glogo0.jpg (2K)

Turm zu Babel

Universality of grammar and grammatical universals (1)

von August Dauses


Chapter 1: Isolating versus inflecting and agglutinating languages
Chapter 2: Grammatical morphemes as relative indicators and concomitant phenomena
Chapter 3: Grammatical marking, classification and word formation
Chapter 4: Grammar and linguistic history
Chapter 5: Schematic, pleonastic and secondary usage
Chapter 6: New categories - new redundancies


In the following we will give a summary of the general language theory we have developed during the last few years (Dauses, A., Einführung in die allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft 1997; Englisch und Französisch. Zwei indogermanische Sprachen im Vergleich, 1998; Ökonomie und Kybernetik natürlicher Sprachen, 2000; all published by Franz Steiner) together with a number of further thoughts developed in the meantime and produced as a consequence of our theory. This enables us to define grammar universally and to delimit it from vocabulary and at the same time we are in the position to explain where exactly in a sentence grammatical markings and grammatical morphemes can occur in the various languages of the world. In a first step, we will examine what kinds of grammatical markings which we are more or less familiar with from our Indo-European languages are missing in other languages (or also in some of the Indo-European languages).

If we imagine a fictitious language, in which all kinds of grammatical markings are missing or used to be missing, we come to the principles of an isolating language, of a language then which can do with a minimum of markings.

After that we will inquire into the nature of grammar and into its delimitation from vocabulary and word formation. If grammar cannot be determined onomasiologically, then what use is the unity of grammatical categories that are so different among themselves? Could it be its merely relative character?

Finally, we will ask the question to what extent grammatical morphemes can be characterized as 'weak' linguistic signs with also many analogous usages and secondary usages (respectively secondary meaning) and why languages which have a lot of grammar never cease to produce new morphemes and new categories that nonetheless are still found in that framework we instinctively consider to be grammar.

1. Isolating versus inflecting and agglutinating languages

When talking about grammar, we first and foremost think of morphology and morphosyntax, that is of indications of case and number as far as the noun is concerned, the marking of person, tense, mode and aspect regarding the verb; we think of the usage of prepositions, articles, pronouns, of the formation of the adverb from the adjective, of the usage of some conjunctions, etc. So it seems to us quite natural that these grammatical categories exist and also that the corresponding grammatical morphemes have to be learnt alongside fixed rules concerning their usage. These rules range from more or less force of habit to the so-called 'obligatory' usage. Occasionally, these grammatical morphemes are so closely linked with the lexeme that the lexeme on its own does not occur any more (cf. Latin canto) and in many cases the marking is such a force of habit that an 'ellipsis' at least seems very disconcerting, cf. the fictitious answer *Yes, see. to the question Do you see the house? The answer without subject and object pronouns, which appears strange to us, includes however all relevant pieces of information, because it becomes quite clear from the context who sees what, and in Japanese this answer would be the only possible one. And when a Japanese says (in imitation) *See house., this could mean I see a house, the house, houses, the houses. Personal pronouns are rarely used in the subjective case; there are no articles and there is no marking of number. Therefore we cannot speak in terms of number or article in the Japanese grammar, and the personal pronouns are not integral parts of the verb either as it is the case with Indo-European languages (English I see him) so that it remains to be reflected upon whether in the Japanese language they have to be regarded as grammar in the stricter sense. Not every economical and economically used (!) linguistic sign belongs to grammar, for grammar according to our understanding also means usage according to set rules and therefore not only in those cases when the relevant piece of information is necessary for understanding! We will come back to this point later.

Grammatical categories and markings, which we take for granted, are therefore by no means universal, and this is most evident when we compare different languages, language stages and language types. The way this becomes most explicit is to consider isolating languages (for example Chinese, Vietnamese), which, in simplified terms, can be called languages without morphology.

Such languages operate with syntax in order to mark the relations in a sentence and otherwise use only full words (with a few exceptions). As a consequence, they have no grammatical rules in our sense either (or only very few).

Yet, we do by no means have to learn Chinese in order to understand the principles of an isolating language, a language which therefore is poor in grammar and economical (!). Instead, we construct a fictitious language which can do without morphological markings and ask ourselves what kinds of alternatives are needed to respect the necessary distinctions in order not to put at risk communication. By doing this, it will soon be clear what we intuitively understand by grammar and morphology and by which means they differ from vocabulary, but at the same time it will also be clear that many phenomena of our Indo-European grammars are not necessary per se, but that they are also due to a background of linguistic history.

As a consequence, we do at first without the constant marking of the person as far as the verb is concerned (by means of the personal ending or subject pronouns) and we use this kind of marking only in case the person is newly introduced or a change takes place (*I went to town, had breakfast, smoked a cigarette, went back. Met a friend. He said…). The Japanese or also isolating languages show us that this is perfectly possible. We would only have to pay attention to avoid confusion between a noun and a homonymous verb (fish – I fish; fire – I fire etc.). This can most easily be achieved by avoiding to use the same root of a noun and a verb that are homonymous but that have a completely different meaning. Instead of taking this verb, we take a completely different word or use a periphrastic construction (for example *to catch fish for to fish); at least this is the way the Japanese and the Chinese languages work. This kind of economy (the elimination of the personal marking) is detrimental to the equally economical possibility of word formation. However, we would also like to qualify that by saying that this kind of word formation in the Indo-European languages has from the first day onwards by no means been used systematically (that is as far as all nouns are concerned) and that it is also economical in a restricted sense, because the verb just includes one of thousands of possibilities of dealing with an object (you cannot only catch fish; you can also kill, fry, eat, sell, cut, feed it, etc.). This means that we always have to rely on further lexematic means respectively 'periphrastic constructions'.

