Parts of Speech

As mentioned in one of the videos, we often use two means to define what a syntactic category or part of speech is in a given language: the semantic approach and the formal approach. When we are very young, we are told to define nouns as ‘people, places, and things’ and then we may ask the question, ‘But teacher, what of the word beauty?’  and then be told unsatisfactorily that this is a ‘thing’.  This is what is known as a semantic approach. We like to define categories by their meaning (by relating them to things we have understanding of). However, another approach which is probably closer to how children actually learn language is the formal approach. We look at the structural environment in which a particular word (lexical item) occurs in order to define its syntactic category. For example the teacher in the example above might say something like: ‘Ah! Good question. Normally we would look to see if we could count the item  and mark it with a plural(one cat, two cats). In the case of beauty, we cannot as it is an abstract noun. However, we can precede it with a determiner (the cat) and it can serve as the subject of a sentence (Beauty is only skin deep), thus formally we must conceive of it as being a noun.’ Of course this would confuse the fuck out of a second grader.  But also think about how when we learn other languages we often know their part of speech just by how they are used in a sentence or what morphemes they occur with. Consider how we construct syntactic categories and even parts of speech in nonsense words in poems like the Jabberwocky.

If one examines the Schoolhouse Rock videos in the PowerPoint I shared in the weekly overview, one can see how they use both formal and semantic approaches to teaching parts of speech. I would like you to choose whichever of them strikes your fancy and discuss how the video uses both meaning and structure to define the part of speech defined in the cartoon, using a nonsense word you create. You should ‘like’ the one that you think is most complete. post Parts of Speech first appeared on Quality University Essay.


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