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  1. 1. Syntax A Report on EN 200 RENE A. VILLAREAL 26 August 2012
  2. 2. Morphology and Syntax Geoffrey Leech in the book English Language: Description, Variation and Context cited the difference between the two major subdivisions of grammar: • Morphology (more particularly inflectional morphology) deals with grammar within the scope of words. • Syntax, on the other hand, deals with grammar outside the word: that is, with how words behave in larger units (phrases, clauses and sentences).
  3. 3. What is syntax? • Allan, et. al. in the book The English Language and Linguistics Companion “syntax (from Ancient Greek “arrangement”) describes the part of linguistics that examines the way words go together to form sentences.” • Wikipedia – The Free Encyclopedia “the study of the principles and processes by which sentences are constructed in particular languages.” • The Free Online Dictionary “the study of the rules whereby words or other elements of sentence structure are combined to form grammatical sentences.” and stated further as “the branch of linguistics that deals with the grammatical arrangement of words and morphemes in the sentences of a language or of languages in general.”
  4. 4. Introduction Prescriptive • They describe the underlying rules governing how speakers actually use languages. • They differ from traditional pedagogical grammars. • Listing value statements about how language ought to be used. Descriptive • Based on behavior in the speech community and not on structures that some prejudiced individual prefers on grounds of aesthetics of faulty logic.
  5. 5. Linguistic Competence – what speakers “know” • The main goal of a grammatical theory is to capture what it is that all native speakers know about their language structure; in other words, their competence. • Aspects: • Grammaticality judgments • The Order of Words and Morphemes • Word Classes (Parts of Speech) • Constituency • Functions (or grammatical relations) • Ambiguity • Paraphrase
  6. 6. Grammaticality Judgments • The ability to understand and produce sentences never before encountered, such as: • The druids cooked those large quiches. • Cooked those large quiches the druids.* Though seen for the first time: • You have no trouble comprehending it. • This has nothing to do with the memory, but must come from the system of rules that underlies this competence. • Due to human language’s ‘open-endedness’; speakers can understand and produce an infinite number of sentences. • Speakers can also distinguish between grammatical and ungrammatical sentences.
  7. 7. The Order of Words and Morphemes • Words and morphemes must occur in a special order. When this ordering is not followed, ungrammaticality results, as in Cooked those large quiches the druids.*
  8. 8. Word Classes (Parts of Speech) • Words belong to morphosyntactic classes or what traditionally have been described as ‘parts of speech’. • Articles • Nouns • Pronouns • Verbs • Adjectives • Adverbs • Prepositions • Conjunctions • Interjections Such notional definitions come from traditional grammar and are helpful in identifying word classes across languages, but they cannot always be relied on.
  9. 9. Constituency • All human languages have a characteristic hierarchical structure. Sentences don’t just consist of words, but groups of words that act as units which are called constituents. • Constituents are strings of words that function as a group at some level; they work like linguistic building blocks that combine to make larger and larger constituents. • At the top is the highest level of structure, the sentence. • The next layer is the clause, which is equivalent to a simple sentence. • Between the level of clause and word we have intermediate constituents known as phrases. These phrases are always named after the word that is the most important in the string. • This word, the core of the phrase, is called the head.
  10. 10. Tree Diagram Showing Constituency • S – Sentence • N – Noun • NP – Noun Phrase • Det – Determiner • Adj – Adjective • VP – Verb Phrase • and others.
  11. 11. Bracketing – analternativetotreediagram [S [NP [Det the] [N druids] NP] [VP [V cooked] [NP [Det those] [Adj large] [N quiches] NP] VP] S] The tree diagram provides the same sort of information as the bracketing, but shows more clearly the hierarchical arrangements of constituents, which (for most people) makes it easier to understand.
  12. 12. Functions (or grammatical relations) • Constituents are members of morphosyntactic classes; functions like ‘subject’ or ‘object’ are what constituents do. Grammatical relations can sometimes be very subtle. Compare the constituent the druid in the following two sentences. (a) The druid is easy to please. = The druid is easy for anyone to please (b) The druid is eager to please. = The druid is eager to please everyone
  13. 13. • Grammatical functions will also account for the fact that examples like the following are ungrammatical. * The druids disappeared the quiches. * The druids chased. Members of the same morphosyntactic class show similar distributional properties and are mutually substitutable, but only up to a point – the verb disappear cannot take an object (it is intransitive); the verb chase requires an object (it is transitive).
  14. 14. Ambiguity • Speakers recognize that a constituent may have more than one meaning, that is be ambiguous. For example, the following two sentences is at least two ways ambiguous: The druids decided on the village green. • The ambiguity here is structural and we can represent it with partial brackets (or trees). (a) The druids [decided on] [the village green] (b) The druids [decided] [on the village green]
  15. 15. • Those sentences have more than one syntactic analysis, which can be captured with paraphrase (i.e. we can restate them using different words): The druids chose the village green. The druids came to a decision on the village green.
  16. 16. Paraphrase • Part of our competence is, therefore, that we can recognize sentences that mean the same thing, i.e. where there is a relationship of paraphrase. Here are other examples: The druids ate the quiche. vs The quiche was eaten by the druids. I gave the druids the quiche. vs I gave the quiche to the druids.
