Word Classes

Walter Bisang

in The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Typology

Published in print November 2010 | ISBN: 9780199281251
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 Word Classes

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  • Linguistics
  • Linguistic Typology
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology


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This article introduces the four prerequisites for distinguishing word classes: semantic criteria; pragmatic criteria/criteria of discourse function; formal criteria; and distinction between lexical and syntactic levels of analysis. The most important approaches to word classes based on the first three prerequisites are addressed. The article also deals with the distinction between content words and function words. It then takes up the discussion of the universal status of the noun/verb distinction by integrating the fourth prerequisite. The languages discussed are Classical Nahuatl, Late Archaic Chinese, and Tongan. The distinction between content words and function words is not identical to the distinction between open and closed word classes. The article reviews Dixon's seminal approach to adjectives. The sub-classes of adverbs are considered. The definition of word classes integrates all the central elements that make language structure, and it integrates a whole paradigm of constructions.

Keywords: word classes; noun; verb; Classical Nahuatl; Late Archaic Chinese; Tongan; content words; function words; adverbs; adjectives

Article.  8325 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Linguistic Typology ; Grammar, Syntax and Morphology

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