  words,  this is less clear for words  like suppose, provided that,  granted  that,  assuming that. And  while the  adpositions in, on, of,  at  are  clearly function  words, this is less clear for concerning, considering, in view of.  In  the  case  of  adpositions, linguists sometimes say that there are two subclasses, ‘function adpositions’ and ‘content adpositions,’ analogous to the distinction between content verbs and function   verbs  ( = auxiliaries).  Another   widespread view is that  word-class  boundaries are  not  always sharp,   and   that   there   can   be  intermediate   cases between full verbs and auxiliaries, between nouns and adpositions, and  between nouns  verbs and  conjunctions.   Quite  generally,   function   words   arise  from content words by the diachronic process of grammaticalization, and since grammaticalization is generally regarded  as a gradual diachronic  process,  it is expected  that  the  resulting function   words  form  a  gradient   from  full  content words to clear function words. When grammaticalization    proceeds   further,    function    words   may become clitics and finally affixes, and again we often find intermediate  cases which cannot  easily be classified as words or word-parts.

3.    Defining Nouns, Verbs, And Adjectives

In the following, the emphasis will be on the content word classes nouns, verbs, and adjectives (for adverbs, a problematic class, see Section 5.3 below). The properties   of  the  function   words  are  more  appropriately discussed in other contexts (e.g., auxiliaries in the context  of tense and  aspect,  conjunctions in the context of subordinate clauses, and so on).

Before asking how nouns, verbs, and adjectives are defined, it must be made clear whether a definition  of these  word  classes  in  a  particular  language   (e.g., English or Japanese)  is intended,  or whether we want a definition  of these classes for language  in general. The widely known and much-maligned definitions  of nouns  as  denoting  ‘things,  persons,  and  places,’ of verbs as denoting  ‘actions and processes,’ and adjectives as denoting  ‘properties’ is, of course, hopelessly simplistic from the point of view of a particular language.  In most languages,  it is easy to find nouns that  do  not  denote  persons,  things,  or  places  (e.g., word,  power,  war),  and  verbs  that   do  not  denote actions or processes (e.g., know, lack, exist), and many languages also have adjectives that do not denote properties  (e.g., urban, celestial, vehicular). However, if the goal is to define nouns,  verbs, and adjectives in general  terms  that  are  not  restricted  to  a particular language,  these simplistic notional  definitions  do not fare so badly.

In the first part of the twentieth century, the structuralist movement  emphasized  the need for rigorous  language-particular definitions  of grammatical notions,   and  notionally   based  definitions   of  word classes were  rejected  because  they  patently  did  not work for individual  languages  or were hard  to apply rigorously. Instead, preference was given to morphological  and  syntactic  criteria,  e.g., ‘if an English word  has a plural  in –s, it is a noun,’  or ‘if a word occurs  in the  context  the … book,  it is an  adjective.’ But of course this practice was not new, because words like power and war have always been treated as nouns on morphological and syntactic grounds.  Some older grammarians, neglecting syntax, defined nouns, verbs, and adjectives exclusively in morphological terms, and as a result  nouns  and  adjectives  were often  lumped together  in a single class in languages  like Latin  and Greek, where they do not differ morphologically. But the  predominant practice  in  Western  grammar   has been  to  give priority  to  the  syntactic  criterion.  For instance,  adjectives  in German  have a characteristic pattern of  inflection  that  makes  them  quite  unlike nouns,  and this morphological pattern could be used to define the class (e.g., roter / rote / rotes ‘red (masculine / feminine / neuter)’).   However,   a   few  property words are indeclinable and are always invariant  (e.g., rosa, as in die rosa Tapete ‘the pink wallpaper’). These words would not be adjectives according  to a strictly morphological definition,  but  in fact  everybody  regards words like rosa as adjectives, because they can occur  in  the  same  syntactic  environments as  other adjectives.

Thus, there is universal agreement  among linguists that   language-particular  word   classes  need  to  be defined  on  morphosyntactic grounds  for  each  individual language.  However,  two problems  remain.  (a) The generality problem:  how should  word classes be defined for language  in general? Morphological patterns  and  syntactic  constructions vary widely across languages, so they cannot be used for cross-linguistically applicable definitions. (b) The subclass problem:  which of the classes identified by language particular criteria  count  as word  classes, and  which only count  as subclasses? For  instance,  English  has some property words that  can occur in the context  is more … than, e.g., beautiful, difficult, interesting. Another group of semantically similar words (e.g., pretty, tough, nice) does not  occur  in this context.  Nobody takes  this as evidence that  English has two different word classes where other languages have just a single class (adjectives),  but  it is not  clear why it does not count as sufficient evidence.

