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Comparative typology of the English and Russian languages

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Comparative typology of the English and Russian languages

Lecture 1 Typology as a branch of linguistics

Plan

  1. The object and aims of typology

  2. Language universale

  3. Language type

  4. Methods of typological studies

1. The object and aims of typology

Comparative studies in linguistics differ in the methods used and purposes pursued. One of the trends appeared in the XIX century and is traditionally called comparative linguistics. It dealt with comparison historically. Its objective was to establish genetical affinity of languages. It was also meant to reconstruct the protolanguage which was supposed to be a common linguistic parent for kindred languages. Comparative linguistics classified languages according to their origin and affinity. A great many language families and groups were established by this trend.

But languages can also be compared without regard for their history and affinity. This approach is called comparative typological studies. It also originated in XIX century. Comparative typology is a branch of linguistics comparing languages in order to establish their similarities and differences. Its object is not singular and individual cases of similarity and difference but those which are common for large groups of language elements. Comparative typology classifies languages according to their structure. Although languages may differ in their material (i.e. have no words of the same root, or common morphemes) their structure (i.e. relations between the elements, functions of the elements) may be similar.

e.g. The Russian and Bulgarian languages are kindred languages. Their material is similar. They have many words of the same root. However, structurally they are different. The Russian language has a system of six cases and the Bulgarian language has no category of case.

The English, Turkic and Chinese languages are very different materially. Their origin is different. However, in all these languages, an adjective can precede a noun and there is no grammatical agreement between these parts of speech. Therefore, they belong to the same structural type.

Another aim of comparative typology is to establish the most general characteristics common for several or all languages. Such characteristics are called language universale.

2. Language universale

Language universals can be absolute or relative. Absolute universale are true for every human language.

e.g. Every language has vowels and consonants; every language has pronouns; every language has proper names, polysemantic words; every language has syllables formed after the model CV; all the languages have occlusive consonants; if a language has two nasal consonants they are [n] and [m].

Relative universals are true only for a certain group of languages.

e.g. There's a group of languages all of which have systems of declension and conjugation. Consequently, they have agreement and government. These phenomena are universal for most Slavish languages.

Some universals show implications on which the structure of a language level is based. Such universals were first introduced by Joseph Greenberg. They say: "If a language has element A in its structure it is likely (or sure) to have element B'.

e.g. "If a language has only suffixes (but not prefixes) it also has postpositions; if a language has only prefixes (but not suffixes) it also has prepositions".

Some universals refer to a synchronic state of a language; others describe the language diachronically. They characterize general laws of language development.

e.g. In some Indo-European languages sound changes are a result of assimilation. Hushing sounds and affricates were formed as a result of palatalization before front vowels. This process is universal for the Russian, English, Swedish, Italian and some other Indo-European languages.

e.g. Рус: к - ч (пеку - печешь)

Eng: k - ch (cild - child) - IX - X centuries

Ital: k - ch (Caesar [kesar] - Chesaro) - classical Latin - Modern Italian

3. Language types

The first attempts to classify languages according to their structure were made in the XIX century. Friedrich Schlegel classified languages into two types: inflexional (having word endings) and non-inflexional (having affixes). His brother August Schlegel suggested distinguishing one more group: languages without any grammatical structure (showing grammar relations by word order). Wilhelm Humboldt added one more group and gave all the types the names by which they are still known:

1. Inflexional languages. Grammar relations are shown in these languages by means of

polysemantic morphemes.

e.g. Рус. временной The inflexion -ой belongs to an adjective of masculine gender, singular, in nominative case.

Roots can very rarely be used as a separate word (c.f. *врем).

Indo-European and Semitic languages belong to inflexional languages.

2. Agglutinating languages. Grammar relations are shown by a series of monosemantic
morphemes, "glued" to each other.

e.g. Turkish: Okul (школа) - okullar (школы) - okullarimiz (наши школы) - okkularimizda (в наших школах).

Roots can be used as independent words (c.f. okul)

Turkic languages can serve as an example of agglutinating languages.

