Linguistic Terminology (I) — Word Classes


In previous posts, I have said how I believe building up vocabulary piecemeal is a bad idea. Subject areas should be tackled in turn. I think this because words don’t just exist in themselves, but exist in the context of other words. Being an English teacher, and a linguistics graduate, I thought I would therefore tackle the area of Language terminology. However, I’ll only deal with the word classes today (nouns, verbs, and so on), as to tackle the entire field of linguistics would make this a very long post.

I should also say that I’ve avoided simply making up a term for the sake of it, and have only suggested words that I think really work. Therefore, there are some words which I deliberately do not bring up or suggest an Anglish alternative for.

So let’s trying putting those pesky, Latinate language words into a plainer, Saxon English.

Word classes: Nouns, Verbs, Prepositions, and all that

Nouns, usually described as a “person, place, or thing”, are literally naming words, they name concepts and things (John, London, bedroom, carpet, happiness). The word “noun” comes from the Latin nōmen “name”, so the choice of Nameword is easy. Compare Dutch naamwoord.

Verbs are usually described to students as “doing words”, which is what they mostly are: run, punch, walk, kiss. But they also indicate states, e.g., love, appear, seem. Therefore either Doword or Doingword work quite well. As does Deedword, which is “deed” – literally, a done thing, an action – plus “word” [NOTE 1]. Workword sets over Dutch werkwoord, and also strikes me as a good fit for the various senses of the word “work”.

Auxiliary verbs are literally helper verbs, such as “do” or “have”. Therefore Helpword works well, as does Help plus any one of the above suggestions for “verb”: Helpworkword, Helpdeedword, Helpdoingword, or Helpdoword.

Conjunctions (and, but, or) quite plainly serve to link other words and phrases; they are linking words. At the risk of being completely unimaginative, how about Linkword? The Latinate word itself, “conjunction”, means a joining or linking together.

Adjectives are words which describe nouns. So in the sentence “The quick brown fox jumps over the brown dog”, “quick” and “brown” describe the noun “fox”, and “brown” describes the noun “dog”.

The English word “adjective” ultimately comes from the Latin nomen adjectivum, meaning something like “joined onto a noun”. Dutch has bijvoeglijk naamwoord, bijvoegen meaning “to attach, attach, enclose”, and bijvoeglijk therefore being the adjectival form “attached”; this would appear to be a Latin calque. We can see that both the Latin and the Dutch don’t so much have to do with the function of the adjective, but rather the adjective’s dependent relationship with nouns. German has Eigenschaftswort which oversets as “particularity/ownship word”. That is, a word which specifies which type of noun we are talking about (is it a “red car” or a “green” one, for example).

“Describing-word” would be the plainest, but “describe” is Latinate. Therefore we could say Outlineword, because to “describe” something is surely the same as to “outline” it. If we wanted to take the shades of meaning of the Latin or Dutch words, we could also say Stuckonword or Cleaveword. I favour Outlineword or Outliner.

Adposition. Okay, so what’s an “adposition”? Well, “prepositions”, which we have in English, come before the noun phrase, whereas “postpositions”, which we do not have in English, come after the noun phrase; “adposition” is a term covering both “pre-“ and “post-“ positions.

So an adposition is a word which tells us the spatial or temporal or syntactic relationship between things. In English we have in, on, through, by, and so on. For “preposition”, Dutch has voorzetsel ‘foreputting’ which makes a lot of sense as the word is not only “fore-put”, but also relates to where words are put in their spatial, semantic, or syntactic relations. Danish has forslag ‘foreslap’, which I’m not so keen on. I’m not 100% happy, but I feel Putword is a good alternative to “adposition”, so “preposition” and “postposition” respectively become Foreputword and Afterputword. I also quite like Foreputting and Afterputting.

Demonstratives point out exactly which thing one is talking about. In current English we have “this”, “these”, “that”, and “those”. So, they point out things. “Point out” is a phrasal verb; the go-along noun, that is a thing which points something out, would either be point-out or outpointer. So either Pointoutword or Outpointer.

Phrases are literally clusters of words in a grammatical configuration. Wordcluster? German has Redewendung ‘speechturn, turn of speech’ and Setz ‘set’. Speechturn? Speechset?

I haven’t come up with alternatives for many wordclasses, as you can see. But that isn’t just because I lack the imagination to come up with suitable words. There is a second, more valid reason. That is, many of the words are rather technical (morpheme? Complementiser?) and therefore are beyond the scope of this post; I’ll revisit them later.


Bryan Parry


[NOTE 1] I believe “deedword” was originally suggested by the person who owns this blog:


3 Responses to Linguistic Terminology (I) — Word Classes

  1. þ says:

    Maybe adposition could be frameword or something alike. The thought behind it being that they “frame” the nameword.

  2. jayles says:

    1) conjunctions are often referred to as “linkers” in ESOL, although also include adverbs like “however” in linkers.
    2) I like wordclusters , but it sounds closer in meaning to “collocations” , unless we make that “wordmatches” or something
    3) some ESOL books already use “doing-word” for verb; I often use this in elementary classes.

    • bryanajparry says:

      Hi jayles

      Wow, just wow. My PC accidentally deleted my response to you TWICE IN A ROW. One word: IRKSOME!

      I teach ESOL and have never heard conjunctions referred to as “linkers”. What sources or books use this term? It makes sense, tho, of course, and works just as well as “linkword”, I feel.

      I agree about “wordcluster”, but I don’t think it quite works for “collocation”; collocation, I would agree with you 100%, is “matchword”. “Mateword” as well, maybe?

      I always use “doing word” __instead of__ “verb” with my lower level students, too. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen “doing-word” in a book; “doing word”, yes, but “doing-word”, I don’t think so. Can you tell us which books? I’d be curious to reference them.


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