The Noun In English And Romanian

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1st Jan 1970 English Language Reference this


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The noun is one of the most important parts of speech, along with the verb as without nouns; one cannot excogitate ideas into sentences to communicate with other people. Within this context, it is worth saying that in most languages, 50% of all speech acts use nouns. This is the case for both English and Romanian.

Lexical and grammatical meanings of words are interrelated within the morphological and syntactical structure system of the language. In Cours de Linguistique Generale, Ferdinand de Saussure pointed out the fact that language itself is only a set of tools, which are counterfeited constantly for future use. Manufactured during speech acts, language changes, it is altered, extended or reshaped. Saussure uses the antithesis langue vs. parole to emphasize the fact that langue, which is French for language, depicts a system of signs, an impersonal language phenomena. On the other hand, parole, French for speech, refers to the personal phenomena of a person’s series of speech acts.

The English language is the most widely spread language in the world. Formally a West Germanic dialect, English is spoken as first language by most of the inhabitants of different nations, including United States, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland and New Zealand. Now it has grown to be the third most used language in the world considering the number of native speakers, after Spanish, Mandarin and Chinese. Commonly used as a second language more than any other, English is the most important official language of the European Union and many other countries, as well as in many world organizations.

On the other hand, Romanian (or Daco-Romanian) is a Romance language spoken by about 28 million people, primarily in Romania and Moldova. It is the official language in Romania, Republic of Moldova, and the autonomous Mount Athos in Greece and in the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina in Serbia. Romanian is a neo-Latin idiom that resembles Italian, and then in decreasing order, it resembles the Sardinian, Catalan, Romansh, Spanish and Portuguese, and the least with French.

1.1 Historical Overview of English and Romanian

The English language was spoken in the English Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and what is now the south-east region of Scotland. Back then this region was under the control of the kingdom of Northumbria. Following the influence of Great Britain and the United Kingdom from the 18th century, and of the United States of America since the middle 20th century, it has spread all around the world, becoming the leading language of international discourse and the “lingua franca” in many regions.

From a historical point of view, the English language has its origins in the mixture of related dialects, now entitled Old English, brought to the eastern coast of Britain by the Germanic (Anglo-Saxon) nomads during the 5th century. The word “English” comes from the name of the “Angles”, precisely the name of their beloved ancestral region of “Angeln”. A massive number of English words were constructed based on Latin roots, because Latin was the only form of “lingua franca” of the Christian Church and of the European intellectual life. Afterwards, the language suffered many more influences, due to the Viking invasions from the 8th and 9th centuries.

When the Normans conquered England, in the 11th century, this gave rise to heavy changes in the vocabulary and spelling of the main language. There were some specific elements borrowed from Norman-French. These conventions began to resemble in appearance, a close relationship between the Romance languages towards what had then become Middle English. Due to the assimilation of words from other languages, modern English has gained a large vocabulary. Modern English assimilated terms from other European languages, but also words of Hindi and African origin. The Oxford English Dictionary gives a list containing over 250,000 distinct words, disregarding many technical, scientific, or slang terms.

The Epistemic Greco-Roman grammatical type is a more generalized method of exposure that linguists of European languages used for centuries in teaching grammar in many countries, requiring treatment with categories like noun, number and case. Habitual patterns of thinking in the old methodology are rooted in a tradition of two thousand years of grammar. Frequent utterances are assertors of morphological type. Reflection is rarely received as an apodictic expression or issue, with stratification of the trial judge when it came to organizing optimal conceptual system of Roman grammar.

The Italian language resembles the Romanian language in their close number of morphological features, some almost identical consonants, and a number of words and phrases. To Spanish it is closer, inter alia, as it does not distinguish between speaking Romanian closed and open vowels.

In Romanian, nouns are characterized by gender (masculine, feminine, and neuter), declined by number (singular and plural) and are case sensitive (nominative, accusative, dative, genitive and vocative). The articles, as well as most adjectives and pronouns, agree in gender, number and case with the noun they reference.

Romanian is the only Romance language where definite articles are enclitic; they are attached to the end of the noun as in Scandinavian, Bulgarian and Macedonian, as opposed to proclitic (placed in front). They were formed, as in other Romance languages, from the Latin demonstrative pronouns.

1.2 Noun Definitions

One of the most common definitions of a noun is that it is a word used for naming a person, an animal, a place, a thing, or an abstract idea. In both languages, “the noun” itself represents the same things, however the differences between English and Romanian nouns are found in case of number and gender. The most common definition of the noun is the one that defines the noun as “a word that refers to a person, place, thing, event, substance or quality” (Cambridge Dictionary).

Comprehensive reference dictionaries define nouns as follows:

“Noun [countable]

a word or group of words that represent a person (such as ‘Michael’, ‘teacher’ or ‘police officer’), a place (such as ‘France’ or ‘school’), a thing or activity (such as ‘coffee’ or ‘football’), or a quality or idea (such as ‘danger’ or ‘happiness’). Nouns can be used as the subject or object of a verb (as in ‘The teacher arrived’ or ‘We like the teacher’) or as the object of a preposition (as in ‘good at football’).”(Longman Dictionary)

On the other hand, the Oxford Dictionary offers the reader a more complex outlook with the noun considered as per origin and grammatical references:

“noun: a word (other than a pronoun) used to identify any of a class of people, places, or things (common noun), or to name a particular one of these (proper noun).

