The Dutch school grammars used in the Netherlands are repeatedly criticized, especially by modern linguists. Works dealing with grammar on the traditional lines are rejected as unscientific and chaotic. Curiously enough, traditional grammatical categories such as noun, verb, subject, predicate etc., play their part even in the most advanced linguistic theories. Starting from this fact, and from the fact that linguistic signs are meaningful, we have investigated, in the case of some of these categories, to what extent semantic elements play a part in the grammatical distinctions. Using Reichling's theory of the word for our starting point, we have analysed the Dutch sentence Ik zag een klein paard, Jan! (I saw a small horse, John!), in doing which we have based ourselves exclusively on the Dutch speaker's knowledge of his own language. Such a humanistic approach to the semantic element is a complement to the scientific approach to the formal element in language. Form and meaning are themselves complementary and are therefore both inherent in all use of language. The idea that in a linguistic investigation meaning could be essentially eliminated is just as unreal as an elimination of form would be. In spite of their being complementary, however, we can consider meaning and form independently.
In our grammatical investigation of meaning, we have arrived at the notion of grammatical function. The grammatical function is the semantic phenomenon that underlies the grammatical categories.
An important distinction within the grammatical functions has proved to be the opposition between space and time, corresponding to the opposition between noun and verb functions. Within this space/time distinction we have ascertained a marked difference between parsing (parts of speech) and sentence analysis (syntax). Another distinction we have been able to make is that between actualized function and potential function. The chaotic character of the existing grammatical terminology can, among others, be explained from a neglect of this distinction. It is made implicitly and incidentally in such statements as ‘Up is an adverb, but in this particular case (e.g. in He walked up the street), it is a preposition’.
Apart from some categories that are specifically grammatical, we have also investigated a few other linguistic notions, such as ‘word’, ‘morpheme’, with their implications from the point of view of grammatical function.