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A Semantic Approach to English Grammar (2nd edition)


Author: R. M. W. Dixon

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Publish Date: September 1, 2005

ISBN-10: 199247404

Pages: 512

File Type: PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

This book provides a fresh look at parts of the grammar of English. It pays particular attention to meaning, considering the diVerent sorts of meanings words have, and showing how the varying grammatical behaviours of words are a consequence of their meaning diVerences. My ‘meaning orientation’ stance is a little novel. In addition, some of the topics discussed here (especially in Chapters 13 and 14) are scarcely mentioned in regular grammars of English. It could be said that the present book takes oV from the point where most other grammars end.

The reader will not Wnd here any detailed discussion of the irregular inXections of verbs or plural forms of nouns, topics which are covered in standard grammars. A basic knowledge of certain aspects of English grammar is needed for understanding the later part of the book, and these are presented in Chapter 2 (which does include some original analysis).

There are two approaches to the study of language. That followed here considers linguistics to be a kind of natural science. Just as there is a single chemical theory and a single geological theory, so there is a single linguistic theory, which has gradually evolved over more than two thousand years, from the great Sanskrit grammar of Pa¯n_ini and the Greek grammars of Dionysius Thrax and Apollonius Dyscolus to recent grammars by Edward Sapir and Mary Haas, and contemporary ones by James MatisoV, Nora England, William Foley, Nicholas Evans, and Alexandra Aikhenvald.

The cumulative theory of linguistics as a natural science has recently been called ‘basic linguistic theory’, simply to distinguish it from the ever-shifting panoply of ‘formal theories’ (mentioned below). It provides an inclusive framework—covering word classes, main and subordinate clauses, underlying and derived forms, structures, systems, and so on—in terms of which the descriptions of individual languages are cast. There is constant interplay between theory and description. Some unusual aspect of the grammar of a previously undescribed language may lead to a revision or extension of the theory. And theoretical parameters (worked out inductively from examination of the structures of a range of languages) will provide insight into the underlying structure of a newly considered language. In the present volume, theoretical ideas are brought in as they assist the central task, of describing the syntactic and semantic organisation of English.

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