Systemic character of language

Systematic nature of grammar

Modern linguistics lays a special stress on the systemic character of language and all its constituent parts. It accentuates the idea that language is a system of signs (meaningful units) which are closely interconnected and interdependent. Units of immediate interdependencies (such as classes and subclasses of words, various subtypes of syntactic constructions, etc.) form different microsystems (subsystems) within the framework of the global macrosystem (supersystem) of the whole of language.

Each system is a structured set of elements related to one another by a common function. The common function of all the lingual signs is to give expression to human thoughts.

The systemic nature of grammar is probably more evident than that of any other sphere of language, since grammar is responsible for the very organization of the informative content of utterances. Due to this fact, even the earliest grammatical treatises, within the cognitive limits of their times, disclosed some systemic features of the described material. But the scientifically sustained and consistent principles of systemic approach to language and its grammar were essentially developed in the linguistics of the twentieth century, namely, after the publication of the works by the Russian scholar Beaudoin de Courtenay and the Swiss scholar Ferdinand de Saussure. These two great men demonstrated the difference between lingual synchrony (coexistence of lingual elements) and diachrony (different time-periods in the development of lingual elements, as well as language as a whole) and defined language as a synchronic system of meaningful elements at any stage of its historical evolution.

On the basis of discriminating synchrony and diachrony, the difference between language proper and speech proper can be strictly defined, which is of crucial importance for the identification of the object of linguistic science.

Language in the narrow sense of the word is a system of means of expression, while speech in the same narrow sense should be understood as the manifestation of the system of language in the process of intercourse.

The system of language includes, on the one hand, the body of material units — sounds, morphemes, words, word-groups; on the other hand, the regularities or “rules” of the use of these units. Speech comprises both the act of producing utterances, and the utterances themselves, i.e. the text. Language and speech are inseparable, they form together an organic unity. As for grammar (the grammatical system), being an integral part of the lingual macrosystem it dynamically connects language with speech, because it categorially determines the lingual process of utterance production.

Thus, we have the broad philosophical concept of language which is analyzed by linguistics into two different aspects — the system of signs (language proper) and the use of signs (speech proper). The generalizing term “language” is also preserved in linguistics, showing the unity of these two aspects.

The sign (meaningful unit) in the system of language has only a potential meaning. In speech, the potential meaning of the lingual sign is “actualized”, i.e. made situationally significant as part of the grammatically organized text.

Lingual units stand to one another in two fundamental types of relations: syntagmatic and paradigmatic.

Syntagmatic relations are immediate linear relations between units in a segmental sequence (string). E.g.: The spaceship was launched without the help of a booster rocket.

In this sentence syntagmatically connected are the words and word-groups “the spaceship”, “was launched”, “the spaceship was launched”, “was launched without the help”, “the help of a rocket”, “a booster rocket”.

Morphemes within the words are also connected syntagmatically. E.g.: space/ship; launch/ed; with/out; boost/er.

Phonemes are connected syntagmatically within morphemes and words, as well as at various juncture points (cf. the processes of assimilation and dissimilation).

The combination of two words or word-groups one of which is modified by the other forms a unit which is referred to as a syntactic “syntagma”. There are four main types of notional syntagmas: predicative (the combination of a subject and a predicate), objective (the combination of a verb and its object), attributive (the combination of a noun and its attribute), adverbial (the combination of a modified notional word, such as a verb, adjective, or adverb, with its adverbial modifier).

Since syntagmatic relations are actually observed in utterances, they are described by the Latin formula as relations “in praesentia” (“in the presence”).

The other type of relations, opposed to syntagmatic and called “paradigmatic”, are such as exist between elements of the system outside the strings where they co-occur. These intra-systemic relations and dependencies find their expression in the fact that each lingual unit is included in a set or series of connections based on different formal and functional properties.”

In the sphere of phonology such series are built up by the correlations of phonemes on the basis of vocality or consonantism, voicedness or devoicedness, the factor of nasalization, the factor of length, etc. In the sphere of the vocabulary these series are founded on the correlations of synonymy and antonymy, on various topical connections, on different word-building dependencies. In the domain of grammar series of related forms realize grammatical numbers and cases, persons and tenses, gradations of modalities, sets of sentence-patterns of various functional destination, etc.

Unlike syntagmatic relations, paradigmatic relations cannot be directly observed in utterances, that is why they are referred to as relations “in absentia”” (“in the absence”).

Paradigmatic relations coexist with syntagmatic relations in such a way that some sort of syntagmatic connection is necessary for the realization of any paradigmatic series. This is especially evident -in a classical grammatical paradigm which presents a productive series of forms each consisting of a syntagmatic connection of two elements: one common for the whole of the series (stem), the other specific for every individual form in the series (grammatical feature — inflexion, suffix, auxiliary word). Grammatical paradigms express various grammatical categories.

The minimal paradigm consists of two form-stages. This kind of paradigm we see, for instance, in the expression of the category of number: boy boys. A more complex paradigm can be divided into component paradigmatic series, i.e. into the corresponding sub-paradigms (cf. numerous paradigmatic series constituting the system of the finite verb). In other words, with paradigms, the same as with any other systemically organized material, macro- and micro-series are to be discriminated.

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