  17. 17. I ate up my quiche. vs I ate my quiche up. Baking quiches is fun. vs It’s fun to bake quiches. Language is full of this kind of grammatical richness, and linguists have to be able to capture this feature of grammar in an analytical and rigorous way.
  18. 18. Generative Grammar • Noam Chomsky popularized generative grammar – so called because it uses a system of rules that aims to (potentially) generate all possible sentences of a language (much like mathematical rules generate endless sets of values). • These are phrase structure rules (or PS-rules). The following simple PS-rules for English will illustrate. • All sentences of English need an NP (the subject) and a following VP (the verb and potentially other constituents like the object). We can capture this fact in shorthand via the following rule in which the arrow is understood as meaning “consists of” or “expands into”. S NP VP
  19. 19. • There are various rules possible for creating NPs: druids, the druids, the large druids, the large druids in the picture and so on. • NP N • NP Det N • NP Det Adj N • NP Det Adj N PP We can use an abbreviation convention of parentheses (rounded brackets) to collapse all these rules into one neat NP rule. Whatever appears in ( ) is optional; only the noun (as head of the NP) is obligatory. NP (Det) (Adj) N (PP)
  20. 20. Constituency Tests • So far we have assigned constituency of sentences purely on the basis of intuition. But how can we be sure that words pattern in this way? • There are a number of different constituency tests that can be used to decide whether a particular string (sequence of constituents) forms a (larger) constituent. We will mention just three of these tests.
  21. 21. 1) Substitution • One thing we can be sure of is that a string of only one word forms a constituent – a word acts as a unit in terms of sentence structure; i.e. in terms of the syntax. This means that if the string of words we are investigating can be replaced by a single word (such as a pronoun) , this is an indication that the string is a constituent. Let’s take our original sentence and apply the substitution test: The druids cooked those large quiches. Those large quiches can be replaced by the pronoun them and therefore must form a constituent.
  22. 22. 2) Movement • Constituents behave distributionally as single units of structure – and as single units they may have the ability to appear in a variety of sentence positions. In short, we can move constituents around in a sentence, but we can’t move strings that do not form constituents. We can shunt elements to the first position in the sentence for special emphasis or focus. Only constituents can be fronted this way. Those large quiches the druids cooked. (not the flans) *Such sentences often sound odd out of context but are acceptable.
  23. 23. 3)Clefting • Movement of one constituent will involve changes in the sentence. • It has the effect of cleaving an original sentence into two clauses. • Here is a clefted version of our original sentence. It was those large quiches that the druids cooked. (not the flans)
  24. 24. Universal Grammar Chomsky (1965; 1972; 1986) believes there is a part of the brain that contains innate knowledge of what is a possible language and what is not a possible language. Speakers are said to be born with an innate grammar and a task for linguistics is to find out more about this innate grammar. Chomsky and his followers assume the innate grammar is the same for every language, hence there is a universal grammar. One goal is therefore to find out more about universal grammar. There is no obvious direct way studying universal grammar – there is (as yet) no brain scanner that can be used to study it. What linguists who pursue this line of research do is study in great depth the grammars of individual languages. Some people believe that an in-depth study of one language should be enough to discover the abstract structures that make up innate grammar. Others, however, think that a more fruitful way forward is to make in-depth studies of many different languages and compare the results.
  25. 25. Key Points If you study the syntax of a language then you have two tasks: you need to break sentences down into their component parts and you need to be able to describe these component parts grammatically. The prescriptive approach is one that tells you how you ought to speak and write. The descriptive approach describes how people actually do speak and write. Linguistic science must remain objectively descriptive and avoid moral and aesthetic judgment. (But it is appropriate for linguists to focus critically on the particular standards and values being invoked in the prescriptive debates.)
  26. 26. Key Points The following eight features form part of a speaker’s linguistic competence: • Grammaticality judgments • Ordering of words and morphemes • Morphosyntactic classes (Parts of Speech) • Constituency (the way words group together – there are intervening levels of organization between words and sentences) • Grammatical relations (how words are related – who’s doing what to whom) • Elements that are either obligatory or prohibited in a sentence • Structural ambiguity • The ability to paraphrase
  27. 27. Key Points Linguists aim to produce a descriptive grammar (a finite set of rules) that will describe a native speaker’s syntactic competence. These rules must: • Generate all grammatical sentences • Not produce any ungrammatical sentences • Account for linguistic knowledge of morphosyntactic classes (like noun and preposition), grammatical relations (like subject and object), paraphrase, ambiguity, and so on. There is no limit to the creativity of people’s competence. For example, there is theoretically no such thing as the longest sentence, and we can capture this with recursive rules. The limitation on the length of a sentence is imposed by performance constraints on usage, not competence.
  28. 28. Key Points Phrase Structure (PS) rules specify constituent structure and can be represented by a labelled tree. PS-rules captures four types of information:  Linear order  Hierarchical order (words grouped into constituents)  Morphosyntactic classes  Grammatical relations Intransitive verbs can’t be followed by an object NP; transitive verbs must be followed by an object NP. We can justify whether or not a string is a constituent by tests such as substitution (by one word) and movement (whether the string can appear in different sentence positions).
  29. 29. Key Points Many linguists believe that grammar is innate and is the same for any language; hence that there exists a universal grammar. Additional information can be found in Borjars and Burridge 2001; Brown and Miller 1991; Halliday and Matthiessen 2004; Van Valin 2001; Van Valin and LaPolla 1997.