Consequently, the obligatory marking of the person as far as the verb in the Indo-European languages is concerned goes back to word formation. The personal sign becomes an intrinsic part of the verb and remains that way, also in cases where the noun and the verb have grown apart from each other to such an extent that it is impossible to confound them any longer. (cf. German Gang – gehen; Wille – wollen; Gesang – singen, etc.). This results in a marked redundancy, which has a further consequence: languages that normally mark the subject with the verb by means of a personal ending or by a personal pronoun, analogously make use of an object pronoun with clockwork regularity (Ich sehe ihn; er sieht mich; wir sehen es, etc.). In this case the Japanese is much more economical and more sensitive as far as the context is concerned, as well as the Chinese as an isolating language, which does not know the obligatory usage of object pronouns; it is only more frequent there, because otherwise the verb would be understood in a passive sense (Ich sehe = ich sehe/ ich werde gesehen).

In a next step, we also eliminate the tenses, which help us in the Indo-European languages to recognize the verbs, and use instead time adverbs and a neutral verb form (present tense): *Yesterday I go to London, meet my friend.

For less specific indications we use for example once or some time ago in order to make a positioning in the past possible (it works similarly in the Vietnamese language), and naturally we use these indications just once at the beginning of the text and not in every single sentence. We would not repeat the adverb yesterday continuously either.

We can also do without further past tenses: it is by no means necessary to distinguish the ‘aorist’ from the perfect and it is by no means that all languages have this distinction either (cf. Latin, spoken French, Japanese, etc.). We even less need a pluperfect: the sequence of events usually results from the context or can be expressed by an adverb or a conjunction (after he came…). Sequence versus simultaneity can finally also be distinguished by marking the progress expressing simultaneity (consequently: He had breakfast. I came. – He was having breakfast. I came.).

The future tense is unknown to many languages or only rarely used, too (Old English, vulgar Latin, spoken German, Japanese). Adverbs together with the present tense are sufficient, all the more the future event often expresses a wish, a hope or an obligation so that you can also use the corresponding verbs.

Later on, such verbs developed a morphological future in some Indo-European languages, too (I will go; French j'irai < ire habeo).

We do not need a morphological category of aspect that would be necessary to express that a verbal action is in progress either. To express that, theoretically also adverbs (for example English just, German gerade) or periphrastic constructions (French être en train de…), consequently lexematic means are sufficient, which we only use when the emphasis of the progress seems especially important to us. This makes it possible to avoid the redundant marking of the aspect, which is used in English.

The morphological category of mode respectively subjunctive is even less needed: we express desire, hope or doubt with verbs or modal adverbs (to want, to hope, to doubt respectively probably, perhaps, etc.). We just need a particle for the imperative as a sentence mode, possibly also for the question in case intonation is not sufficient.

Sentences in the passive voice on the other hand can frequently be substituted by sentences in the active voice (Der Hund wird vom Vater geschlagen = Der Vater schlägt den Hund), or they can be substituted in a sentence consisting of a subject and a verb simply by omitting the object in the sentence (consequently: *we love = we are loved); as it is the case in Chinese; cf. also English the office opens at 5 o'clock = 'the office is/ will be opened at 5 o'clock'). The Chinese language, however, is more sensitive as far as the context is concerned and more flexible than Indo-European languages with their binary decisions (on whether to use the active or passive voice). Consequently, a fictitious *Lange nicht sehen (for example after a greeting) can in theory be interpreted as we have not been seen for a long time or simply as we have not seen each other for a long time. On the whole, isolating languages are by far more flexible than those having morphological markings.

However, we can not only eliminate markings concerning the verb, but also those concerning the noun. We take it for granted that most nouns are marked as far as the number is concerned. But instead of this schematic and less specific marking (singular = 'at least one object', plural = 'more than one object') we could also use flexible indications of quantity ('some', 'more', 'many' etc.) and otherwise leave it to the context how the noun should be interpreted (fictitious: *I see the house = the house/the houses; cf. English I bought the fish!).

By comparison, if we use our plural, we leave it open, too, whether it is a question of two, three or more objects. Isolating languages, but also the Japanese language perfectly show that this system functions as well.

We can also do without the marking of the case functions by using morphemes as modern English and French show, simply by marking syntactically the distinction between a subject and an object or the one between a direct or an indirect object.

The genitive as well could be substituted by a syntactic means: father's love = *father love; this is the way the genitive is marked in Chinese (also without the attributive particle de), and likewise even further attributes (to our understanding the adjective, the relative clause, the adverb as an attribute of the verb) can be marked by the position on the left of the word it refers to.

