Sunday, 18 May 2014

Parts of Speech

At school one of my most loathed lessons was English Grammar when learning parts of speech and tenses. Having written for some years I suppose I should be more interested in usage, yet it is the etymology of the terms themselves which I find of more interest and look at such below. If nothing else it may help me remember something I should probably have learned forty-odd years ago.

Noun – came into our language from Middle English which, as with most words which did not appear in the earlier Old English, has Norman French influences and can be traced to Latin nomen meaning ‘name’.

Pronoun – as above but with the additional ‘pro’ meaning ‘substitute’ and ultimately from the Latin pronomen via French pronom.

Adjective – and again from Latin, also via Old French where adjectif came from adjicere meaning ‘add, attribute’.

Verb – another Middle English term from Old French verbe and Latin verbum originally meaning simply ‘word’.

Adverb – as above, where Old French adverbe and Latin adverbium saw the addition from ‘added’.

Preposition – a Middle English word from Latin praeposito and ultimately prae-ponere ‘place before’.

Conjunction – another Old French word (conjunction) and Latin (conjunctio) meaning ‘connect’.

Interjection – ultimately from Latin interjectio meaning ‘interrupt’.

Not only do these eight lexical categories (to give the correct term) share a common theme but, in the main, are fairly self-explanatory. In the case of tenses, itself from Latin tempus or ‘time’ and via the earlier French tens with the same meaning, the basic past, present and future speak for themselves. Less obvious is the ‘perfect’ tense, from Latin perficere ‘complete’; ‘pluperfect’ is Latin plusperfectum ‘more than perfect’.

What may not be particularly well known is that while many languages have three tenses, English is actually a two-tense language (Japanese is another), where there is only the past and non-past, the latter covering both the present and future in a single verb form. Similarly Greenlandic and Quechua (South American native language from around the Andes) have only future and non-future. There are also languages with no tenses, in a grammatical sense, including Chinese, Burmese and Dyirbal, the latter restricted to a small part of Queensland and, as at the census of 2006, restricted to just 29 speakers. Strange as it sounds there are languages with four tenses, where past is separated into recent past and remote past. I could find none with five tenses but did find one with six. The Kalaw Lagaw Ya tongue of Australia (native to some parts of Queensland) has the remote past, recent past, today past, present, today or near future, and remote future.

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