Importance Of Functional Categories In A Language English Language Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.


Functional (grammatical) categories in a language are very important in structuring the clause. 'It manifests in different ways that vary from full lexical categories to different morphological endings [1] . This difference in the manifestation of the functional categories in the languages of the world holds even within a particular category' [2] . These elements are functional because of the particular role that they play in the construction of a clause. Languages vary on the basis of what all semantic nuances that it overtly realises apart from the referents/ events in the form of number, time, case, gender, spatial orientation, visibility, information source through the functional categories. The study of functional categories started with the works of Sapir and Jakobson. The cartography project as it is called now 'attempts to draw a map, as detailed as possible, of these functional (or grammatical) structures of the clause and of its major phrases. The underlying assumption is that all languages share the same functional categories and the same principles of phrase and clause composition, although they may differ in the movements they admit and in the projections they overtly realize' [3] . The work on the cartographic approach saw an exponential growth with the works of Rizzi (1997) for the CP-space, Baker (2001b) for the VP-space, and Cinque (1999) for the IP-space. It saw an abundance of crosslinguistic study with the formulation of the universal hierarchy of functional heads in the IP and CP domain through the crosslinguistic works by Cinque and Rizzi respectively.

In this dissertation we will be looking at the functional categories that occupy the extended functional projection of the lexical Verb that may include a particle, a bound affix, a functional verb, some other phrase or nothing at all. The plethora of suffixes and other elements in the post verbal position of Malayalam makes it an interesting and challenging aspect to study. Apart form this many, though not all, of these particles in Malayalam are phonetically similar. The following example illustrates the BE verb being repeated thrice in its two different forms [4] and a phonetically similar 'unnu' representing two different functions.

Avan ezht- i- koNt- irikk- unnu- unT- aay- irunn- irik- aNam

He write-cp-prog-BE-UNNU-ex -BE(eq).pst- sit- BE-MOD

In the past he must have been writing. (Babu, 2008)

Dialectical differences and the tendency of the speakers to speak in forms make it difficult as to whether they are really particles or not. There are elements in Malayalam like KoNdu (Take) that carry out different functions. It can appear as part of a serial verb construction or as an instrumental post-position or a post-position that corresponds to because [5] . This has resulted in the particles being understudied, or to quote Jayseelan 'ill- understood' or being treated as the same and being analysed as multiple occurrence of the same phrasal structure. Cinque (Cinque, 1998) has stated that the occurrence of certain suffixes in two different positions expresses two (but related) grammatical notions. This occurrence cannot be taken as an example of inconsistency in the relative order of grammatical heads either. Pieter Muysken accounts for this phenomenon in natural languages and states that 'the dynamicity in the meaning of many functional categories can be explained in terms of the progression from content word to function word [6] '.

Scope and Objectives

The objective of this study is to give a detailed description of the structure and meaning of the verbal particles of Malayalam with relation to the universal functional sequence proposed by Cinque and Rizzi. The scope of the study consists of the following broader areas.

The semantic imports of the post verbal particles

The relation of CP to the rest of the clause structure

Functional hierarchy in root and embedded clauses


The semantic imports of the verbal particles

As has been stated earlier Malayalam has a number of post verbal particles. Asher and Kumari (1998) in their descriptive analysis of Malayalam enumerate these particles that occur in post - verbal position. The table below shows the particles and their meanings that they have taken into account.


Interrogative particle

-oo (yes/no) -ee (yes/no)

E- questions (WH questions)

aare (who), Ente (what), Entine (why), Eete (which) engane (how), Etra (how much), Evide (where), Enne (when)









-um or -uu



Different tense markings


-aal, eNkil, -aalum, eNkilum

Imperative (or hortative)

-aam, -Taa (Masculine), -Tii (Feminine), -ka (Honour), -in (respect), -aalum (respect), -aNam (polite request)




Obligation, Debitive

-aNam, aNta, (veeNam, veeNta)

Physical Ability

Dative -aam


-um; -aam; -eekkum; -aayirikkum; -eekkaam; -aayirikkaam


Dative case+ -aam; -aTTe; adv participle + -kooLu or KooTTe



Three tense forms of Irikkuka; iTTe+ the three tense forms of -uNTe


iTuke; viTuka; kaLayuka; vekkuka; pookuka


-unnu + uNTe; -uka+ -aaNe


-aar+ -uNTe; poorunnu


koNTe+ -irrikkuka


Varuka; pookuka


-ee; -avee

Emphatic Particle






If we look at the table, we can see that a number of verb particles are phonetically similar. There are also instances where different combinations of the same form giving rise to a difference in meaning. So how does a speaker delineate its meaning when they co- occurs in a single sentence? What are the combinatorial possibilities of these particles? And why do certain forms combine together to give specific meanings? Rajaraviverma and Asher and Kumari also states that all these particle forms are grammaticalised form of otherwise free words. So what are the meaning imports that these words give to the particles? Though the etymology of these verb particles is outside the current research framework, it needs to be mentioned so that the reader should not be confused as it might surface in some examples as free words.