3. Isolating languages. They have no word changing morphemes. Grammar relations are
shown by word order.

The Chinese language belongs to this group.

4. Polysynthetic languages. Words in the languages of this group are united so that a
phrase or a sentence may consist of a single word.

Such structure is found in the Chukchi language, some Indian languages.

Scholars used to think that the types of languages corresponded to stages of language development. So they thought that once every language was isolating by its structure and through the other stages is to become inflexional sooner or later. Some looked upon this process as "perfecting" of the language, others thought it to be "degrading". Modern linguistics is against the idea of "better" or "worse" languages.

Another drawback of this first classification is that it takes into account only the morphological structure of the word. Later classifications were made on a broader basis.

Typological characteristics of languages:

  1. The proportion of vowels in the total number of phonemes and palatalization of consonants. In vocalic languages consonants may be vowelized, consonants can form syllables, double consonants are pronounced as single sounds. In consonant languages consonants may be palatalized, consonants can't form syllables, double consonants are pronounced as two sounds. The Russian language is considered a consonant one.

  2. Differentiation or lack of differentiation of the word, phrase and sentence. Inflexional, agglutinating and isolating languages differentiate between the word and the sentence. Polysynthetic languages don't differentiate between them.

  3. Existence or non-existence of grammar markers. Inflexional and agglutinating languages have grammar markers and differentiate between parts of speech. Isolating languages don't have grammar markers and parts of speech.

  4. Polysemy or monosemy of grammar affixes. In inflexional languages, affixes express several grammar meanings at the same time. Agglutinating languages have separate affixes for each meaning.

  5. Type of grammatical structure. In synthetic languages word forms are expressed by affixes, in analytical languages word forms are made up by separate auxiliary words.

f) Type of phrase structure. Some languages don't have a fixed word order in a phrase, in
others the word order is strict.

e.g. In Russian an attribute may go before or after a noun, in English it goes before a noun, in French it goes after a noun.

g) Type of subject-predicate structure. According to the classification by Ivan Ivanovitch
Mestchaninov there are languages of nominative, ergative and passive structure.

  • In nominative languages the doer of the action is expressed by the grammatical subject of the sentence. The subject is in the nominative case. Such languages have the category of voice. Most Indo-European languages have nominative structure.

  • In the languages of the ergative type there is no grammatical subject or object. The doer of the action is not in nominative case but in a special ergative case. Ergative sentences remind of the Russian impersonal construction (e.g. Корову убило молнией) where we can clearly distinguish between the doer and the object of the action, but neither of the nouns is in the nominative case. Ergative structure is characteristic for some Caucasian languages and the Basque language.

  • In the languages of the passive type the subject, the object and the verb are integrated into a single word complex. The Chukchi language and Indian languages are considered to be passive.

h) Word order in a sentence. In most inflexional languages word order is not fixed. In

isolating and agglutinating languages word order is fixed. There are also some inflexional languages which have analytical features. Nouns in such languages have lost their endings and grammar relations are also shown by strict word order. English and Swedish are examples of such languages.

If word order is fixed there may different rules for placing parts of the sentence. There are languages in which the subject is followed by the predicate and the object (S - P - O). Inflexional and isolating languages belong to this type. In other languages the subject is followed by the object, and the verb occupies the final position (S - О - P). The example of this type is agglutinating languages.

i) Elaboration of complex sentences system. There are languages with an elaborate system of

complex sentences (such as inflexional and isolating) and languages with an underdeveloped

complex sentences system (such as agglutinating).

Every language can be classified on the basis of all these criteria. These characteristics are not independent, many of them are interrelated and form a stable system.

e.g. If a language doesn't have inflexions word order in it must be fixed because grammar relations are shown either by inflexions or by word order.

At the same time no language can be an example of a "pure" language type. There exist features of different types in every language.

e.g. English is an Indo-European language and is traditionally classified as inflexional. At the same time it has some features of the agglutinating type: plural ending -s is monosemantic, it expresses nothing but number; there is no grammatical agreement between the noun and the adjective. English has a fixed word order (Subject - Predicate - Object). The same word order is found in the Chinese language, which belongs to the isolating group.