We do not need case or prepositions for indications of place either, but we can use nominal concepts alternatively (cf. for example an der Seite, am Rande, im Inneren), consequently that which we have understood by lexemes so far, which we only use in case they are necessary for understanding, but not according to set rules and which therefore are redundant once again (especially as governed cases or prepositions). In Japanese, Turkish or Chinese we are not allowed to count such nominal concepts (instead of prepositions) as grammar either, but we have to consider them as a part of vocabulary. A grammatical luxury is furthermore the continuous use of the definite and indefinite article in the Romance and the Germanic languages. They are missing in many languages of the world (Japanese, Turkish, Chinese) and they had to be developed in the Romance and Germanic languages. The indication that something has already been mentioned is rarely useful. As a consequence, we just need an auxiliary sign enabling us to point out that it is not about an already mentioned, but a completely new object, for which the Latin language uses the pronoun quidam 'any', which is only used very rarely as well.

Other functions on the other hand (the existence of alternatives/ the non-existence of alternatives: er ging zum Schrank und holte eine Socke/ das Gewehr), are only weakly marked in so far as the context and our knowledge of the world (more often than not you have several socks, but rarely several guns in a normal cupboard) are normally sufficient in order to understand the meaning so that a classification becomes necessary in only very special situations.

And you will not use the possessive pronoun analogously and redundantly either in languages in which it is not marked continuously that there is no alternative to the object already mentioned (definite article) (cf. English I wash my hair; he nodded his head; cf. also the German 'dativus commodi' of the personal pronoun: ich wasche mir die Haare). This pronoun only becomes useful when it refers to an unknown person.

The adverbial function does not have to be marked morphologically, if adjective and adverb can be distinguished syntactically (English the honest father works honestly; French le père honnête travaille honnêtement) and in English we also have morphologically unmarked adverbs (think different).

We do not need a copula that is free of redundancies in our language either (my father is a teacher/ tired), because we do not use a tense there either, but time adverbs and a neutral form of the verb. If the Chinese language uses an old demonstrative pronoun instead of a copula between two nouns (in imitation: *father, that teacher, 'my father, that is a teacher') then only because in Chinese the juxtaposition of two nouns can also be understood as a genitive syntactic construction ('father's teacher'). Sometimes economical (isolating) languages reach their limits, too and have to use auxiliary signs in order to avoid ambiguities!

We can also do without further 'copulative' elements; we especially think of certain conjunctions like 'und' or 'that'. A sequence of events is mostly understandable due to the context (cf. Er kam am Morgen und ging am Nachmittag; er kam und erklärte mir…), cf. therefore also Latin veni, vidi, vici. Even the simultaneity of two events or states of mind does not have to be marked by an (actually ambiguous or polysemous) conjunction, cf. er schrie und weinte. Similarly we do not need a conjunction 'daß' that can be missing in English (He said he was tired) either. Such a conjunction does by no means exist in all languages and can be explained historically by the redundant usage of a neutral object pronoun (He is tired. I see that. > I see that: he is tired. > I see that he is tired). The redundant pronoun could be explained as the redundant marking of the object pronoun. Consequently, redundancy generates new redundancy, and finally the conjunction goes back to the Indo-European splitting of a word stem into a noun and a verb, which made personal endings necessary and which led to the fact that analogously to the marking of the subject (by means of the verb ending) also the object became more frequent. The conjunction 'to' introducing the objective infinitive (He asked me to come) is dispensable as well and it would be possible to simplify the whole construction: *He ask (without ending or tense) I come. It is this way we are more and more approaching the isolating language structure. 'Copulative' prepositions like English to start to, French commencer à…etc. would be dispensable, too.

Now we can understand better that grammatical morphemes or what we consider them to be are mainly characterised by being used highly schematically. In fact, the speaker does not always subtly distinguish whether the morpheme in the context is more or less useful or whether it would also be dispensable there so that you can also speak of a redundant usage. We only have to think of the continuous use of the tenses or of the continuous use of personal ending or pronouns together with the verb etc. Consequently, grammatical morphemes are by their nature characterised by being used redundantly - may it also be to a varying extent. This is also meant implicitly whenever you are speaking of rules applied to the usage of grammatical morphemes whenever you are speaking of the obligatory usage of grammatical morphemes. The term 'obligatory' however has to be slightly qualified, for it first and foremost derives from the normative or didactic grammar: nothing is completely obligatory. Therefore it is perhaps more adequate to speak of habits being fixed to a varying extent, according to which grammatical morphemes are used in a specific context. In fact, we generally prefer to speak of pleonastics instead of redundancy because of various reasons:

  1. There is only redundancy in the sense of the definition if the relevant piece of information is given several times in a sentence or syntactic construction (drei Häuser; nous chantons); in this sense many grammatical morphemes are not redundant, but only hyper-explicit and thereby pleonastic, in so far as they provide the kind of information the listener can deduce from the context without them; we only have to think of anaphoric pronouns or anaphoric tenses (gestern kam Hans; er ging in die Stadt. Dort kaufte er ein Buch...; the subject pronoun and the past tense do not provide new pieces of information).
  2. Some grammatical morphemes are to be expected with high probability in a certain context, but they are not obligatory or redundant in so far as there are also alternative formations or markings so that among other things also stylistic and connotative considerations can play a role when they are selected by the speaker.
In this case we only have to think for example of the choice between several forms of the past or the future (What have you done? – What did you do? The sun will shine – will be shining) of several facultative usages of the Romance subjunctive or of the effects that can result from the omission of special conjunctions ('und', 'daß'). Some markings are also pleonastic and not only redundant in so far as they also express additional meanings or connotations.