Avan padichu-kond-ee-irikkua-aaN-enkilum…

He study-prog- EMPH- prog- BE- conditional

Even if he is studying always…

Another question that stems out from this example is the presence of the BE verb that is introduced in between the particles? The proposed research work tries to analyse the verb particles on the basis of the Cinque hierarchy. Cinque (1999) in his influential work has disintegrated the IP space into a number of heads taking cues from Italian. He claims that the functional hierarchy above the vP is richly articulated and rigidly ordered. The universal hierarchy the Cinque proposed is linearised as below.

[Mood speech act [Mood evaluative [Mood evidential [Mod epistemic [T past [T future [Mood irrealis [Mod alethic necessity [Mod alethic possibility [Asp habitual [Asp repetitive(I) [Asp frequentative(I) [Mod volition [Mod obligation [Mod ability/permission [Asp celerative(I) [T anterior [Asp terminative [Asp continuative [Asp perfect [Asp retrospective [Asp proximative [Asp durative [Asp generic/progressive [Asp prospective [Asp sg completive(I) [Asp pl completive(I) [Voice [Asp celerative(II) [Asp repetitive(II) [Asp frequentative(II) [Asp sg completive(II) ]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]

Adverbs in a language he argues are distributed in distinct specifier positions of different functional heads of the same hierarchy. And so these adverbs in the specifier position encode the same semantics as the heads to which it is attached. The cases of the same adverbs occurring in different positions in the hierarchy are treated as quantifying over the event (the higher positioned adverbs) and quantifying over the action/ process (the lower positioned adverbs) that the verb describes. Outside the VP, the claim is that the speaker oriented adverbs (including modal evaluative and pragmatic) occur before temporal adverbs anchored to speech time (with free distribution in relation to speaker adverbs). These are in turn is followed by subject oriented adverbs (namely perhaps).

An investigation into the analysis of the post verbal particles in Malayalam, as part of the M. Phil research, with reference to the Cinque hierarchy yielded the following result that is given in the following table.

Hierarchy structure

Functional Heads

Mood speech act

-oo (interoggative); -uu (imperative)

Mood evaluative

-aloo (surprise)

Mood evidential

-atre (quotative); -poolum

Mod epistemic

-irikkum; -iTT-undak-um

T past

-ii; -u

T future


Mood irrealis

-aayir; -aakumay

Mod alethic necessity


Mod alethic possibility

-um; -aam; -eekkum; -aayirikkum; -eekkaam; -aayirikkaam

Asp habitual


Asp repetitive(I)


Asp frequentative(I)

-aaRunD; -um

Mod volition


Mod obligation


Mod ability/permission

Subj+dat....V-aam; -ooTe; -ooLuu

T anterior


Asp continuative



-peTuLeft periphery of the Root clause and the functional superstructure of the Embedded clause

Another area of research is the left periphery of the clause. Rizzi (1999, 2004, 2005) proposes a fine structure of the left periphery that follows the pattern FORCE (TOP*) INT (TOP*) FOC (TOP*) FIN IP. The CP domain in a clause within the theory is bound on both sides. The upper limit is the FORCE that states whether the clause is declarative, question, exclamation and the like. The finiteness of a clause is a core element that bounds the lower limits of the CP architecture above the IP. In this schema topic particles can occur at three different positions. The spec of IP is the target position for relative pronouns and it also hosts the complementizer in the language. The Wh- operator moves to the left periphery and targets the FOC position. As both the elements vie for the same position, focus particles and Wh- operators cannot co-occur.

He further (2005) explains that the "complementizer system as the interface between a propositional content (expressed by the IP) and the superordinate structure a higher clause or, possibly, the articulation of discourse, if we consider a root clause. As such, we expect the C system to express at least two kinds of information, one facing the outside and the other facing the inside." [7] 

Rizzi drawing from recent works by Holmberg and Platzack (1988) assumes "that the C system expresses a specification of finiteness, which in turn selects an IP system with the familiar characteristics of finiteness: mood distinctions, subject agreement licensing nominative Case, overt tense distinctions (these specifications being subjected to some cross-linguistic variation, as we have seen)." [8] He also claims that small clauses have no C system.

So what is its consequence this theory in a language like Malayalam? Malayalam is a language that has wh in-situ position and focus expressed either by dislocation of the focussed particle or by intonation. [9] 

Raman aarkkaNu pena koduthatu

Ram who-BE pen give-NOM

To whom did Ram give the pen?

pena aarkkaNu Raman koduthatu

pen who-BE Ram give-NOM

Raman pena aarkkaNu koduthatu

Ram pen who-BE give-NOM

aarkkaNu Raman pena koduthatu

who-BE Ram pen give-NOM

pena Raman aarkkaNu koduthatu

pen Ram who-BE give-NOM

In the above examples, we can see that even if the position for the focussed particle is left dislocated or left adjoined the verb, it is possible along with the question word. This will not be acceptable in Rizzi's CP structure. If then what is the focus position in Malayalam? What will be the theoretical implications in languages that have free word order and wh in situ position?

