C-40. A new (linguistic) particle?

Grammatically, a verb phrasal comprises a verb followed by a preposition, as, for example: to look up, to look into, to look out, and to look for. An adverbial function is thereby served. “Phrasal” denotes the emphasis on the employment of a preposition, as in the case of the more familiar “prepositional phrase.”

Verb phrasals are particles, a grammatical category which also includes noun phrases. For example, in the sentence, “In the Mood is a swing classic,” the prepositional phrase serves as the subject.

But is there such a grammatical unit as a noun phrasal, a unit which ought to be included among the particles? Can a preposition following a noun serve an adjectival function?

Yes. We have been employing this construction to help explicate some of the differentiation that has been neglected within key concepts. We have introduced it less formally (grammatically speaking) as the “subject of a preposition.” Adding a preposition to a noun helped to bring out consequential conceptual distinctions. For example: Theory OF; theory FOR; theory ABOUT. Such a treatment enables us to make a useful statement like, “A theory OF everything is also a theory ABOUT everything.” Which is useful in light of the distinction between everything (re particulars) and Everything (re the Nature of Things: III). When it is said that there is a theory behind every step, then theory FOR is in play, whether theory OF and/or ABOUT it may be.

A concept like freedom can profit from this method: freedom OF (unconstrained); freedom FROM (various threats); freedom FOR (liberation); freedom TO (opportunity – if capable). With concepts so often theoretically deficient (C-28), their interpretation needs all the help we can offer those who are trying to grasp the meaning – significance and signification – proffered (C-32). Note, for example, the dynamic tension (XI) between freedom OF and freedom FROM: where one person’s sense of license contests with another’s sense of oppression – or worse.

We have made the most use of the noun phrasal with respect to points, in regard to the crucial minding capability (see C-33: Information) necessitated by incomplete instruction as the legacy of Everything’s partial order (III). Hence: points AT, ABOUT, OF, FOR, OUT, UP, TO, etc. Communication’s distinctive functions with regard to act (OF, FOR) vs. content (AT, ABOUT) are thereby illuminated.

“Point” plays a dual role, in that it readily lends itself to usage via a verb phrasal or a noun phrasal. To make some points clear, then, we resort to using the lower case (e.g., point to) for the verb phrasal and upper case (e.g., point TO) for the noun phrasal.

A possible interpretation to put on this discussion is that natural language, as a technological invention, illustrates the point that structure sometimes follows function – and that if function has not been served, structure is needed. We have commented in several places [e.g., App. VII; C-39] that linguistic structure could use some helpful innovation to better represent the potential productivity of cognition in consort with communication [App. III], thereby to better serve consequentiality. A logic to linguistic structure serves the singularity requisite (VIII), an aid to better pointing, but that is not the only functional and structural aspect of natural language that we should be concerned about.

There is a question as to whether any neglected function – here the helpful adjectival contribution of the preposition to the noun – should be given a technological contribution in natural language (a secondary tell) or in a special language (a tertiary tell). But concepts, expressed as nouns, need all the help they can get – one way or another.

Although the noun phrasal construction may seem ungainly, the distinctions needing expression in this manner would hardly enjoy our making an adjustment along the lines of, for example, “a for theory,” “an about theory,” and “an of theory.”

The question also arises anew whether the BPO (C-38, C-39) emphasis on discovery of the order of things is missing something about language (Chomsky re conventional usage and Skinner re syntactic logic): that the Nature of Things requires problem-solving compositional tools (e.g., languages as inventions), some already made and some yet to be made, the latter especially — if we are going to solve our most vexing problems.

(c) 2012 R. F. Carter