However, a decisive criterion for grammatical morphemes remains that they are mostly used according to certain norms so that their occurrence in the context can be calculated with high probability, and furthermore that they provide explicitly the kind of information that can also be deduced from the context (consequently implicitly), which is often closely linked with that.

It is true that also ‘full words’ can be used pleonastically-redundantly (Did you see the house? – Yes, I saw the house), but this is entirely up to the speaker and is restricted to occasional cases. Otherwise, we think of such redundancies as nuisances, cf. *I saw the house. The house was cheap. I bought the house. Now, the house is my property and I like the house; cf. for example also the fictitious redundancy of a time adverb (vs. tense): *Yesterday I went to town: I met a friend of mine yesterday. He told me yesterday that… I answered yesterday…

To summarise, we can now say that isolating languages are characterised by the fact that they mark syntactically the functions in the sentence and the relations and that they use auxiliary signs or particles only to a very limited extent. Grammar in these languages is first and foremost syntax so that there is neither a redundant marking of case, number, tense, nor a redundant usage of pronouns and conjunctions either.

By contrast, the grammar of inflecting languages is highly redundant. The functions and relations in the sentence (you only have to think of case, adverb, object clause, relative clause) are often marked by grammatical morphemes additionally to the syntax, and furthermore there are redundant usages of pronouns, articles, tenses, aspectual markings as well as governments (governed cases, governed modes) and congruencies (number) and much more. Closely linked with that are also numerous additional usages and sub-norms, which results from the schematic use of grammatical morphemes and which makes the learning of grammar of an inflecting language so difficult. We will come back to this point later. We would also like to point out a possible misunderstanding by saying that, whenever we talk of redundancy or pleonastics in the context of grammar, this must not be understood as a recommendation in order to abolish grammar or to simplify it to such an extent that it becomes the grammar of an isolating language. Isolating languages have norms as well, but others than inflecting languages, and those who want to 'abolish' the past tenses in our languages would first have to introduce alternative time adverbs (once, shortly before…).

And those who should ‘abolish’ the subject pronouns in English would have to see to it that there would not be any disturbing homophonies between a verb and a noun (to go – a go; to house – the house); furthermore they would have to introduce a new morpheme distinguishing the imperative from indicative forms (cf. *go = I go or 'go!' etc.). In highly redundant languages the omission of a marking can also fulfil a grammatical function. In a somewhat paradoxical way we could say that it is just the complexity of our grammars which opposes a simplification!

English has sometimes been compared with Chinese and has been considered an isolating language. This applies in the first place to the cases in which the syntax adopts the functions in the sentence (subject – object, possibly also adverb: think different). In other cases you have to take care not to equate analytical formations and an isolating language structure: consequently, it is true that the subject and object pronouns are analytical signs (consequently no bound flexives), but that they are also used highly schematically and therefore also redundantly so that we consider them as part of the verb (I go, you go…, I see him, you see me…).

Consequently, such and further analytical signs and formations remain in the tradition of the inflecting languages, we only have to think of analytical tenses: they are used far more than they are needed and therefore are used redundantly as well as pleonastically. This is exactly why we instinctively count them as grammar.

We have derived our (new) understanding of grammar principally starting out from the comparison of isolating languages with agglutinating and inflecting languages. This has got a big advantage, but also its limits, which we want to illustrate briefly: the advantage consists in the fact that we avoid mistakes due to interference when describing other languages and it consists in the fact that we can graduate things in foreign as well as in our languages: a subject pronoun that is used by far more rarely in Japanese or Chinese than in English or French seems to us also to be less grammatical or even seems to be considered as an integral part of vocabulary. By comparison, we would probably not count dieser Mann or Euer Ehren for 'er' respectively 'you' as grammatical morphemes either. Similarly, nominal concepts of indications of place in Japanese or Chinese (or Turkish) which, corresponding to our Indo-European cases and prepositions, we would count as grammar, would have to be considered as lexemes. In any case, these are not used pleonastically-redundantly here, but only when they are necessary (by contrast, cf. Latin in templo, with the juxtaposition of case and preposition, or English on Monday, with the pleonastic preposition for example in: He will come on Monday or also He goes to London vs. He goes home!) On the other hand, an (aspectual) marking of the progressive form of the verbal action in Chinese (corresponding more or less to the English to be about to…), which is only used when necessary, would also be less grammatical or simply a lexematic periphrastic construction in contrast to the expanded form of the English language, which is mainly used according to set rules and thereby in an obligatory way, consequently also in case the context would be sufficient for the understanding of meaning (I have no time now; I’m going to school). Compare also the expanded form of the English language with the lexematic periphrastic construction in French (être en train de faire…), which is only used in special cases.