Origin: late Middle English: from Anglo-Norman French, from Latin nomen ‘name’

Grammar: Nouns are words used to identify people, places, things, and ideas. As a grammatical class, nouns satisfy most or all of the following tests: Number: they have a singular and a plural form: one car, two cars one child, several children Determiners: they can be preceded by a, an, or the: a child an apple the cars Modifiers: they can be modified by an adjective placed before them: a young child a ripe apple the new cars Phrases: they can form the headword of a noun phrase: a ripe red apple ready to eat the new cars on the forecourt Nouns fall into a number of broad groups, each of which has a separate entry in this A-Z” (Oxford Dictionary)

Some English grammars give vague definitions of what a noun is. Leon LeviÈ›chi (13) defines the noun as a word which denotes names of objects, such as beings, things and abstract notions; however, he states that it depends on the reader’s understanding as to how to recognize nouns.

English linguist Geoffrey Leech considers nouns to be “the largest class of words” (Leech 39) whereas for Adriana Chiriacescu, the English noun is a “term used in the grammatical classification of words” (Chiriacescu 5). David Crystal, in his “Rediscover Grammar with David Crystal” emphasizes that grammar identifies nouns in a different way, if a word can be determined by a, an, or some, then that word is certainly a noun. Similarly the word that stands as the head of a noun phrase is also a noun.

“The traditional definition of a noun says that it is the name of a person, place, or thing. But this definition is extremely vague, and it does not tell the whole story. The vagueness is in the word ‘thing’. Advice, beauty, and consequence are nouns, but it is difficult to see what ‘things’ these words refer to. The definition makes no reference at all to the way nouns actually behave in the grammar of the language” (Crystal 15)

On the other hand, in Romanian, Constantin Dumitru (34) defines the noun as a notional and flexible part of speech, referring to objects which can perform all syntactic functions within the sentence and which can also stand for a whole sentence. The same idea can be found in the definition listed in the Romanian Explicative Dictionary:

“SUBSTANTÍV, (1) substantive, s. n., (2) substantivi, adj. 1. S. n. Parte de vorbire care denumeÈ™te lucruri, fiinÈ›e sau noÈ›iuni abstracte È™i care se modifică, în cele mai multe limbi, după număr È™i caz. 2. Adj. (În sintagma) Colorant substantiv = colorant care vopseÈ™te fibrele fără ajutorul mordanÈ›ilor; colorant direct. – Din fr. substantif, lat. substantivus.” (D.E.X. )

In Gramatica Academiei Romane, the noun is defined as the part of a lexical and grammatical class, representing almost 50% of all Romanian words. Alongside the verb, the noun is a fundamental part of speech involved in the definition of other words. From a morphological point of view, a noun changes according to its gender, number and determiners. From a syntactic approach, when combined with a verb a noun forms the nucleus of a statement, the main idea. In both languages nouns have the same functions within a sentence.

1.3 Formation and Classification of Nouns

In both English and Romanian a noun can function in a sentence as a subject, a direct object, an indirect object, a subject complement, an object complement, an appositive, an adjective or an adverb.

In English, a noun is formed by adding suffixes to other categories of words. For example if the ending -age is added to the verb to waste the resulting noun is wastage. Suffixes can also be added to other verbs, adjectives or other nouns. Below, some more examples illustrate this idea:

SuffixAdd to…Example

-ationThe verb “to explore”exploration

-antThe verb “to contest”contestant

-arThe verb “to lie”liar

-ageThe verb “to drain”drainage

-anceThe verb “to perform”performance

-domThe noun “king”kingdom

-eeThe verb “to employ”employee

-eerThe verb “to profit”profiteer

-erThe verb “to write”writer

-essThe noun “actor”actress

-ingThe verb “to build”building

-ityThe adjective “rapid”rapidity

-(i)anThe noun “Paris”Parisian

-istThe adjective “social”socialist

-ismThe noun “ideal”idealism

-nessThe adjective “kind”kindness

-orThe verb “to act”actor

-shipThe noun “friend”friendship

-sterThe noun “gang”gangster

Some words are modified during the process of adding suffixes; words like explore drop the final e and then add -ation; the verb to write drops the final -e and the adds -er.

There are many noun classifications in English. Bloomsbury’s Grammar (2) lists eight types of nouns: proper (New York, Detroit, Columbia), common (tissue, glasses, bed), abstract (truth, reliance, sensibility), concrete (chocolate, pizza, heater), singular (child, cat, tree), and plural (trees, cats, children), countable (a car, a banana, an arm), and uncountable (sugar, information, homework).

According to Thomson and Martinet (24) “there are four kinds of noun in English”: Common (book, computer, notebook), proper (Mary, Constantine, Stuart), abstract (beauty, sensibility) and collective (crowd, people, children). Collective or mass nouns are included in the category of number.

