LINGUIST List 7.567

Tue Apr 16 1996

Disc: Ungrammatical sentences, Lang & movies

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Robert Beard, Re: 7.552, Disc: Ungrammatical sentences
  2. Torsten Leuschner, Re: 7.535, Misc: Lang & the movies

Message 1: Re: 7.552, Disc: Ungrammatical sentences

Date: Sat, 13 Apr 1996 21:49:47 EDT
From: Robert Beard <>
Subject: Re: 7.552, Disc: Ungrammatical sentences
I read with interest Professor Shaumyan's comments on the relation of
grammatical function to lexical meaning. I am pleased to discover that we
have come to approximately the same conclusions in our research. I must,
however, take issue with two of Shaumyan's contentions. First, he claims
that grammatical morphemes are often fraught with semantic content. I have
argued vigorously that this is not the case; that the difference between
semantic and grammatical categories is sharp and clear and, if we define the
terms we use in discussing morphological (functional) categories, we may
tidily define how one is mapped onto the other. Consider Shaumyan's
interpretation of this example:

>girl reads book
>`The girl reads a book'
>In the transliteration of the Russian sentence the hyphens are used to
>present in a simplified form an analysis of the words into grammatical
>and content morphemes. The first word consists of the content morpheme
>DEVOCHK `girl' and the grammatical morpheme A. The grammatical
>morpheme A denotes a bundle of grammatical meanings: 1) nominative
>case and simultaneously subject, 2) feminine gender, 3) singular. 

So far as I can tell, the case ending -a marks 1) Nominative case 2)
declension II, the first of which is a syntactic relation while the second
is a purely arbitrary lexical category containing bereft of any intensional
or extensional significance of any kind. It is not clear that -a denotes
singularity or whether we deduce that from declension II, which is a
singular lexical category (a point which I will address in the next Formal
Approaches to Slavic Linguistics conference in May). _Devochka_ also
possesses feminine natural gender but that must be deduced from the meaning
of the lexical item, since _sobak-a_ 'dog', _knig-a_ 'book', and _zavodil-a_
'busy-body', which may refer to either sex ,all contain the same ending.
Therefore, when one uses a vocabulary of carefully defined terms, the
semantic relevance of grammatical morphemes fades rapidly. 
The other claim made by Shaumyan which does not bear up to scrutiny is:

>Every morpheme is a bilateral entity consisting of sign and meaning. 

What is the meaning of the morphemes -at and -al in terms like
_dram-at-ic-al_? And, on the other hand, what bears the meaning of Agency in
_cook, guide, cheat_? On the one hand this claim is not strictly true; on
the other, even if it were, given the prevalence of zero (omissive)
morphology, ever were this claim true, it would beg the question.
Morphology has to study more than phonological realizations of grammatical
functions if we are to understand grammatical categories for grammatical
categories are conveyed far more often than they are phonologically
expressed. Asymmetrical mapping of some kind is involved here, mapping which
is not accounted for in any of the major current syntactic theories. 

I do agree with Shaumyan's conclusion that:

>The grammatical morphemes belong in grammar, while content morphemes
>belong in the lexicon. If this assumption is correct, then we must
>replace the opposition GRAMMAR/SYNTAX VERSUS SEMANTICS by the

'Lexeme-Morpheme Base Morphology', SUNY Press, 1995 is the theory of just
how that works. However, in that book I demonstrate that there must be a
grammatical level distinct from the lexicon, phonology, syntax, and
semantics. I further demonstrate how the grammatical level, i.e. the level
of morphological categories, is mapped onto the remaining four. Such
mapping must be carried out by algorithms which are equivalent to the
functional parameters of language. The distinction of grammatical and
semantic level is evident in a long series of asymmetries between the two
levels. For example, at the semantic level POSSESSION is a two-place
predicate: POSSESS(XY). However, at the derivational level this function
turns up in most languages in adjectives. Now, since adjectives take only
one argument, in languages around the globe we find two adjective
derivations, the possessional and possessive adjectives, e.g. Serbo-Croatian
_brad-at brat_ 'bearded brother' vs. _brat-ov-a brad-a_ '(my) brother's
beard'. The same split is found in the Genitive case where we find
possessive and possessional Genitives: _the honor of the woman_ vs. _a
woman of honor_. In each instance _of_ marks the Genitive, but different
arguments of POSSESSION(XY) in either instance. The functions of
possessivity and possessionality are marked by too many different kinds of
morphology across too many different languages to ignore. We can't conclude
that the suffices -ov and -at in SC and the Genitive marker in all languages
are themselves semantic operators. (See LMBM for many more such examples.)

If we claim that grammatical functions and lexical sense are both 'meaning',
then that term itself becomes meaningless. I agree with Richard DeArmond
that we need to more closely define these terms and hope that I have at
least taken the first step towards such definition in LMBM and the
subsequent articles and papers. However, if the definitions I suggest are
as robust as they currently seem to be, lexemes are (1) only N, V, and A
stems, (2) have sense and reference, (3) derive, (4) can neither be empty or
nully realized, and (5) all belong to open classes. Grammatical morphemes
are none of these. 

- RBeard
- ---------------------------------------------------------
Robert Beard Bucknell University
Russian & Linguistics Programs Lewisburg, PA 17837 717-524-1336
Russian Program
Morphology on Internet
- ---------------------------------------------------------
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Message 2: Re: 7.535, Misc: Lang & the movies

Date: Mon, 15 Apr 1996 18:24:05 +0200
From: Torsten Leuschner <>
Subject: Re: 7.535, Misc: Lang & the movies
Regarding a contribution from Jack Aubert in 7.535:

> I have always wondered the extent to which older movies accurately
> reflect contemporary speech patterns. People in older movies seem to
> speak more rapidly, but there is also something different that is hard
> to put one's finger on. A kind of intensity, perhaps. Have
> filmmakers simply learned to do more realistic dialog or have things
> like speed and intonation of speach really changed? 

I believe the former is the case. Even if it is true that earlier film
dialogue was not acted according to realistic turn-taking patterns (as was
suggested on this discussion before), this does not mean that people didn't
have their turns overlap until "Citizen Cane" came around! 

What a highly artificial art form early movies were is proved by the way
verbal and body language interacted for a while after sound was invented: 
actors continued to use surreally exaggerated body movement, facial
expression etc., just like they were used to from the old silent films.
(Obviously, no-one would want to suggest that that is how people moved in
real life in those days.) The actual amount of spoken language also continued
to be noticably small (in German films at any rate, e.g. "M" and other
classics from the early 1930's). It seems to have taken directors and
screen-play writers quite some time to trust spoken language enough and
reduce body language to a level more in accord with our idea of realism in
communication. Could it be that this tradition lived on for a good while in
the training and practice of many actors and directors? 

Torsten Leuschner

(Freie Universitaet Berlin)
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