By using our method to define grammar, we also avoid mistakes resulting from an onomasiological consideration: not everything expressing time, place, person, etc. can therefore be regarded as grammar, neither in inflecting nor in other languages; and only if we graduate things like this by considering pleonastics as a measure for grammaticality, it is possible for us to separate the tense from indications of time or to make plausible why we prefer to count case as grammar rather than prepositions, which we tend to count as nominal indications (Inneres, Zentrum, Mitte, Vorderseite, etc.), cf. also the following chapter. In contrast, another question to be reflected upon is what a school grammar treats as grammar and by what right. A Latin school grammar for example deals with the different noun and verb classes (cantare, habere, dormire…), so with the allomorphic forms of certain morphemes (for example of the infinitive), which could perhaps also be treated in the chapter about word formation; and a Chinese grammar for Germans will possibly treat in the chapter 'prepositions' that which in Chinese comes close to our prepositions, even if the relevant words (!) have a completely different status there.

Moreover, our method makes it possible to detach ourselves from a mechanical determination of grammatical morphemes and to treat for example all flexives schematically in the same way. The circumstance that a morpheme is closely linked with a lexeme (it is synthesised) must not be a reason to consider it already as a grammatical morpheme, except when we equate grammar with flexion in general. But in this case there would be, apart from flexives, no grammar any longer! The school grammar treats the comparison (for example Latin fortis- fortior) as grammar, perhaps also because you have to learn certain forms. However, it is not pleonastic or redundant per se yet. Similar considerations also apply to the conditional Latin cantarem ('I would sing'): it is used because it is necessary in order to express a condition, and only such constructions as si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses, with a triple marking of the condition are pleonastic-redundant: conjunction + subjunctive. In an isolating language the construction is the following: *si tacere, philosophus manere, even without the marking of the time level, which in this case must derive from the context (cf. also Old French si j'eus = si j'avais or si j'avais eu!).

These considerations should only serve to show that our understanding of grammar is not only identical with a traditional or orthodox concept of grammar, but that it is in some ways more flexible and more adequate for typological and comparative approaches. Not every flexive belongs automatically to grammar, and with regard to the Latin comparison fortis - fortior we would perhaps have to speak of an incorporating morpheme or of a morpheme relative to word formation.

2. Grammatical morphemes as relative indicators and concomitant phenomena

As we have seen, there are languages with many grammatical categories and markings and such with only very few markings (isolating languages). This raises the question as to what the unity of this grammar consists of, the unity of this grammar which despite all the differences relative to the languages of the world also has a lot of characteristics in common with other grammars so that we may suppose a universal principle behind. It is noticeable that - apart from several interference mistakes - we can distinguish grammar from vocabulary in foreign languages quite easily, too, even if this happens rather intuitively.

However, from a linguistic point of view the difference between grammar and vocabulary is by no means that easy and cannot be founded on an onomasiological basis either: apart from abstract relations and functional indications, grammatical categories and markings can at every time be replaced by (more specific) lexemes, consequently a tense by a time adverb, an aspectual marking by a corresponding adverb or a periphrastic construction (for example French être en train de...), the number by an independent indication of quantity, the mode by a modal adverb, a 'weak' conjunction by a more specific lexeme (dann, darauf for and, folgendes for daß). As we can see, there are also more specific lexemes for all grammatical indications.

However, the different grammatical categories among themselves do not form a unity from an onomasiological point of view either, and therefore it is not possible to find a generic term which includes what is common to the different categories.

We could also ask the question as to where the common field lies between the indication of person (as far as the verb is concerned), tense, aspectual marking, case, number, article, copula and certain conjunctions (und, daß). The grammatical categories are far too disparate to be treated as a kind of 'semantic field' or 'morphematic field'.

Consequently, there is no barrier between vocabulary and grammar from an onomasiological point of view and there is no unity of the different grammatical categories from an onomasiological point of view either. So this unity is based on a common behaviour rather than on common contents: grammatical morphemes are used very schematically. They are therefore also highly frequent and convey information that could even without them be deduced from the context so that it is possible to speak of pleonastics or redundancy.

This is also due to the circumstance that grammar represents a system of rules: we do not only learn what a grammatical morpheme means, but also where and when it is used. The speaker of an agglutinating or an inflecting language takes this for granted so that he, in turn, infers grammar from the usage rules. These rules, however, can by no means be taken for granted, but are, at first sight, even paradoxical, because it seems as if the language was dictated to the speaker so that the speaker would only be the executive organ of this language. Such an idea would even have mentalistic implications: in this case the speaker would be the slave of his linguistic system and even of the sentences and texts produced by himself!

As a consequence, we have overlooked something that distinguishes grammatical morphemes from lexematic signs or 'full words'. As far as these 'full words' are concerned, there are no rules dictating to the speaker when he has to use them either.

Obviously, it is not possible to dictate to the speaker about which objects he has to talk and how specifically he has to describe these objects, also because the speaker does perhaps not have this specific knowledge. He may know that his neighbour owns a car, but he does not know whether it is old or new, green or red, big or small or how fast it goes. A rule applying to the usage of such classifications in certain contexts would sooner or later inevitably lead to a nonsensical usage.

Grammatical categories are therefore by no means already to be considered as the basic categories of our thinking and experiencing and cannot be such; and this is the reason why there are for example no grammatical morphemes for size, form, weight, age, speed, rhythm, etc. either.

