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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

CHAPTER   IV
SYNTAX—THE  TRAFFIC RULES
OF LANGUAGE
WHAT grammarians who have studied Latin, Greek, or Sanskrit call
the parts of speech (i.e verbs, nouns, adjectives, etc,) depends on the
way in which we form derivatives from dictionary words of such
languages. It is helpful to know about how grammarians use these
terms, if we want to learn another Indo-European language, because the
student of Russian, German, Italian, French, or even Swedish has to
deal with flexions which have wholly or largely disappeared in modern
English. This does not mean that putting words in pigeon-holes as
nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, and particles has any necessary con-
nexion with what words mean, or with the way in which we have to
arrange them to make a meaningful statement In fact, classifying words
in this way helps us little in the study of languages which have pursued
a different line of evolution.
There is, of course, a rough-and-ready correspondence between some
of these terms and certain categories of meaning. It is true, for instance,
that names of persons and physical objects are nouns, that physical
qualities used as epithets, i e. when associated with names of objects or
persons, are generally adjectives, and that most verbs indicate action
or reaction, i e processes or states When we have said this, we are left
with several circumstances which blur the outlines of a functional defi-
nition of the parts of speech in all languagesof the Indo-European group.
One that Bacon calls man's inveterate habit of dwelling upon abstrac-
tions, has created a large class of names which have the same flexions as
nouns, and stand for qualities or processes cognate with the meaning of
adjective or verb forms Headline idiom breaks through all the func-
tional fences which schoolbooks put up round the parts of speech
Thus YESTERDAY'S MARRIAGE OF HEIRESS TO LOUNGE LIZARD means
exactly the same as the more prosaic statement that an heiress married
a lounge lizard yesterday, and SUDDEN DEATH OF VICE SQUAD CHIEF is just
another way of announcing the sad news tfcat a vice squad chief died
suddenly
Such examples show that there is no category of meaning exclusively
common to the English verb, to the English noun, or to the English
E