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Argument against universality of grammatical functions

Author: 
Nada Mohammed and Alhayiti
Subject Area: 
Social Sciences and Humanities
Abstract: 

Grammatical functions can be defined as the functional relation between items that make up a clause and include notions such as the object and the subject. Grammatical functions form an important aspect of LFG and according to Keenan (1987), the study of LFG involves linguistic theories which explore the diverse linguistic structure aspects and their relations. Additionally, LFG analysis involves two syntactic structures; Constituent structure or the c-structure and the functional structure known or the f-structure. The debate on whether grammatical relation is universal or not has been on for quite some times now, some linguistics argue that grammatical relations are universal given that the subject-object notion apply to all languages (Dryer 1987: 121). This paper argues against this view and seeks to point out how the grammatical relation is not universal. In LFG analysis, the c-structure represents word order together with phrasal groupings while the f-structure while the f-structure relate to grammatical functions such as subject, as well as object. It should be noted that the mentioned structures entail significant separate representations, although they complement one another in logical aspects. Current LFG research incorporates examinations about argument structure and semantic structure, as well as other structures of linguistic along with their significant relation to c-structure in addition to f-structure. LFG presents a language structure theory and how different linguistic structures are interlinked. The LFG theory is significantly lexical, meaning that the lexicon is splendidly well thought-out, comprising lexical relations as opposed to transformations or phrase structure operations on trees in order to capture linguistic generalizations. Additionally, it is functional, meaning that grammatical functions such as subject as well as object are primitives and not described through configuration of phrase structure nor semantic roles. However, recent developments in LMT analyzes grammatical functions as no longer primitives but decomposable into primitive features of [+/-r] and [+/-o] (Closs and Trausdale 2008: 8). As earlier mentioned, the universality of grammatical functions has raised a heated debate. Linguistic organizations are diverse and the likelihood of all languages having the same structure is farfetched. Keenan (1987: 118) tries to give a universal definition of “subject of.” His definition is quite complex but it succeeds in its attempt to show a general trend in the definition of the subject functions that would be accepted globally. He states that examining subjects across various languages clearly shows that the noun phrase containing the subject is unique to that particular language and that no universality is shown (Keenan 1987: 91).

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