§ WJMLL 3/98: Scalar Categorization (abstract)

Abstract of: Scalar Categorization


Grazia Crocco Galèas

The article deals with the problem of categorization in linguistics. The author argues that the opposition between classical (or 'Aristotelian') categorization and Prototype Theory is insufficient for adequately analysing morphological data. On the one hand, the traditional view is tied to the classical theory that categories are defined in terms of common properties of their members. On the other hand, Prototype Theory has pointed out how human categorization is based on principles that extend far beyond those in the classical theory. The author intends to show that albeit both theories can be interesting for linguistics, it is also necessary to recur to an intermediate approach, i.e. scalar categorization, which is profitably applied within the framework of Natural Morphology. The scalar perspective mediates between the rigidity of the discreteness of the classical principle and the elusive vagueness of the prototypicality principle. Therefore, the main aim of this article is to stress the importance of a scalar approach to morphology. After a short illustration of Prototype Theory in relation to classical categorization (§ 1. - § 1.2.1.), the author outlines the most important tenets of the theory of Natural Morphology, particularly regarding the notions of parameter and implicational scale (§ 2. - § 2.9.). The parameters of Natural Morphology represent the formalisation of functions and semiotic principles, which derive from the extralinguistic bases assumed by a functionalist and semiotic model of morphological theory. After a section devoted to the discussion of the differences between the scales of Natural Morphology and the gradients of Prototype Theory (§ 3.), the author proposes a new application of the principle of scalarity within Natural Morphology, namely the parameter/scale of indexicality (§ 3.1. - § 3.1.4.). Like most parameters of Natural Morphology, the parameter of indexicality derives from a semiotic principle, which, in turn, is deducible from a particular sign of C. S. Peirce's classification: the index. An index is, in fact, a sign that directly points to its object without describing it. From an index, an interpreter can infer the existence of a given object. Hence, a linguistic index is any sign whose primary function is to signal another sign. Demonstratives, pronouns, proper nouns, grammatical morphemes, etc. are typical indices in language. According to the hypothesis put forward in this study, the morphological scale of indexicality should comprise four degrees and some subdegrees. The first degree, i.e. the most natural verbal index is represented by the derivational affix, insofar as it directly indicates the lexical content of the base/stem/root by partially modifying it. Indeed, no derivational morpheme can convey an actual meaning unless it is connected with a given lexeme. Less natural indices are inflectional morphemes, as their content is relatively looser in relation to that of the lexical base. Functional words constitute the third degree of the scale. Their indexical force is less than that of inflectional affixes. The least natural index, that is to say the fourth degree of the scale, is represented by syntagmatic context, i.e. both sources and targets of morphological rules of conversion that principally refer to their syntagmatic collocation as far as to the disambiguation of their word-class. The last section (§ 4.) concludes the article claiming the necessity of positing three modi classificandi: 1) classical categorization (based upon the principle of discreteness of the category members); 2) prototypical categorization (based upon the notions of prototype and basic level concepts); 3) scalar categorization, which is indifferent to discreteness/non-discreteness membership properties and, instead, is based upon the assignment of definite category boundaries (i.e. prototype and anti-prototype respectively) and the related identification of an intermediate gradient.

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