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The theory of oppositions

Very popular in grammar studies is the theory of grammatical oppositions. This theory principally lies at the base of all established grammatical categories.

The opposition is a generalized correlation of language units forms by means of which a certain category of function is expressed

The opposition(the members) must possess 2 types of features:

  • Common and differential

Common features serve as the basis for constant while differencial features express the category of function in question.

e.g. let’s take an opposition table-tables

The common feature of this opposition is the expression of the category of number

The different features are oneness or singularity in the 1st memder and more-than-oneness or plurality in the second member.

The theory of oppositions was formulated by the chech linguist Trubeckoy in phonology. Then this theory was successfully transferred and applied in other aspects of language.

Trubeckoy established 3 types of oppositions: privative, gradual and equipollent

Taking into consideration the number of members in the opposition we can speak of binary(two-members) and more-than-binary oppositions

The privative opposition is that one in which one member is characterized by the presence of a certain differential feature while the other member is characterized by the absence of this feature. The member in which the differencial feature is present is called the marked(strong,positive) member of the opposition.

The other member of the opposition is called unmarked(weak or negative)

e.g. Let’s take the opposition [d]-[t]. The coomon feature of this opposition is the fact that both members are plosive, alveolar-apical consonants. The differential feature is the presence of voice in articulation.

So,[d] is treated as the marked member of the opposition because it’s voiced, while [t] is the unmarked member (voiceless)

A gradual opposition is formed by a contrastive group of members which are distinguished not by the presence(absence) of some featre but by the degree of the same feature.

e.g. taking into consideration the degree of openness of the phoneme we can speak of a gradual opposition when comparing vovels i: - i – e – æ

Equipollent opposition is formed by a contrastive group of members which are distinguished by different positive features

e.g. the phoneme [k]-[t] form in equipollent opposition in which the voiceless consonant k is alveolar-apical

all the 3 types of oppositions can be identified in morphology and they are used to establish grammatical categories

The binary privative opposition is most frequently used in grammar to establish grammatical categories.

e.g. the binary privative opposition [a book-books] expresses the categoty of number

the marked member is books. On the plain of expression it is marked by the inflexion [s] and on the plain of content it’s marked by theme plurality(сема)

the other member of this opposition is unmarked both on the plain of content and on the plain of expression, because it lacks of the inflexion and the theme plural

gradual oppositions are rare in English morphology. A vivid example of them is the case of the morphological category of the degrees of comparison. The common feature of this opposition is the meaning of quality which is represented as different in degree in each member

equipollent opposition are also occasional in English morphology. A typical example of them is the paradigm of the verb to be (am, is, are)

the first member am expresses the first person singular

the second member is the third person singular

and the third member are exp the second person singular and the plural

so,all these members are distinguished by different positive features as it’s required by the equipollent opposition

a gramm. Category must be exp by at least one opposition of word-forms

no categoty can be recognized without an opposition

e.g. I hope- I hoped (the categoty of tense)

one hopes-two hope (the number)

but we can’t speak of the grammatical categoty of gender with English noun because we cant find an opposition of noun forms exp by the category on the plain of expression (friend – друг,подруга)

yet in various contexts one member of the established opposition can be used instead of the other

this phenomenon is called the reduction of opposition

.this reduction may be of different character neutralization and transposition

Neutralisation is that type of a reduction of positions when the unmarked member functions as the marked one. Neutralization is stylistically neutral

e.g. in the opposition [cat-cats] the member cats is the marked one. Denoting plurality. But in the sentence[the cat is domestic animal] the word-form names a class of animals. And that implies plurality of the meaning of the marked member

it’s also observed when dealing with collective nouns in the opposition [family-families] – the 1st member exp singularity and it is the unmarked member,but in the sentence [the family are confirmed theater-goers] this memberimplies plurality and it’s marked in the plural form of the predicate

Transposition is that type of the reduction of oppositions when the marked member is used instead of the unmarked one

transp. Usually brings about a certain stylistic colouring or effect

e.g. Helen is always complaining of headaches

in this sentence a repeated action is expressed. So we should have employed as non-continuous verb form to express it, which is the unmarked member of the opposition [complain-be complaining]

however, the unmarked member is used in thiscontext. And this adds emphasis to the utterance,which informs of the personal attitude of the speaker to the action or to the named situation – indignation, displeasure,care.

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