Consequently, it would be superficial to describe grammatical morphemes only in categories of frequency and less specific meaning: on the one hand, there are less frequent morphemes and on the other hand, there are frequent lexemes being at the same time also less specific; we only have to think of the adjectives for 'good' and 'bad'. Their use is exclusively up to the estimation of the speaker and is not dependent on a rule that would also hardly be possible because of the reasons we have just talked about: The speaker cannot be forced to give a judgement of quality; and similarly he cannot always know whether an object is good or bad (or old or new, etc.). However, if an adjective with the meaning 'good' was ever to become a grammatical morpheme, it would have to lose its original meaning first and would have to fulfil a new (grammatical) function.

The Japanese prefix o expressing politeness, which in o-genki ('esteemed health' = 'your health') has become a pronoun used to address somebody in a polite way, could, in a similar way, be understood like that. Consequently, such a possessive pronoun can again be used redundantly-pleonastically, like a subject pronoun in English or German for example.

Grammar often means something like a grammar of rules, and a grammar of rules necessarily means pleonastics-redundancy. A rule cannot be the following: do not use the morpheme X in the context Y, although it would be necessary, but only the other way round: use the morpheme X even where it would not be absolutely necessary. Such a rule can, as we have shown before, neither refer to the characteristics of concrete objects, nor to the description of the external world.

In a further step, it can be derived that such rules and usage norms can only refer to phenomena that the speaker himself has to be aware of at any time so that the (pleonastic) marking in certain contexts does not cause him further efforts either. Consequently, he only expresses explicitly that which he must already know or that which he can know when planning his speech act (sentence, text), irrespective of the question whether the listener needs this information or whether he can also deduce it from the context.

This would then be the trite reason why our grammatical markings seem so natural to us; in fact, they seem so natural to us that we are no longer aware of them so that not the marking but, on the other hand, the omission of them becomes noticeable. We do not only produce grammatical morphemes in order to convey a certain piece of information to the listener, but we also produce them as an expression and a mirror of these functions that we have to be aware of whenever we plan a speech act or a text! Only this way it becomes understandable that grammatical morphemes frequently represent concomitant signs of certain categories (cf. case and number as concomitant signs of the noun, person and tense as concomitant signs of the verb, conjunctions as concomitant signs of the subordinate clause, etc.).

To sum up, we can say: grammatical morphemes do not refer to characteristics of the real world, but in the first place to such functions inside the text that the speaker has to be aware of whenever he plans a sentence or a text so that he can also mark them at the 'surface structure' at any time. Of course, this does not at all mean that he has to mark them continuously (and for example in all languages)! We will come back to the historical background of languages rich in markings vs. those poor in markings later.

In the following, we would like to illustrate briefly our thoughts: we find a minimum of grammar in isolating languages that mark syntactically the functions and relations in a sentence. It may remain an open question whether this fixed syntax is really always, that is in every context, necessary, but it does not require from the speaker additional considerations or decisions either, because when planning a sentence he always has to know which elements figure as a subject, object or predicate or which element represents an attribute (genitive, adjective, relative clause, adverb referring to a verb). If he is not aware of these basic relations, he cannot plan a sensible sentence at all, at best only utter incoherent words. This is exactly the place where other languages can produce highly schematic grammatical morphemes, for example a nominative, an accusative and a genitive, in addition to a more or less fixed syntax (for example S-V-O), perhaps even a relative pronoun introducing a relative clause, an adverbial suffix (even if the adverb can perhaps be recognised additionally by the syntax). In this case grammar refers to the relations of the elements of the sentence among themselves and does not have anything to do with the characteristics of the real world.

In our inflecting languages we use quite schematically (in an obligatory manner) a personal ending or a subject pronoun with the predicative verb, whereas isolating languages proceed far more economically. Naturally, even the speakers of isolating languages (or also of the Japanese) always have to know where the predicative word or the predicative verb refers to, even if they do not mark it. Without this knowledge the cohesion of the text would soon disappear. The same applies to the object pronouns: the pronouns on their own are by no means always necessary, but naturally the speaker always has to know where the (transitive) verb refers to. The explicit marking does not force the speaker himself into making a new decision. We often speak of an anaphoric function, especially of the personal pronouns of the third and of the sixth person, but this simply means a redundant (pleonastic) use, if there are no ambiguities.

In our inflecting languages we use quite schematically tenses together with the predicative verb. They indicate the kind of relationship between the event and the time of the speaker and the relationship of the single events among each other in terms of time. This knowledge is an absolute condition for the understanding of a sentence or a text, otherwise the timeless sentence is dangling in the air or the text loses every cohesion and coherence. The speaker has to be aware of these relations at the moment he is planning his speech so that the varying frequent marking does not force himself into making a new decision either. The continuous use of these tenses, which are mostly anaphoric (!) again, leads to redundancies, which are, however, not felt to be disturbing either, because the speaker and the listener have to be aware of the temporal relationships of every speech act. This is why these tenses are so unspecified, too: the speaker and the listener must know whether two events take place approximately at the same time or whether they represent a sequence of time (in the past or in the sense of a future event), but they do not need to know anything about the distance that lies between the events (gestern, vor drei Tagen, vor einem Monat; in zwei Wochen, in einem Jahr).

Similar considerations can also apply to the grammatical marking of the aspect, in the first place of the action in progress compared with another action or with reference to a certain point in time (He was sleeping when I came/ at nine o'clock.) The speaker, who himself brings both verbal actions into play, also has to know about their approximately temporal relationship among themselves (simultaneity/ sequence).

