15 August 2012
Venue: DALSL Meeting Room 206-408, Arts 1
Contact info: Jason Brown
Contact email: email@example.com
Applied Language Studies and Linguistics seminar by Jim Feist, The University of Auckland.
We have all struggled with "adjectives" - no definition seems to fit. This seminar sets out to show why that is, and to report recent research showing how we should understand the issues.
The overall argument is that "adjective" once was a useful word - in Old English - denoting a genuinely explanatory concept, but that the language has changed so much that it is now useless.
Specifically, the argument will be that the "adjectival" properties of denoting a quality, inflecting -er/-est for comparison, so on, are no longer properties of particular words as "dictionary entries". They are properties of constructions, in the sense where the subject-verb relationship is a construction.
Quirk and others (1985), in A Comprehensive Grammar Of Contemporary English identified the constructions as "premodification zones", as in "utter [Zone I] bloody [Zone II] rubbish", and "lovely [Zone II] black [Zone III] leather [Zone IV] coat". Whether an "adjective" in a particular utterance has one or more of the "adjectival" properties depends on which "zone" ie construction it is in; the same "word" has different properties in different constructions. For example, we expect pure to inflect for comparison as purer, and so it does in "We need pure drinking water". But it will not inflect in "That is pure bloody hypocrisy", or "They bought some big new American pure jets".
It follows (when the detail is provided) that in modern English, "parts of speech" are constructional, not classes of word in the mental lexicon; and that the word "adjective" is past its use-by date.