The Analysis of Sentence StructureBy Carinne Karlick and Kaitlyn Hinze
What is Syntax? Syntax is generally defined as the system of rules for the formation of sentence structure (Topic A). One word does not express much, therefore we put words in order to create meaning. Utterances must be grammatical to be considered a possible sentence of a language. Any combination of words does not produce a well-formed sentence. For example: Student book brought the home. Correct: The student brought the book home. (O’Grady, p.251).
Theory of Syntax A theory of syntax is an attempt to describe the rules that govern order of words and to account for how syntax is changed to create different sentences (Freeman, p. 220). Four steps to building a theory of syntax: Determine what elements to include (linear order of words) Recognize that words in a sentence are not all the same Group the words Consider the function of each group of words Find connections among the parts of the sentence
Transformational GrammarO’Grady introduces this approach that is widely accepted by linguists., although manylinguists disagree with various features. Universal Grammar (UG) is the system of categories, operations and principles shared by all languages. It is believed that the syntactic component of any grammar must include 2 subcomponents: Lexicon: provides a list of the languages words & information about punctuation, form and meaning. Computational System: operations that combine and arrange words in certain ways. (O’Grady, P. 152)
Syntactic CategoriesLexical Categories Non-lexical Categories Noun (N) Determiner (Det) EX: boy, dog, Rachel, moisture, desk EX: the, a this, these Verb (V) Auxiliary Verb (Aux) EX: run, talk, depart, jump Modal: will, can, may, should Adjective (A) Non-modal: be, have EX: happy, brave, fond, short Conjunction (Con) Preposition (P) Ex: and, or, but EX: to, in, by, near Degree Word (Deg) Adverb (Adv) Ex: too, so, very, quite EX: chiefly, slowly, quietly, always(O’Grady, P153)
Rules (from Freeman, pp. 223-228) The Question Rule: forming questions from statements. Linguists try to form rules that govern processes as clearly as possible so that they may be tested against new sentences. They state a rule (a hypothesis) and then test the rules against possible sentences. Each time a counterexample is found, the rules is revisited. Phrase Structure Rules: attempt to specify how the phrases in a sentence are structured. Phrase structure rules are written in certain conventions: Noun Phrase (NP) --Determiner (DET) Auxiliary verb (AUX) --Quantifier (Q) Verb Phrase (VP) --Adjective Phrase (ADJP) Prepositional Phrase (PP) --Adverb Phrase (ADVP) Sentence NP-AUX-VP NP (DET)-(Q)-(ADJP)-N-(PP) VPV-(NP)-(PP)-(ADVP) (parentheses are optional)
Confusing Concepts Pinker (p. 211) identifies garden path sentences as sentences, that are grammatically correct, but whose first words lead the listener “up the garden path” to an incorrect analysis. Example: The cotton clothing is usually made of grows in Mississippi. According to O’Grady (p. 153), elements have meaning that are harder to define than those of lexical categories. For example: the or would are harder to define than hill or vehicle. Some words belong to more than one category. For example: comb (N) The lady found a comb comb (V) The boy should comb his hair.
How Do We Determine a Word’s Category? Meaning: nouns name people, places things ideas. Verbs designate actions and states of being etc. But a word’s category does not have a straightforward relationship to its meaning (O’Grady, p. 154) Infection: the change of a word’s form to show grammatical information of various sorts (O’Grady, p.127) For example: plural, possessive, past tense, third person singular etc. But infection does not always provide information needed to determine a word’s category (O’Grady, p. 155). Distribution: this criteria is more reliable. Nous appear with determiners, verbs with an auxiliary and adjectives with a degree word. (See table 5.3, O’Grady on p. 155)
Phrase Structure Sentences: are the largest unit of syntactic analysis. Sentences have a hierarchical design in which words are grouped together into successively larger structural units. The structure of phrases are the units that stand between words and sentences in syntactic structure. A typical phrase can be broken down into 3 parts: a head, a specifier and a complement arranged in the X’ Schema which are called (inverted) trees. (O’Grady, pp.155-156)
Some Examples of Treesfrom the O’Grady Trees Handout
Some More Treesfrom the O’Grady Tress Handout Tree diagrams, like other graphic organizers, are helpful because they show relationships (Freeman, p. 232). Presenting trees as a helper, a graphic organizer, will not worry students as much as diagramming as a drill.
