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Chapter XXII



Interjections have for a long time been an object of controversy. There has been some doubt whether they are words of a definite language in the same sense that nouns, verbs, etc. are, and whether they are not rather involuntary outcries, provoked by violent feelings of pain, joy, surprise, etc., not restricted to any given language but common to all human beings as biological phenomena are.

In our days this controversy is outdated. We can now safely say that interjections are part of the word stock of a language as much as other types of words are. Interjections belonging to a certain language may contain sounds foreign to other languages. Thus, for instance, the English interjection alas contains the vowel phoneme [ae], which is not found either in the Russian or in the German language; the Russian interjection ax contains the consonant phoneme [x], which is not found in English, etc.

The characteristic features which distinguish interjections from practically all other words lie in a different sphere. The interjections, as distinct from nouns, verbs, prepositions, etc., are not names of anything, but expressions of emotions. Thus, the emotion expressed by the interjection alas may be named despondency, or despair, etc., but of course it cannot be named alas. Another characteristic feature of the meaning of interjections is, that while some of them express quite definite meanings (for instance, alas can never express the feeling of joy), other interjections seem to express merely feeling in general, without being attached to some particular feeling. The interjection oh, for example, may be used both when the speaker feels surprised and when he feels joyous, or disappointed, or frightened, etc. The meaning of the interjection itself is thus very vague. We will not enter more deeply into this, as it is a question of lexicology rather than of grammar.

The grammatical problems involved in the study of interjections are to be considered on the usual two levels: that of phrases and that of the sentence.

On the phrase level the problem is whether an interjection can be part of any phrase, and if so, what types of words can be connected with it.

In the vast majority of cases an interjection does not make part of any phrase but stands (in this sense) isolated. However, that does not mean that it is impossible for an interjection to make part of a phrase.

For instance, the interjection alas can be connected with the group "preposition + noun", naming the person or thing which causes the feeling expressed by the interjection: Alas for my friends!

Functions of Interjections

The interjection oh can be followed by the adjective dear to form a phrase which itself is the equivalent of an interjection: Oh dear!

However, on the whole the possibility of an interjection being part of a phrase is very limited indeed. As far as we can see, an interjection can only be the first component of a phrase and never occupies the second or any other place within it.

On the sentence level the function of interjections is a controversial matter. How, for example, are we to interpret the syntactical function of the interjection in a sentence like this: Oh! she used awful grammar but I could see she was trying hard to be elegant, poor thing (M. MITCHELL) ? The usual interpretation is that the interjection stands outside the structure of the sentence.1 Another view is that it is syntactically a kind of parenthesis at least in some cases.2 The controversy cannot be decided by objective investigation and the answer only depends on what we mean by sentence structure on the one hand, and by some element or other being outside the sentence structure, on the other.

We will start on the assumption that no element belonging to a sentence can be outside its structure, and we will treat the syntactical functions of interjections accordingly.3

An interjection, then, is, syntactically, a part of the sentence loosely connected with the rest of it, and approaching a parenthesis in its character.

However, an interjection can also stand quite apart and form a sentence by itself, as in the following passage: "He refused to marry her the next day!" "Oh!" said Scarlett, her hopes dashed. (M. MITCHELL)

Phrases consisting of two or more words and equivalent to interjections, such as Dear me! Goodness gracious! Well I never! etc., will be discussed in the chapter on phrases.

After having considered in some detail the morphological and syntactical peculiarities of different types of words described as parts of speech, we will now turn to certain words which have not been included in our classification.

The possibility, and even probability of such words existing in a language has been convincingly shown by Academician L. Ščerba in his paper on parts of speech in Russian, published in 1928. 4 He pointed out that there may be words in a language which are not

1 See, for example, Грамматика русского языка, т. I, стр. 674,

2 See В. Л. Жигадло, И. II. Иванова, Л. Л. Иофик, Современный английский язык, стр. 301.

3 See below, p. 234.

4 See Л. В. Щерба, О частях речи в русском языке. Избранные работы по русскому языку. стр. 66.

168 The Interjection. Words Not Included in the Classification

included under any category, and then, as he aptly put it, they would belong nowhere. It would indeed be no more than a prejudice to suppose that every word of a language "must" belong to some part of speech. There is nothing in language structure to warrant that assumption.

Academician Ščerba's idea is fully confirmed by some facts of Modern English. If, for instance, we take the word please, used in polite requests, we shall be at a loss to say to what part of speech it belongs. Traditionally, it was described as an adverb, but there appears to be no reasonable ground for this, either in the meaning of the word or in its syntactical function. (The morphological criterion of course yields nothing here, as the word is invariable like many words belonging to various parts of speech.) Rather than "squeezing" the word into some part of speech at whatever cost, we had better put up with the fact that it does not fit into any of them, and leave it outside the system.

Another case in point are the words yes and no. These were also traditionally treated as adverbs, though this was far less justified than even in the case of please. These two words can form sentences without any other word being joined on to them. It might be possible, after all, to take this as their basic feature, and to say that they form a special part of speech, namely, sentence words. However, such a procedure is extremely doubtful, both because that feature seems hardly sufficient for constituting a part of speech, and because the number of words involved is so small. It seems therefore preferable to leave these two words, like the word please, outside the system of parts of speech.

Other words deserving similar treatment may be found, and the possibility of being left outside the system of parts of speech should be left open to them.

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