Clause Structure in Malayalam

The basic sentence type contains a single clause. "The unmarked order of constituents in all types of sentences is SOV." [10] Other features that are dependent on this pattern like complements preceding the matrix clauses and postpositions in the language that are also the common features of the Dravidian languages holds true for Malayalam. However, it is also possible that an embedded clause come after or within the main clause. The three permutations are given below.

Raman var- um enne kuTi para- nnu

Ram come-fut COMP child say -pst

The child said that ram would come.

kuTi para-nnu Raman var-um enne

kuTi Raman var-um enne para-nnu (taken from Asher and Kumari, 1997)

The different clause types that will be looked at in this dissertation are dealt with in the subheadings that follow.

Relative clause

"A Relative Clause (RC) is a subordinate clause which delimits the reference of an NP by specifying the role of the referent of that NP in the situation described by the RC" [11] . Malayalam uses a participial construction for relative clause like construction. As I have argued in the MPhil dissertation the higher positioned ECV pooyi will not appear in a relative clause. But there are cases where it can be possible.

*Innale kandu pooya kuTi vanniTunDu

Yesterday see-pst go-pst child come-PER

The child we saw yesterday has come.

?Innale marichu poya vyaktiye adakkam cheytu

Yesterday die-pst go-pst person bury do-pst

The person who died yesterday has been buried.

As we can see from the above example (5) the pooyi is grammatically correct. What will be the structure of such a construction? Is it that this type of construction has been crystallised into phrasal verbs?

Factive versus Non- factive

P. A. M. Seuren, explains Factivity as "a semantic property of certain predicates that take an embedded S-structure, preferably a that-clause, as subject or object. The that-clause of a factive predicate P is presupposed to be true when P is the main lexical predicate of a main clause (directly under a speech act of assertion, question, wish, command, etc.)." [12] He also adds that it has many syntactic imports as well.

avan poyi kaNum ennu enikke ariyam

he go- pst see-fut comp i-dat know-ability

I know that he must have gone.

*avan pokaTe ennu enikku ariyam

he go-opt comp i-dat know-ability

*avan poyi kaNum ennu naan mansilakkunnu

he go- pst see-fut comp I realize-prs

I realise that he must have gone.

As the examples show the predicate know does not go with the higher moods whereas realize has a different take. So what is the role of the main clause predicate in the selection of the subordinate clause IP. What are the semantic constraints that the factive verb imposes on the mood, modal and aspectual content of the that clause that is presupposed to be true.

ECVs and the Functional sequence

A question that stemmed out of the M.Phil research is about the light verb koLLuka that was not analysed because of its rare usage. Look at the following examples

nii joli cheytu koLuu

you job do contain-imp

You can do the job. (granting permission)

naan joli cheytu kollate (cheytoTe)

I job do contain-imp

Can I do the job? (asking permission)

naan ningaLe swaagatham cheytu koLL-unnu

I you welcome do contain-prs

I welcome you with all humility.

As I have noted in the introduction these three instances of the same light verb give entirely different meaning. What will be the base generated position of this light verb in the three examples given? Again the light verb in the (1) and (2) sentence are becoming obsolete. A contracted form of the verb -ooLu and -ooTe are used respectively. Is it possible for us to explain this in terms of the grammaticalisation cline as argued by Pieter Muysken.

*naan ningaLe swaagatham cheytu koND-u

I you welcome do contain-pst

I had welcomed you with all humility

*naan ningaLe swaagatham cheytu koLL-um

I you welcome do contain-fut

I will welcome you with all humility

Then again this light verb does not go with past tense marker (4a) and future marker (4b). What will be the reason for this? Added to this the past tense like marker in the Malayalam serial verb construction is considered as a frozen past tense marker that does not carry any obvious meaning of past tense. Will this lead to an analysis that the Dravidian language (here Malayalam) does not project a tense phrase [13] The position of null subject in an embedded clause.

Tentative Chapter Divisions

Chapter One: VP(articles) of Malayalam

What we have here is a statement of the problem and the objective and importance of the study. It also looks at the semantic imports that different verb particles give.

Chapter Two: Particles in the left Periphery

This chapter will focus on the different particles that occur in the left periphery of a Malayalam clause. It also looks at the difference in the left periphery of different clause types like the main and the subordinate clause, and other small clauses. The interaction/ relation between the INT head and the lower IP heads and specifiers will be another area of study.

Chapter Three: Particles in the IP functional sequence

The chapter gives a structural mapping of the particles in the functional sequence. The presence of the BE verb in the sequence will be probed in this chapter. What is the role of the main clause predication in the selection of the subordinate IP will also be looked at.

Chapter Four: ECV's and Functional Heads.

This will be an extension of the MPhil research that mapped the ECV's into different functional heads. This chapter will exhaustively deal with the different ECV's that was beyond the scope of the MPhil research. This will throw light upon the grammaticalisation cline in the language and the derivation of the possible meanings from the whole word.

Chapter Five: Conclusion

Summary of the chapters and general conclusion.