As a consequence, the corresponding marking does not demand a new decision or a more specific knowledge of him. He must by no means know in detail which phase the verbal action in progress is going through, whether it has started just a moment ago or whether it is already almost finished. A periphrastic construction like Spanish estar + gerund (está trabajando) only indicates the progress of action at a specific point in time, but it does not say anything about which phase this action is going through, whether it has started just a moment ago or whether it is almost finished, etc.. By contrast, Spanish estar para indicates that the relevant action is going to start in an immediate future, and Spanish empezar a ('to start doing something') indicates that an action starts, consequently that it goes through an 'inceptive' phase. In order to be able to evaluate this, we already need specific knowledge about the relevant situation, knowledge that goes beyond the basic temporal relationship. This is exactly that which distinguishes lexematic periphrastic constructions from real grammatical periphrastic constructions: the former demand more specific knowledge, while the latter demand only the knowledge of the temporal relationship of one action with reference to another. And this is exactly why 'real' grammatical periphrastic constructions can also become obligatory (cf. in English the progressive form), but why they can never become lexematic periphrastic constructions, because the speaker does not at all always know which phase a specific action is going through. A grammatical periphrastic construction of the aspect only reflects the kind of minimal knowledge of the speaker that is absolutely necessary, if it is about two actions or events. This is the reason why a grammatical periphrastic construction can also become pleonastic-redundant in contrast to a lexematic one: this minimal knowledge about the temporal relationship of two actions or of a state with reference to a point in time can often be deduced from the context by the listener so that he does not need the corresponding markings any more (What are you doing? – I’m going to school; but in French Je vais à l'école; German Ich gehe zur Schule). Every language has to be in a position to distinguish the progress of an action from the beginning of an action, but not every language has a grammatical (!) periphrastic construction at its disposal. By not accepting our distinction between grammatical and lexematic periphrastic construction, we soon get into the difficulty of letting ourselves be guided by similarities as regards the form and the content when defining grammatical periphrastic constructions.

Furthermore, from an onomasiological point of view there will soon be no limits any longer, cf. he was about to…, he started to…, he wanted to…, he began to…, at the beginning…, etc. Grammaticality must neither be made dependent on form, nor on content (onomasiologically). In the first place, Grammar refers to basic relationships, in this case to relationships between two temporal events.

This also applies to an 'aspectual' tense, for instance to a resultative perfect, for example (I have bought the book/ discovered a new isle). Such a perfect indicates in the first place that there has not taken place anything new with reference to the described so that the result is to be considered as valid up to now. Such an indication does not demand a new decision of the speaker because he himself knows best whether he wants to let the event follow another one (*but I lost it an hour later/ and left it a week later) or not. Consequently, the listener can deduce the relevant meaning from the context respectively from the text structure even without an explicit indication so that the marking, which in many languages does not exist in this form either, once again can be called pleonastic-redundant (cf. languages with only one tense of the simple past).

Grammar, in the first place, indicates basic relations and does not refer to objective characteristics of the external world. Now it would be possible to raise the objection that, as far as the marking of the plural is concerned, it refers to external characteristics, not only to relations. This objection, however, has to be qualified: the plural is not characteristic of an object, but only indicates that it is about several objects disposing among themselves of similarities so that we can treat them as one single category. As a consequence, the plural is principally to be treated the same way as the variety of different objects, and generally the speaker also has to know whether he is talking about an apple or about an apple, a pear or a plum so that even the marking of the plural does not force him into making a new decision. Finally, the decision between singular and plural is made easier also by the fact that even the singular does not orientate itself towards the real world but towards the foreknowledge of the speaker. If I say Hans hat eine goldene Uhr, I do not exclude the fact that he owns several such watches. It is just the existence of one such specimen that is familiar to me. Consequently, the singular does not simply exclude the plural in the real world!

Consequently, the number is not a relational element, but it is based on the basic knowledge of the speaker: he has to know whether he is talking about a single object or about more objects. Therefore the number has not to be realised in all languages!

The definite article on the other hand, indicating that the object X has already been mentioned, can be used schematically in so far as the speaker actually has always to know whether he has already mentioned an object in the same text a moment ago or whether it is about a newly introduced object (which he himself is going to introduce newly!). So he has not to make a new decision, and the relevant information does not refer to the external world either, but only to the internal text structure the speaker himself is also responsible for. In the sentence: He went to the baker's and bought three rolls on the other hand, the article only implies that the rolls were sold by the person in charge of this action (at the baker's and not at the carpenter's) and it can therefore be deduced from our general knowledge: everybody knows that rolls are sold at the baker's. The decision, here for the definite article, does not confront the speaker with any problems.

Other grammatical phenomena can be considered as relational indications or simply as concomitant phenomena of the text structure, where the external world does not play a role either. Here we think of the conjunctions 'and' and 'that' that only indicate that two sentences belong together, in the sense of a sequence of sentences or in the sense of a verb with an object clause (Er schrie und brüllte; er sagte, daß…). These conjunctions do not per se convey any new information either; it is at best possible to achieve various stylistic effects by their different usage or their omission. (German Er aß und aß und aß…, Latin veni, vedi, vici; German Er sagt, daß er nicht will – er sagt, er will nicht). On the whole, such conjunctions represent however redundancies, in contrast to by far more specific conjunctions like 'because', 'though', 'thereby' etc. For their usage the speaker needs specific knowledge referring to the external world (and not only to the text structure). Therefore such conjunctions can only be rarely redundant. They are at best redundant as conjunctions themselves, indicating that there is a connection between both clauses. This connection could also be expressed by using two main clauses (cf. Er machte es, obwohl es verboten war - er machte es. Es war aber verboten).

