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The English Grammatical Rank Scale
Outline of Lesson
By the end of this lesson, the student will be able to:
a)define the terms rank and rank scale.
b)explain the relationship that exists between the grammatical units on the rank scale.
c)analyse clauses according to their constituent units.
Thompson, G. (2014). Introducing functional grammar (3rd edn.). New York & London: Routledge. Chapter 2
What is Rank?
The grammar of every language is made up of a finite set of units that realise the grammatical meanings in the language. These units are not of equal sizes; some realise larger units of meaning than others. We refer to each of these units as a rank. Larger units of meaning are normally realised by bigger ranks while smaller units of meaning are realised by smaller ranks. Across languages, we identify one rank that tend to realise the largest grammatical meanings in the language. This unit is the clause. It serves as the interface between grammar and discourse. Languages, however, differ in the number and nature of units lower than the clause. Other strata (or levels) of language such as phonology have their own ranks different from those of grammar.
Each rank is dedicated to realizing particular grammatical meanings (e.g. systems and functions). E.g.
i.grammatical systems such as tense, number, and person are normally realised at the rank of word.
ii.Functions such as Premodifier, Head, and Postmodifier are realised at group/phrase rank.
iii.systems such as transitivity and mood are realised at clause rank. Functions such as Subject, Predicator, Object, Adjunct, etc. are also realised at clause rank.
iv.morphemes are the basic resources that feed the meanings of the higher ranks. They have no systems of their own rank neither can they be analysed into structural elements. A morpheme is indivisible.\
What is Rank Scale?
An analysis of a clause to show the hierarchical encouragements of units in the rank scale
The clause can be defined in terms of its grammatical size on the rank scale. It is the biggest/highest grammatical unit within which the lower units are found.
elements. Clausal elements are Subject, Predicator,
Object, Complement, Adjunct.
An analysis of a clause to show that clausal elements are equivalent to group/phrase
The phrase/group is the next grammatical rank or unit below clause.
The group/phrase functions within the clause. e.g.
Functions such as Subject, Object, Complement, Adjunct are functions within the clause and they correspond to groups/phrases.
Some grammarians of English make a distinction between group and phrase.
Group and phrase are different grammatical units of the same rank, i.e. they are equal in grammatical size. They both perform the same level of functions within the clause.
A group is an expanded word; the nucleus is a lexical word (e.g. man) exapnded by the addition of modifers (e.g. A young handsome Ghanaian man).
A phrase is a reduced (or contracted) clause; the nucleus is a preposition (‘a minor verb’; e.g. in) with a participant realised by a noun group (in the box).
The phrase is therefore more complex than the group; the phrase normally embeds a group in its structure.
According to this analysis, English has only one class of phrase called the prepositional phrase and three or four major classes of group, including the noun group, verbal group, and adverbial group. The fourth group, the adjectival group is considered by others to be a reduced form of the noun group.
Examples of groups as expanded words
Example of the prepositional phrase as a reduced clause
The word is the grammatical rank below the group/phrase.
The word performs functions within the group/phrase. e.g. Functions such as Premodifier, Head and Postmodifier are functions of the word within the group/phrase.
Morpheme is the smallest grammatical unit or rank.
Morphemes realise grammatical functions or meanings within the word.
Morphemes cannot be analysed further into constituents.
Relationship between Units in the Rank Scale
We can view the relationship between units in the rank scale from two points of view:
Top-down relationship (‘consist-of’)
Diagrammatic illustration of Consist-of Relationship
Examples of Consist-of Relationship
Clause: The police had arrested the thief
Groups: Made up of three groups; the police(noun group) Had arrested( verbal group)
The thief (noun group)
Words: the, police, had, arrested, the thief Are made up of 8 morphemes
Morphemes: the (bound morpheme) Police (free morpheme) Had (has + ed) free/bound morpheme
Arrested (arrest + en) bound morpheme The (bound morpheme)
Thief (free morpheme)
Bottom-up Relationship (Constituent)
The constituent relationship shows that lower grammatical units serve as constituents of a unit immediately above it.
The morpheme is the constituent of a word, the word is a constituent of the phrase, and the phrase is the constituent of the clause.
Here, the rank scale is read bottom-up.
Diagrammatic Illustration of Constituent Relationship
Self Study Questions
1.(a) Define rank in one sentence.
(b)How many ranks do we have in the grammar of English? Mention them.
2.(a) What is rank scale?
(b)Analyze the following clauses to show that it consists of lower grammatical ranks. Use the box diagram shown in slide 12:
3. In two paragraphs, explain the two kinds of relationship between units on the English grammatical rank scale. Provide illustration in your explanation