John Wallis on adjectives the discovery of phrase structure in the Grammatica Linguae Anglicanae (1653)
One of the typical features of the early grammars of European vernaculars is their sketchy treatment of syntactic phenomena. The reason for this neglect is obvious: The steady orientation of grammarians towards the traditional word-class approach virtually necessitated the persistence of the view of a sentence as a linear arrangement of words. Though historians of grammar have acknowledged John Wallis’(1616–1703) attempt at freeing the grammar of English from the strait jacket of Latin grammar, they have seen his Grammatica Linguae Anglicanae (1653) in the word-based grammar tradition. In this paper I argue that beyond the fairly traditional organization and terminology of Wallis’ grammar lies a fundamentally different approach: Instead of basing his description of English on a fixed word-class system, Wallis seems to arrive at syntactic categories via the criteria of distribution and substitution. It is these criteria (which are constantly applied rather than stated) that lead Wallis to the discovery of phrases and their internal structure. Especially consistent and concise in this regard is Wallis’ description of the structure of the noun phrase in the chapter on “The adjectives”.