The  solution   to  the  generality   problem   that   is usually  adopted  (often  implicitly,  but  cf. Schachter 1985 and  Wierzbicka  2000) is that  one defines word classes on  a language-particular basis,  and  then  the word  class that  includes most  words  for things  and persons  is called ‘noun,’ the word class that  includes most words for actions  and processes is called ‘verb,’ and the word class that includes most words for properties  is called ‘adjective.’ However,  the subclass problem has not been solved or even addressed satisfactorily,  and  the use of word-class  notions  in a general or cross-linguistic sense remains problematic.

Table 1 Content  words and function  words

4.    Characterizing Nouns, Verbs, And Adjectives

Despite  the  theoretical   problems   in  defining  word classes in general, in practice it is often not difficult to agree on the use of these terms in a particular language. This is because nouns, verbs, and adjectives show great similarities in their  behavior  across languages.  Their most common  characteristics  are briefly summarized in this section.

4.1    Nouns

In many languages, nouns have affixes indicating number  (singular, plural, dual, see Grammatical Number), case (e.g., nominative,  accusative, ergative, dative), possessor person/number  (‘my,’ ‘your,’ ‘his,’ etc.), and definiteness. Some examples follow.

(a)  Number. Khanty  (Western  Siberia) xot ‘house,’

xot-yyn  ‘two houses’ (dual), xot-yt

‘houses’ ( plural).

(b)  Case. Classical Arabic  al-kitaab-u

‘the book’ (nominative),  al-kitaab-i

‘the book’s’ (genitive), al-kitaab-a

‘the book  (accusative).’

(c) Possessor person / number.  Somali xoolah-ayga

‘my herd,’ xoolah-aaga ‘your herd,’ xoleh-eeda

‘her herd,’ xooli-hiisa ‘his herd,’ etc.

Syntactically,  nouns  can always be combined  with demonstratives (e.g., that house) and often with definiteness markers  (the house), and they can occur in the syntactic  function  of argument (subject,  object,  etc.) without  additional coding.  Thus,  in  a  simple  two-argument clause  we can  have  the  childN  caused the accidentN, but not *smokeV causes illA. (Here and in the following, the subscripts  N, V and A indicate  nouns, verbs and adjectives.) Verbs like smoke and adjectives like ill need additional function-indicating coding to occur in argument function  (smok-ing causes ill-ness). Because reference is primarily achieved with nouns, it is nouns  that  can serve as antecedents  for pronouns (compare   Albania’s   destruction   of   itself   vs.   *the Albanian  destruction  of  itself  (impossible)).  Finally, nouns  are  often  divided  into  a  number   of  gender classes which  are  manifested  in grammatical  agreement.

4.2    Verbs

In many languages, verbs have affixes indicating tense (present, past, future), aspect (imperfective, perfective, progressive), mood (indicative, imperative, optative, subjunctive,  etc.), polarity  (affirmative,  negative), valence-changing operations (passive causative), and  the person / number  of subject  and  object(s).  Semantic  notions  that  are more rarely expressed morphologically are spatial  orientation and instrument. Some examples follow.

(a)  Tense. Panyjima  (Australia) wiya-lku

‘sees,’ wiya-larta ‘will see,’ wiya-rna ‘saw.’

(b)  Subject person / number.  Hungarian lat-ok

‘I see,’ lat-sz ‘you see,’ lat ‘s he sees.’

(c) Valence-changing.  Turkish  unut‘forget,’

unut-ul‘be forgotten’  ( passive), unut-tur-

‘make forget’ (causative).

(d)  Spatial  orientation. Russian  y-letat’ ‘fly out,’

v- letat’ ‘fly in,’ pere-letat’ ‘fly over ,’  z-letat’

‘fly up.’

