LINGUIST List 9.669

Thu May 7 1998

Disc: Parts-of-Speech

Editor for this issue: Julie Wilson <>


  1. Earl Herrick, parts-of-speech

Message 1: parts-of-speech

Date: Mon, 04 May 1998 12:14:09
From: Earl Herrick <>
Subject: parts-of-speech

Just to add a comment to what Manaster has said: We shouldn't take the
Parts Of Speech too seriously as a classificational device for grammatical
studies. The original list of them arose because the Greek grammarians
found it convenient to group words into eight groups when discussing Greek
grammar. But then the idea that there are exactly eight Parts Of Speech
took on a life of its own: to write a good grammar, one had to find *the*
eight Parts Of Speech of a language. Even the Roman grammarians faked the
list by elevating the interjection to a Part Of Speech because they needed
an extra one (Greek had articles and Latin didn't). 

Even today, the Parts Of Speech, as they are taught in the schools to
English-speaking school children, are an illogical, messy list. Two of
them, the Noun and the Verb, have semantic definitions masquerading as
grammatical/syntactic definitions. The others have more or less syntactic
definitions in terms of the Noun and the Verb. And when schoolteachers
believe (and teach) that syntax consists entirely of hanging one of eight
labels onto each word, their students become mightily confused and think
that grammar is, at best, a mystery that one is supposed to recite in
school but that has no connection to reality.

The eight Parts Of Speech used by the Roman grammarians for Latin made a
little more sense. For them, nouns and adjectives were the same Part Of
Speech because they were inflected in the same categories. And the
Participle was a separate Part Of Speech because it participated(!) in both
the case inflection of the Noun and the tense inflection of the Verb. 

C. C. Fries may have been right when he analyzed English and simply refused
to use the traditional Part Of Speech terms because people had too many
assumptions about what they meant.
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