Even the copula 'to be', which itself does not convey any new information, has a concomitant function as far as nominal predicates are concerned (N ist müde/ Lehrer) so that the speaker himself does not need to make a new decision at all. However, even the verb 'to be' in the sense of an indication of place (er ist im Wald) often has just a concomitant function, especially if the indication of place with a preposition still follows. That which is characteristic of most Indo-European languages is the fact that these 'empty' verbs are at the same time the most frequent ones: frequency, redundancy and grammar are very closely linked with each other!

Finally, so-called governed phenomena are mere concomitant signs; we only have to think of such cases that are dependent on prepositions (ex urbe, in silva) or of the governed subjunctive of the Romance languages (French je veux que tu viennes). Apart from some variations in the usage and apart from the possibilities of choice, they are mere redundancies produced only highly schematically by the speaker so that he himself does not have to make a decision referring to the characteristics of the object world. In this sense, the governed mode could also be interpreted as an allomorphic form of the indicative after certain verbs or conjunctions.

In principle, we could examine like this all grammatical phenomena of all the different languages of the world with the intention of finding out to what extent they represent attributions and functions (in a sentence or in a complex sentence), to what extent they express temporal or aspectual relationships, and to what extent they refer anaphorically to the text itself or to what extent they only represent concomitant phenomena; but they will always have one thing in common: they do not refer to the characteristics of the external world or just in so far as these (tense) are once again to be seen in relation to the speaker (or in relation to themselves). And even the number is not a characteristic of an object either; the plural only indicates that it is about different objects: mere concomitant phenomena on the other hand have nothing to do at all with the real world (governments).

Only a schematic or an obligatory marking is possible, which the speaker has to be aware of at every point in time when creating a sentence or a text, which corresponds in the first place to the internal relationships or functions in the sentence or text.

By contrast, the knowledge of the external world and of the characteristics of the objects differs from one speaker to another, and their linguistic realisation depends decisively on the communicative intentions of the speaker himself, consequently on his interests and aims. It follows that such characteristics cannot be used in an obligatory way nor highly schematically either.

In this new sense it is now possible to speak of the universality of grammar so that we can establish definitely for all the languages of the world that which can be grammar and that which is always going to be left to vocabulary, even if we were not be in the position to enumerate in an exhaustive list all potentially grammatical phenomena and sub-categories of all languages of the world. The sum of all usages and sub-usages is gigantic and yet the most different grammars of the world always resemble each other and there continue to come into existence also new categories and usages, which are very similar to the old phenomena or which even substitute them.

Furthermore, with our flexible method we especially avoid mistakes or weaknesses that derive from a one-sided definition on formal conditions (for example flexives) or the other way round from an onomasiological consideration (for example tense and indications of time; the locative and further indications of place) and we do not have to attribute certain phenomena or even paradigms (for example of the prepositions) at a flat rate to vocabulary or grammar either. Certain phenomena are more or less grammatical in so far as they are more or less used schematically-pleonastically and in so far as they thereby orientate themselves more or less towards the internal text structure or towards the external world. Consequently, from our point of view the prepositions of the Indo-European languages would have to be treated in a subtly differentiated manner, whereas they are treated at a flat rate in a school grammar. Prepositions can fulfil relational functions (case functions): they can be used pleonastically (cf. I'm going to London, he comes on Monday), but they can also be used as specific indications of place (he is under the tree). Moreover there are further usages, which could also be considered to be part of the word formation (to think of, to look at, cf. also the following chapter).

In any case our model resulting from a comparison of isolating with inflecting languages allows us to treat the question of the grammatical status and the degree of grammaticality flexibly, which we want to illustrate briefly with the example of the sentence modes.

Of course, the speaker always has to know whether he makes a statement, whether he asks a question or whether he wants to formulate an invitation, and he can mark these intentions highly schematically with the aid of a particle for a question or for an imperative.

Such basic intentions are not characteristic of the external world, but they do not concern functions and attributions inside the sentence or mere relationships (like the tenses) either, and the decision for the sentence mode is completely up to the speaker himself. In principle, he has the same freedom here as when choosing a lexeme (cf. Komm! vs. Ich wünsche, dass du kommst; Kommst du? vs. Ich will wissen, ob Du kommst.). We can speak of redundancy if apart from the intonation morphological means are used, too: we only have to think of the pleonastic question in English and French (Do you go home? – Est-ce que vous retournez?).

One thing, however, should have become quite clear now: in a scientific debate we have to ask the question of grammaticality of a phenomenon in a far more subtle way than in a school grammar, which only wants to give rules for learning a language.

Zum 2. Teil  Zum 2. Teil

Zurueck zum Anfang Zum Anfang

ede-Hauptverzeichnis Zum Ede-Hauptverzeichnis

Copyright(c) August Dauses.
Email an: August Dauses