Syntactically, verbs generally take between one and three nominal  arguments, e.g., fall (1: patient),  dance (1: agent), kill (2: agent, patient),  see (2: experiencer, stimulus),  give (3: agent,  patient,  recipient).  Nouns and adjectives may also take arguments, but they are not nearly as rich as verbs, and nouns that correspond to  verbs  often  cannot  take  arguments   in  the  most direct  way (compare  Plato defined beauty vs. *Plato definition beauty (impossible); additional coding is required:  Plato’s definition  of  beauty.  Verbs  always occur as predicates without additional coding, whereas nouns  and adjectives often need additional function indicating   coding   when  they  occur   as  predicates, namely a copular  verb (cf. Halim worksV vs. *Halim a workerN  (impossible),  *Halim hard-workingA (impossible); here the copula is is required).

4.3    Adjectives

In a fair number  of languages,  adjectives have affixes indicating  comparison (comparative degree, superlative degree, equative degree), and in a few languages, adjectives are inflected for agreement  with the noun they modify. Some examples follow.

(a)  Comparison. Latin  audax ‘brave,’ audac-ior

‘braver’ (comparative), audac-issimus

‘bravest’ (superlative).

(b)  Comparison. Tagalog  (Philippines)  mahal

expensive;’ sing-mahal ‘as expensive as.’

(c) Agreement.  Hindi  acchaa ‘good’ (masculine singular),

acchee (masculine  plural),

acchii (feminine singular / plural).

In many languages,  adjectives show no inflectional properties  of their own. Syntactically, a peculiarity of adjectives  is that  they  can  typically  occur  in  comparative  constructions (whether they show affixes marking  comparison or not),  and  they can be combined with degree modifiers of various  kinds that  do not co-occur with verbs and nouns (e.g., very hotA, too difficultA, cf. *workV  very, *too mistakeN (impossible)). Adjectives generally occur as nominal modifiers with- out additional coding (cf. a baldA man), whereas nouns and verbs mostly need additional function-indicating coding when they occur as modifiers (*a beardN man  a man with a beard, *a shaveN man/a man who shaves).

5.    Difficulties Of Classification

The general properties  of nouns, verbs, and adjectives that were sketched in Sect. 5 are sufficient to establish these  classes without  much  doubt  in  a  great  many languages. However, again and again linguists report on languages where such a threefold subdivision does not  seem  appropriate.  Particularly problematic are adjectives  (Sect. 5.1) but  languages  lacking  a noun- –verb distinction  are also claimed to exist (Sect. 5.2), and  Sect.  5.3 discusses  adverbs,  which  present  difficulties in all languages.

5.1    The Universality Of Adjectives

In contrast  to nouns  and verbs, adjectives are sometimes like function  words  in that  they form a rather small,  closed  class.  For   instance,   Tamil  (southern India) and Hausa  (northern Nigeria) have only about a dozen adjectives. Interestingly, in such languages the concepts  that  are denoted  by adjectives in the small class coincide to a large extent (Dixon 1977): dimension (‘large,’ ‘small,’ ‘long,’ ‘short,’ etc.), age (‘new,’ ‘young,’ ‘old,’ etc.), value (‘good,’ ‘bad’), color (‘black,’ ‘white,’ ‘red,’ etc.). Other concepts for which English  has  adjectives  (e.g., human  propensity  concepts such as ‘happy,’ ‘clever,’ ‘proud,’ ‘jealous,’ and physical  property  concepts  such  as  ‘soft,’  ‘heavy,’ ‘hot’) are then  expressed by verbs or by nouns.  For instance, in Tamil, ‘heavy man’ is ganam-ulla manusan, literally  ‘weight-having  man,’  and  in  Hausa,   ‘intelligent person’ is mutum mai hankali, literally ‘person having intelligence.’

But even more strikingly, many languages appear to lack adjectives  entirely,  expressing  all property concepts by words that look like verbs or like nouns. For instance, in Korean, property concepts inflect for tense and  mood  like verbs  in predication structures,  and they  require  a  relative  suffix when they modify a noun,  again like verbs (cf. (b) (i), (ii)) below.

(a)  Predication

(i) Event

salam-i                        mek-ess-ta


‘the person ate’

(ii) Property

san-i                      noph-ess-ta


‘the hill was high’

(b)  Modification

(i) Event

mek-un                         salam

eat-RELATIVE           person

‘a person who ate’

(ii) Property

noph-un              san

high-RELATIVE   hill

‘a high hill’

While languages  where all property words  can be classified as verbs are very common,  languages where all  property  concepts   are   nouns   are   less  widely attested.  A language for which such a claim has been made is Ecuadorian Quechua: in this language, property  concept  words  can  occur  in argument position and  take  the same inflection  as nouns  (cf. (a)(i), (ii) below), and nouns can occur as modifiers without additional coding, like property words (cf. (b) (i), (ii) below).