So it's more correct to speak not of a "language type" but of different types within a language. Still, classifications of languages do exist. They are based on the dominant features of the language, and the less relevant characteristics are not taken into account. 4.Methods of typological studies.

The main method of typological studies is the comparative method. Comparative linguistics applies this method as well, but in that trend the elements compared are similar materially, which allows the scholar to establish their genetic affinity. Typology compares elements that are similar functionally.

e.g. The English, Russian and Turkish languages have affixes which form nouns with the meaning "the doer of an action". These are the English affix -er, the Turkish one -ci, the Russian -тель. They consist of different phonemes and have no common origin, but they have the same function in the language. So they can be studied in comparative typology.

Elements compared must have some common, similar (isomorphic) features in different languages.

e.g. All case inflexions express relations between an object and other objects, phenomena or processes.

At the same time the elements of each language have some special (allomorphic) characteristics peculiar for this language.

e.g. Different languages have their own case systems with peculiar case meanings. Isomorphic characteristics serve as a basis for typological classification. They are called typological constants. One of typological constants is existence of the category of case. Using it, we can classify all languages into two groups: the ones having a system of declension and the ones lacking it. Difference between languages may lie not only in the fact of existence/non-existence of some element, but also in the place of the element within its microsystem.

e.g. In the English language the affix -er is the main means of expressing the idea of "the doer". In the Turkish language the affix -ci and its variants may be added only to nominal stem, and there are also other affixes with the same meaning. In the Russian language there are quite a lot of suffixes with this meaning and -тель is just one of them.

When two languages are compared one of them serves as a prototype. For language students such a prototype is usually their native language. But the description of the English language by Russian-speaking students will differ considerably from the one made by French-speaking students. We can't get a really scientific, objective description in this way. A "neutral" language must be found, which can serve as a prototype for any language. Boris Andreevitch Uspenskiy suggested using isolating languages as prototypes because their structure is the simplest, and features isomorphic for all languages are explicit and distinct in them. But other scholars argue that the structure of isolating languages is not as simple as it seems, and some artificial prototype language must be constructed for the purposes of typological comparison.

Typological characteristics of a language revealed with the help of comparison of this language to a prototype language are correlated. They form a system. According to Georgiy Pavlovitch MeFnikov some elements and phenomena of this system occupy the leading position in it and the speaker subconsciously chooses such language means which are in harmony with the leading tendency. This leading grammatical tendency was given the name of determinant.

e.g. The Semitic languages (according to G.P. Mefnikov) have a tendency to grammaticalization. That's why verbal meaning is prevalent in word roots, consonants are used for expressing lexical meaning and vowels are used for expressing grammatical meanings. The Chinese language has a tendency to lexicalization. It doesn't express explicitly the information which is clear from the context (plurality is expressed only when not clear from the context).

Differences between languages can be quantified. A quantitative method was introduced by Joseph Greenberg. It is called the method of typological indices.

The most typical approach presupposes comparing languages "level by level", i.e. the phonological level of one language is compared to the phonological level of the other, then the morphological, the syntactical, the lexical levels are compared. However, similar functions can be performed by elements of different levels in different languages, e.g. I don't lend my books to anyone (phonology) Я не даю моих книг никому (vocabulary) I don't lend my books to anyone (phonology) Я не даю моих книг кому попало, (vocabulary)

Вы знаете, где магазин, (phonology) You know where the shop is. (Syntax) Вы знаете, где магазин? (phonology) Do you know where the shop is?

Литература к курсу сравнительной типологии

  1. Аракин В.Д. Сравнительная типология английского и русского языков. - М., 2000

  2. Резвецова М.Д., Афанасьева О.В., Самохина Т.С. Практикум по сравнительной типологии английского и русского языков.- М., 1989

  3. Учебник английского языка для средней школы



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