According to Leon Levitchi and Ioan Preda (16) there are only two types of nouns: common (such as map, street or sugar), and proper (Robert, the Danube). Other linguists, such as Zdrenghea (15), consider noun classification from the following points of view:

a.) According to their form, nouns can be: simple (formed by one word: dog, book, shelf) and compound (formed by combining two words together: hotdog, bookshelf, bathroom)

b.) According to their meaning, nouns are: common, proper, and collective and, sometimes, names of materials. Nouns like car, house, toy, are all called common nous because there are many cars, houses, and toys all around the world. Nouns like Bucharest or Romania are called proper nouns because there is only one particular country called Romania and only one state called Bucharest. Therefore, common nouns define things in general, they describe a class of entities which exist in a larger amount, whereas proper nouns refer to particular things, unique entities, or individuals. Any noun which can experience at least one of the five senses is a concrete noun. Collective nouns refer to a group or a collection of similar things or people which are taken as a whole, noun such as: crew, family or audience. All nouns referring to “bulk or mass or quantity of matter or an aggregation of things united in a body” (Mihai M. Zdrenghea 15) are called mass nouns or names of materials. “The plural form of a mass noun may have a meaning entirely different from the singular, and yet represents a mass idea” (Mihai M. Zdrenghea 15). Such as an example is the noun news, which is a mass noun, built to expresses a plural idea:

e.g. The herald presented the news five minutes earlier.

c.) Nouns can also be classified as abstract and concrete. A noun is called abstract when it refers to ideas or concepts, (beauty, philology).

e.g. Her beauty was dazzling.

Abstract nouns do not have any connection to the human senses; any noun that has no reference towards the five human senses is considered an abstract noun. On the other hand, there are concrete nouns, which state things one can feel or touch (pen, table computer).

e.g. She gave me a new pen for my birthday.

Other classifications (Crystal 93) group the main classes of a noun into six categories: firstly nouns are separated into common (book, boulevard, and city; e.g. The book is on the self.) and proper (New York, Mary, and Sibiu; e.g. Mary visited Sibiu last month.). Then, Crystal divides the common category into countable nouns (chair, table, and car; e.g. The chair was under the table.) and uncountable nouns (information, homework, sugar; e.g. The information we received was very useful.). Both categories can further be divided into concrete (referring to things which can be measured and observed such as chair, pen, and bottle) and abstract nouns (which regard the “unobservable notions” (Crystal 96) such as courage, music, and love).


Proper Common

Countable Uncountable

Concrete Abstract Concrete Abstract

Romanian grammars typically list only four categories of nouns: common, proper, abstract and concrete nouns.

Common nouns: băiat/boy; fată/girl; geam/window; masă/table; etc.

e.g. Băiatul se joacă în gradina din spatele casei. / The boy is playing in the backyard.

Proper nouns: Jack; Mary; England; Romania; etc.

e.g. TuriÈ™tii preferă să viziteze liniÈ™titul Sibiu în locul aglomeratului BucureÈ™ti. / Tourists prefer to visit the quiet Sibiu, rather than the noisy Bucharest.

In Romanian, proper nouns can be easily identified as they are always written with capital letters.

Concrete nouns: telefon/telephone; cizmă/boot; lampă/lamp; etc.

e.g. Telefonul a sunat chiar când intram în apartament. / The telephone rang right when I was entering my apartment.

Abstract nouns: noroc/luck; fericire/happiness; atitudine/attitude; etc

e.g. Acest medallion trebuie să îÈ›i aducă noroc. / This necklace should bring you luck.

In ToÈ™a’s view, the Romanian grammar has established a particular ontological criterion of dividing and defining nouns; namely, common nouns name objects (ceas/watch; ușă/door; televizor/television; etc.), whereas proper nouns refer only to some items considered in isolation (Oxford; Samsung; Quartz; etc.).

With such classification, common and proper are not contradictory terms but adverse. However, a clear definition regarding common and proper nouns, according to Viggo Brøndal (ToÈ™a Alexandru 35), can only be made upon the number of defined objects. A proper noun defines a single object, a unique element or an individual entity. As opposed to the proper noun, the common noun denotes more objects or a mass of elements. Brøndal considers such distinction to be insufficient, pointing to the fact that proper nouns such as names John, Petru, Mary, Constantine, Alexandra, are all names that were given to more than one person for thousands of years.

e.g. Alexandru a venit să o viziteze pe Maria, dar Ion i-a spus că ea se va întoarce la ora 8. / Alexander came to visit Mary, but John told him that she will come back at 8 o’clock.

In the Romanian Academy Grammar the noun is classified as abstract, massive, collective and proper. Abstract nouns, are considered a subchapter of nouns, which are in opposition with concrete nouns. There is no clear distinction between abstract and concrete nouns, as seen with the noun politică in the following sentences:

e.g. Ceea ce se intamplă acum în È›ară nu se poate numi politică. / What is now happening in our country cannot be called politics.

Politica monetară a anului trecut, a fost subiect de discuÈ›ie săptămâna aceasta. / Last year’s monetary policy was the topic of this week’s discussion.

In the former sentence, politica stands for politics in general, whereas in the latter it stands for policy.


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