Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Analysis of prepositions, adverbs and conjunctions

Depending on their context, certain words can belong to more than one part of speech. It is necessary to determine the function of these words to classify them properly.

The word "at" is classified as a preposition. However, in the phrasal verb "look at", it is best classified as a part of the verb or verb particle. The functions of "at" in the prepositional phrase "at three o'clock" and in the phrasal verb "Look at my new shoes" are clearly different.

In the case of "after", it can be classified as a preposition, conjunction and adverb. Consider the following examples:

1) It started to rain after I had arrived.
2) You can go after me.
3) You can go after.

In the first sentence, "after" is a conjunction. The dependent clause "after I had arrived" is connected to the independent clause "It started to rain". The dependent clause modifies the verb "rain" and provides more information about the time that it started to rain.

In the second example, "after" is a preposition. It expresses the relationship between the two pronouns in the sentence. The pronoun "me" is an object of the preposition.

In the third sentence, "after" is an adverb. The meaning is similar to that of "later". It modifies the verb "go".

The linguist Dr. Geoffrey Pullum has suggested that the word "after" in both the second and third examples be analyzed as a preposition. He explains that the second example can be analyzed as a transitive preposition and the third one as an intransitive.

This parallels with verbs which can be transitive and intransitive. For example, the verb "walk" is transitive in "I walk my dog every day" but intransitive in "I walk every day". If one adopts the idea of transitive and intransitive prepositions, the word "after" can only be a preposition or a conjunction.

However, many grammarians believe that only verbs should be analyzed as transitive and intransitive. They argue that prepositions always take objects and therefore cannot be considered intransitive.

The idea of transitive and intransitive prepositions is unlikely to be adopted by traditional grammarians. However, it illustrates that the analysis of parts of speech and also grammar can vary from one individual to another. In any case, it is clear that words such as "after" which can be classified into three different parts of speech in traditional grammar nevertheless share much in common.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Legal's Mate

Legal's mate is named after the French chess player Sire de Legal. The mate is from a famous game in which white sacrifices his queen. If black accepts the sacrifice, white quickly mates. The following is my analysis of this short and famous game.

1. e4 e5

White and black both fight for control of the centre by bringing out their king pawns.

2. Bc4 d6

White uses the Bishop's Opening. Most players prefer to bring the knight out before the bishop by playing Nf3. Black chooses to protect the king pawn with the queen pawn.

3. Nf3 Bg4

White develops the king knight and black chooses to pin it with his bishop. The knight is pinned because if white moves it, black can capture white's queen.

4. Nc3 g6

White develops the queen knight. Black makes a bad move with g6. The idea is to move the king bishop to g7 and control the diagonal but there is no time for this. Black should develop his queen knight by playing Nc6 and fighting for control of the centre.

5. Nxe5 Bxd1

White initiates a queen sacrifice. Black's decision to accept the sacrifice and take the queen is a mistake. He should play d6xe5 which will only leave him down one pawn.

6. Bxf7+ Ke7

White puts the black king in check. The black king is forced to move.

7. Nd5#

White's knight mates the black king. Amazingly, the black king has no escape. White has no queen but it does not matter. He has won the game.

This game illustrates that it is possible to win without the queen. Although she is an important piece, in certain situations she can be sacrificed for victory as in this well-known game.

Friday, October 17, 2008

English Morphology

Many English words can be broken into different morphemes, units of meaning. These morphemes can be either free or bound. In the word "cats", we have two morphemes. The first is the free morpheme "cat" and the second is the bound morpheme -s. A free morpheme can occur in isolation and a bound morpheme cannot. The bound morpheme -s cannot occur in isolation but speakers know that it conveys the meaning of plurality.

The word "disappointment" can be broken into three morphemes: dis + appoint + ment. It is also possible to construct a word tree to show how the three morphemes combine with one another. By comparing other words with the prefix dis- and the suffix -ment, we can determine the order in which they combine. The prefix dis-occurs in verbs such as dislike, disregard and distrust and attaches to verbs. The suffix -ment occurs in nouns such as government, improvement and development. It also attaches to verbs.

The word "disappointment" can combine in one of two possible ways. The solution is either disappoint + ment or dis + appointment. The first possibility combines a verb with the suffix -ment. This is the pattern in words such as improvement and development. The second solution combines the prefix dis- with nouns. However, this is not correct. The prefix dis- does not attach to nouns but rather to verbs such as "dislike" and "distrust". As a result, we reject this solution and choose the former. The rule is that the prefix dis- attaches to verbs and the suffix -ment also attaches to verbs. Therefore, the verb disappoint attaches to the suffix -ment. We can illustrate this as follows:

dis (Af) + appoint (V) V + -ment (Af) = disappointment (N).

The symbol Af stands for affix. This is a convenient term which can refer to either a prefix or a suffix.

With nouns such as "worker", "farmer" and "painter", it is clear that they consist of two morphemes, a noun and an agentive suffix -er. This suffix creates nouns known as agents which are introduced by the preposition "by" in passive sentences.

Less clear, however, is the classification of the root. Is it a noun or a verb? The words "work", "farm" and "paint" function as both nouns and verbs.

