Structural levels of language
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Structural Levels of Language. Lecture 1. Ferdinand de Saussure. "Language is a system sui generis “ = a system where everything holds together The division of language into different structural levels is made only for the sake of investigation.

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Structural Levels of Language

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Structural Levels of Language

Lecture 1

Ferdinand de Saussure

  • "Language is a system sui generis “ = a system where everything holds together

  • The division of language into different structural levels is made only for the sake of investigation.

  • We have to separate one linguistic fact from another in order to analyse it thoroughly.

Which are the structural levels of language?

Each linguistic level has its own specific features

  • Phonological – phoneme

  • Morphological - morpheme

  • Syntactical – word

  • Lexico-semantical – phrase/clause

Benveniste - the hierarchical nature of language structure

  • A phoneme + a phoneme = a morpheme

  • -e + -r = -er;

  • -f + -u + -l = -ful;

  • -m + -e + -n + -t = -ment

  • A morpheme + a morpheme = a word

  • drive- + -er = driver,

  • beauty- + -ful = beautiful;

  • refine- + -ment = refinement

  • A word + a word = a phrase (a clause)

  • blue + sky = blue sky;

  • nice + song = nice song;

  • high + mountains = high mountains

  • A sentence (clause) + a sentence (cause) = sentences of a higher order

  • the telephone rang + the boy woke up = The telephone rang and the boy woke up.

It is not possible for an item of one level to combine with an item of another level

while preserving the qualities of the original level

an item of one level can pass over and be integrated into another level

it acquires the features of the level into which it has been integrated, abandoning the features it had in the previous level

Phonemes, morphemes, words

Is it possible to have a morpheme made of only one phoneme?

  • Yes, in English, there are morphemes consisting only of one phoneme

  • Example – (-s ) marker:

    the -s marker for the plural of the nouns;

    the -s marker for 3rd p. sg.;

    the -s marker for the genitive case

What about morphemes? Are there any words consisting of only one morpheme?

,, ,,, , ;

It seems that there are many words consisting of only one morpheme.

  • a root morpheme + zero morpheme = word

    eye +0º = eye

    There is structural qualitative difference between a morpheme and a word

J.Molhova: There are also many points in language where the respective levels not only function together but intersect

  • no morphological markers for gender

  • However, gender exists since some nouns are substituted by the pronoun ‘he’, others by ‘she', and still others by ‘it’

  • Ex., , , , 

  • Since it is not expressed on the morphological level then it should be part of the semantic structure of the noun

there is a similar parallel with the category of number

people, family, cattle

  • Their form does not point to plurality

  • On the syntactic level they always require a verb in the plural

  • The element of plurality is somewhere in the noun

  • If it is not in the grammatical form then it must bein its semantic structure

The morpheme is the smallest meaningful unit

  • J.Molhova: every form has its content / meaning; and every content / meaning has its form

the difference between a grammatical and a lexical item

  • table - tables; cat - cats; girl- girls

  • table, cat, girl

    the common forms singular of the nouns

  • tables, cats, girls

    the common plural forms of the nouns.

This description refers both to the form and its meaning

  • The form is one and the same for the three items and the meaning accordingly

  • 0º - a grammatical form for the singular of the noun, common case

  • -s – a grammatical marker with the meaning of plurality in English

    the morphemes 0 and -s have these meanings irrespective of the lexical meanings of the items

Hypothesis: a grammatical category as a specific form with a specific meaning independent of the lexical meaning of the item

  • She is a teacher. (a noun)

  • She is a bla. (a noun, singular)

  • The bla blas (a verb, 3rd p. sg.)

Words consist of strings of sounds, forming the phonological system of language

  • every word is phonologically motivated

  • a word of one language cannot consist of phonemes belonging to the system of sounds of another language

  • Ex. borrowings - camping - къмпинг

  • The former English phoneme is substituted by a Bulgarian one

a word must have a grammatical form compatible with the existing grammatical patterns in the language

  • It is not possible for any word to function without having a grammatical form

  • It is not possible for any word to follow the grammatical pattern of another language

    every word must be grammatically motivated

The grammatical motivation actually turns a morpheme or a group of morphemes into a word

  • It is impossible to add anything more to the word on the morphological level.

  • Ex.girl – girls


    girl- + -0 = girl

    girl- + -s = girls

Grammatical motivation can be considered as grammatical completeness For this reason one can discuss problems of meaning connected with the word with greater confidence than with the morpheme

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