(a)  argument position

(i) Thing





‘he hit the child’

(ii) Property





‘he hit the big one’

(b)  modification

(i) Thing

rumi    wasi


‘stone house’

(ii) Property

jatun    wambra

big       child

‘big child’

Thus, it is often said that while nouns and verbs are virtually universal, adjectives are often lacking in languages.  However,  it is generally  possible  to  find features  that  differentiate  a property subclass within the larger class to which property words are assigned. For  instance,  Korean  property verbs do not take the present-tense  suffix  -nun,  and  Ecuadorian Quechua thing words do not combine with the manner  adverb suffix -ta (e.g., sumaj-ta ‘beautifully,’ but not *dukturta ‘in a doctor’s manner’). Here the subclass problem arises: on what  grounds  do we say that  Korean  has two classes of verbs (non-property verbs vs. property verbs), rather than two word classes (verbs and adjectives)? Since this question  is difficult to answer, some linguists have claimed that most languages have adjectives after  all, but  that  adjectives have a strong tendency  to  be  either  verb-like  or  noun-like   (e.g., Wetzer 1996).

5.2    The Universality Of The Noun–Verb Distinction

For a few languages, it has been claimed that there is no (or only a very slight) distinction  between nouns and  verbs,  for  instance  for  several North American languages of the Wakashan, Salishan,  and Iroquoian families, as well as for a number  of Polynesian languages. For instance, in Samoan (a Polynesian language),  full words  referring  to  events and  things show intriguingly similar behavior. Both thing (or person)  words and event words seem to occur in the same predication structures  (a) and in argument positions  (b) below.

(a)  Predication

(i) Thing

sa        foma’i    le      fafine

PAST   doctor     the    woman

‘the woman  was a doctor’

(ii) Event

sa        alu   le      fafine

PAST   go    the    woman

‘the woman  went’

(a)  Argument

(i) Thing

e                lelei     le      foma’i

GENERIC    good    the    doctor

‘the doctor  is good’

(ii) Event

e                lelei     le      alu   o     le     asi

GENERIC    good    the    go    of    the    bus

i      Apia

to    Apia

‘it’s good that  the bus goes to Apia’

Clearly,  the  similarity  of  thing-words   and  eventwords  in such languages  is quite  striking  and  differs dramatically from what is found in the better-known European  languages.   But  thing-words   and   eventwords  do  not  behave  exactly  alike  in  Samoan;  the pattern above is asymmetrical in that foma’i means ‘be a doctor’ and ‘person who is a doctor,’ but alu does not mean both ‘go’ and ‘person who goes,’ but rather  ‘the fact of going.’ Upon closer examination, it has usually turned out that major word classes which can be called nouns and verbs can be distinguished even in the problematic languages.

5.3    The Problem Of Adverbs

Adverbs  are the most  problematic major  word  class because they are extremely heterogeneous  in all languages, and unlike for nouns, verbs, and adjectives, no semantic  prototype can be identified  easily for them (cf. Ramat and Ricca 1994). The most that can be said in general about  adverbs is that  they serve to modify non-nominal constituents (verbs or verb phrases, adjectives,   other   adverbs,   sentences).   Perhaps   the concept of adverb should not be taken  too seriously, because there are very few properties  that  adverbs of different kinds share. Five broad subclasses of adverbs are often distinguished: setting adverbs (locative: here, there, below, abroad; temporal:  now, then, yesterday, always), manner adverbs (quickly, carefully, beautifully),  degree  adverbs  (very, too, extremely),  linking adverbs  (therefore,  however, consequently),  and  sentence adverbs (perhaps, fortunately, frankly) (see Quirk et al. 1985 for the most comprehensive semantic classification of adverbs).

Setting  adverbs,  degree  adverbs,  and  linking  adverbs  are  relatively  small,  closed  classes,  and  they often share properties  with function  words. Sentence adverbs  are  rare  in most  languages,  and  their  great elaboration is probably  a peculiarity  of the  written languages  of Europe  (Ramat  and  Ricca  1998). The only sizable subclass of adverbs that has equivalents in many languages is the class of manner adverbs. Many languages  have a productive  way of forming  manner adverbs  from adjectives (e.g., English warm/warmly, French  lent ‘slow,’ lentement  ‘slowly’). But this also makes manner  adverbs problematic as a major  word class, because one could argue that  adjective-derived manner adverbs are just adjectives which occur with a special inflectional marker to indicate that they are not used in their canonical noun-modifying function. This point  of view is non-traditional, but  it seems quite reasonable, and it is strengthened by the fact that  in quite a few languages, adjectives can be used as manner adverbs without  any special marking.

