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Word classes

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

Publication date14/11/2019
Host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of English Grammar
EditorsBas Aarts, Jill Bowie, Gergana Popova
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (print)9780198755104
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Publication series

NameOxford Handbooks
PublisherOxford University Press


This overview of (theoretical approaches to) English word classes is built around widely-accepted criticisms of “traditionalist” definitions of word classes, which have been characterised—mainly by structuralists, going back to Bloomfield (1933)—as purely notional and overly simplistic. Bloomfield and his followers argue that these definitions must be replaced by distributional ones. Following careful analysis of the arguments of both traditional grammarians and structuralist linguists, the chapter presents a more nuanced picture. Traditional grammarians did not rely only on notional criteria, and where they used them, they sometimes did so in a seemingly rather sophisticated manner. Furthermore, structuralists rely less on pure distributionalism than they claim they do. Finally, there are other current theoretical approaches beyond structuralism, including generative, cognitive, functional-typological and psycholinguistic accounts. The chapter argues that there are strengths and weaknesses in each, and points to some recent work in which insights from different approaches are beginning to come together.