Evidence in support of the answer can be found in other words. The nouns "singer", "seller", "buyer" and "teacher" consist of roots which are verbs rather than nouns. Therefore, we can analyze the roots of words with the agentive suffix -er as verbs.

In the study of English morphology, the order in which morphemes combine with one another is not always immediately obvious. By comparing words with the same morphemes, though, it becomes possible to determine the order of morphemic combinations. In other cases, the classification of a root is not immediately clear. However, this can be determined by locating other words which belong to only one grammatical category. English morphology is really a very fascinating study of word formation in English.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Classification of Four Parts of Speech

Four parts of speech can be classified with a binary system which uses the symbols N and V. They stand for noun and verb. These four parts of speech are nouns, verbs, adjectives and prepositions.

Pronouns are similar to nouns in the sense that they replace them and can be classified with nouns as substantives. Adverbs are closely associated with verbs because they modify them. Conjunctions and interjections are not as great in number as other parts of speech but have very useful functions. Conjunctions serve to combine clauses and interjections to express a wide range of emotions.

Since every sentence must consist of a noun and a verb, it is logical to use the symbols N and V to represent nouns, verbs, adjectives and prepositions. In the imperative "Sleep!", no noun is present, but the pronoun "you", a substantive, is understood.

Nouns can be classified as +N, -V. Therefore, verbs can be classified as -N, +V.

In this system, the classification of nouns and verbs is clear. Nouns and verbs share opposite features. However, the classification of adjectives and prepositions is less clear.

Adjectives can be similar to nouns. For example, the sentences "I'm a Canadian" and "I'm Canadian" are similar. In the first sentence, the complement "Canadian" is a noun and in the second it is an adjective. This provides evidence that adjectives are similar to nouns.

Adjectives can also be similar to verbs. In Japanese, the adjective for cold is "samui". However, it was cold is "samukatta" in which a past tense verb ending is suffixed to the adjective. This same verb ending can be seen in the sentence "Wakatta" which means I understood. The pronoun does not need to be expressed but if emphasis is needed, one can say "Watashi wa wakatta". The particle "wa" is a subject marker. This example illustrates that adjectives can also behave like verbs. For this reason, adjectives are considered to have properties of both nouns and verbs.

Since adjectives can behave as both nouns and verbs, they are classified as +N, +V. This leaves prepositions, parts of speech which express the relationship between two nouns. For example, the sentence "The car is on the road" expresses the relationship between the nouns "car" and "road". Prepositions are functional parts of speech unlike nouns, verbs and adjectives which have lexical meaning. They are so different from nouns and verbs that they are classified as -N, -V.

The binary system with the symbols N and V can be used to classify four parts of speech. This system highlights the importance of nouns and verbs, the properties which adjectives share with them, and the very different nature of prepositions from nouns, verbs and adjectives.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Afrikaans "r"

It has recently come to my attention that the "r" in Afrikaans is not pronounced by all speakers as an alveolar trill. In fact, it has many variants. Some pronounce it as a dorsal, a uvular or velar fricative while others pronounce it as an approximant. The latter is similar to the "r" used in English. Thus, the "r" in Afrikaans has many variants just as the "r" in Dutch.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

extension and intension

Semantics teaches that we can differentiate between the extension and the intension of a term. The extension is also known as the denotation and the intension is known as the connotation.

The current Prime Minister of Canada is Stephen Harper. Since Canada became a nation in 1867, it has had a number of prime ministers starting with John A. MacDonald. The prime minister is the leader of the government of Canada, the person whose party has the most seats in the House of Commons. This is known as the intension of "prime minister". It can also be called the denotation.

However, when people speak about the prime minister, it is likely that they speak about a specific individual. If they speak about the current prime minister, they speak about Stephen Harper. This is known as the extension of "prime minister". This can also be called the connotation.

This distinction between extension and intension can be applied to many situations. For example, "fastest land animal in the world", "president of Mexico", "capital of Brazil", "Olympic city" and "King of France" have different intensions and extensions.

The fastest land animal in the world is the animal which can run faster than any other. This is the intension of "fastest land animal". The extension is the cheetah.

The president of Mexico is the person who is the head of the Mexican government. This is the intension. The extension is the current Mexican president, Felipe Calderon.

The capital of Brazil is the city which is the seat of the Brazilian government. At one time, this was Rio de Janeiro. However, the current capital of Brazil is Brasilia. This is an example which illustrates that the extension of a term can change for not only people but also cities.

The term "Olympic city" refers to a city which hosts either the Summer or Winter Games. Many cities have been Olympic cities. The last city to host the Summer Games was Beijing and the last city to hold the Winter Games was Turin. To know the extension of Olympic City, it is necessary to specify the Olympic year.

The King of France is the French head of state. However, France no longer has a king because the French monarchy ended with the French Revolution of 1789.

Thus, this term can refer to past kings of France such as Louis XIV but cannot refer to any present king because France no longer has any. If referring to the present, we must say that the extension is null because at present France has a present as head of state and not a king.

It is useful to differentiate between the extension and intension of a term. When people speak, they may refer to either the extension or the intension. In some cases, they may even refer to both.