One of the  main  features  that  unifies  the  various subclasses  of adverbs  in languages  like English  and French is that four of the five classes contain adjectivederived  words  ending  in –ly/-ment  (only  setting  adverbs are almost never of this type). This is certainly no accident,   but  it  should  also  be  noted   that   this  is probably a feature typical of European languages that is hardly found elsewhere.

6.    Theoretical Approaches

While the identification and definition of word classes was regarded  as an important task of descriptive and theoretical  linguistics by classical structuralists  (e.g., Bloomfield  1933),  Chomskyan generative  grammar simply assumed (contrary to fact) that the word classes of English  (in particular the  major  or  ‘lexical’ categories noun,  verb, adjective,  and  adposition) can be carried over to other languages. Without much argument, it has generally been held that they belong to the presumably  innate  substantive  universals  of language, and not much was said about  them (other than that  they  can  be  decomposed   into  the  two  binary features     [ ±N]    and     [ ±V]:    [ + N, – V] = noun, [ – N, + V] = verb,    [ + N, + V] = adjective,    [ – N, – N]  = adposition).

Toward  the end of the twentieth  century,  linguists (especially functionalists) became  interested  in word classes again. Wierzbicka (1986) proposed  a more sophisticated semantic  characterization of the difference between nouns  and adjectives (nouns  categorize referents  as belonging  to  a kind,  adjectives  describe them  by naming  a property), and  Langacker  (1987) proposed  semantic  definitions  of noun  (‘a region  in some domain’) and verb (‘a sequentially scanned process’)  in his framework  of  Cognitive  Grammar. Hopper  and Thompson (1984) proposed  that the grammatical properties  of word classes emerge from their discourse functions: ‘discourse-manipulable participants’ are coded as nouns, and ‘reported events’ are coded as verbs.

There is also a lot of interest in the cross-linguistic regularities  of word  classes, cf. Dixon  (1977), Bhat (1994) and Wetzer (1996) for adjectives, Walter (1981) and Sasse (1993a) for the noun–verb  distinction, Hengeveld (1992b) and Stassen (1997) for non-verbal predication. Hengeveld  (1992a) proposed  that  major word classes can either be lacking in a language (then it is called rigid) or a language  may not differentiate between  two word  classes (then  it is called flexible). Thus,  ‘languages without  adjectives’ (cf. Sect. 6) are either flexible in that  they combine  nouns  and adjectives in one class (N/Adj), or rigid in that  they lack adjectives completely.  Hengeveld  claims that  besides the  English  type,  where  all  four  classes  (V – N – Adj – Adv) are differentiated and exist, there are only three   types  of  rigid  languages   (V- N – Adj,  e.g., Wambon;  V – N, e.g., Hausa; and V, e.g., Tuscarora), and  three  types  of  flexible languages  (V – N – Adj / Adv,  e.g., German;  V – N / Adj / Adv,  e.g., Quechua; V / N / Adj / Adv, e.g., Samoan).

The most comprehensive theory of word classes and their  properties   is presented  in  Croft  (1991). Croft notes that in all the cross-linguistic diversity, one can find  universals  in the  form  of markedness  patterns; universally,  object  words  are  unmarked when  functioning  as  referring  arguments, property words  are unmarked when  functioning   as  nominal  modifiers, and action  words are unmarked when functioning  as predicates.  While  it  is not  possible  to  define  cross=linguistically  applicable  notions  of  noun,  adjective, and  verb  on  the  basis  of  semantic  and/or  formal criteria  alone,  it  is possible,  according  to  Croft,  to define nouns,  adjectives, and verbs as cross-linguistic prototypes on the basis of the universal  markedness patterns.

For  a sample of recent work on word  classes in a cross-linguistic perspective, see Vogel and Comrie (2000), and  the Bibliography: in Plank  (1997). Other overviews are  Sasse (1993b),  Schachter  (1985), and further collections of articles are Tersis-Surugue (1984) and Alpatov  (1990).


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