Trees Heads: The nucleus around which a phrase is built. Four categories can function as the head: nouns (N), verbs (V), adjectives (A) and prepositions (P). Specifiers: a specifer within a phrase depends on the category of the head. Complements: provide information about entities and locations whose existence is implied by the head. Refer to O’Grady pp. 157-159
Tests for Phrase Structure Constituents or the existence of syntactic units found in trees can be verified with the help of special tests. The Substitution Test: syntactic units can be replaced by an element such as they, it or do so. Ex: The children stopped at the corner. They stopped at the corner or The children stopped there. The Movement Test: a constituent can be moved as a single unit to a different position within a sentence. Ex: They stopped at the corner At the corner, they stopped. The Coordination Test: a group of words forms a constituent if it can be joined to another group of words by a conjunction like and, or, or but. Ex: The children stopped at the corner and looked both ways. (O’Grady, p. 162)
Complement Information about complements allowed by a particular head is included in a speaker’slexicon. Verb ComplementCompliment option-NP Sample head- vanish Ex- The rabbit vanished Noun ComplementsCompliment option-PPof Sample head- memory Ex- the memory [PP of a friend] Adjective ComplementsComplement option-PPto Sample Head- obvious Ex- obvious [PP to the student] Preposition ComplementsComplement option- NP Sample head- in Ex- in [NP the house](O’Grady, pp. 162-166)
MOVE The formation of questions require use of a structure- building operation called move. Traditionally known as transformation because it transforms an existing structure. Example: Should that guy go? That guy should go. A transformation or move operation can do no more than change and element’s position (O’Grady, pp. 167-171)
Universal Grammar (UG) All languages are fundamentally alike with respect to the basics of syntax. All languages use the merge operation to combine words on the basis of their syntactic category and sub categorization properties, creating phrases that comply with the X’ schema. There is room for variation allowing individual languages to differ with respect to certain parameters. Parameters are the set of options that UG permits for a particular phenomenon. (O’Grady, P. 177)
Grammatical Acceptability Linguists use intuitions of native speakers to determine grammatical acceptability. People studying a new language get frustrated when they are corrected but the corrector cannot explain the rule for determining which word to use (Freeman, p. 229). By attempting to describe syntactic structure, linguists are trying to describe how the language words- not prescribing correct usage.
Syntax and L2 Teaching One of the most widely used methods of teaching L2 is the audiolingual method (ALM). In ALM, students are expected to learn syntax without explicit instruction. Students have struggled using ALM because language is not simply developed by imitating what people say. Rules need to be constructed to comprehend and produce new language (Freeman, p. 246) Academic writing and speech contain more complex syntax than conversational language. In the sociopsycholinguistic view of reading, syntactic cues are an important source of information that readers use to make predictions as they construct meaning. Some struggling readers read slowly to pronounce each word, and fail to access syntactic cues.
Check Out These Helpful Websites Overview of Syntax http://www.harmony.org.uk/book/linguistics_syntax.htm Basic exercises in Syntax (trees) http://www.mta.ca/~wburnett/syntex.html
References O’Grady, W., Archibald, J., Aronoff, M., & Rees-Miller, J. (2005). Contemporary linguistics, an introduction. (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martins. Freeman, D. and Freeman Y. (2004). Essential Linguistics: What You Need to Know to Teach Reading, ESL, Spelling, Phonics, and Grammar. Heinneman. Pinker, S. (2007). The Language Instinct: How the mind creates Language. New York: Harper Perennial. Harper Collins.