Syntax
The Structure of Sentences
Asian 401
Syntactic Categories
 = Word Classes = Parts of Speech
 All languages have syntactic categories.
The syntactic category of a word
determines the role it can play in a
sentence.
 Only a noun can complete the sentence
“Give a __________ to me.”
Lexical vs. Nonlexical
 Noun
 Determiner (a, the,
 Verb
this, etc.)
 Conjunction (and,
or, but, etc.)
 Degree word (too,
very, etc.)
 Adjective
 Preposition
 Adverb
 Clearly identifiable
meanings
 Functional
Identifying Categories
 Native speakers may have a good
intuition about the syntactic category
of a word.
 But linguists require more objective
ways of determining syntactic
categories.
 There are two tests one can use:
Test 1: Inflection
 Certain inflectional paradigms apply
only to one syntactic category.
 For example, if a word can take the
inflectional suffix -ed in English, it
must belong to the verb category.
 Problem 1: What about sing?
 Problem 2: Analytic languages
Test 2: Distribution
 The words with which a word may co-
occur can be used to determine its
syntactic category.
 Example: only nouns can come after a
or the in English.
 All languages have such distributional
restrictions on syntactic categories.
Other languages
 Different languages have different
syntactic categories.
 Some Asian languages have no
adjectives. They have verbs meaning
“to be red”, “to be happy”, etc.
 Many Asian languages have a syntactic
category called classifier.
Classifiers
 Also called measure words.
 In Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese,
Chinese, Korean, Indonesian, etc.
 Co-occur with counted nouns
 Examples: “one student”, “two
students”; “one book”, “two books”
 Different classifiers co-occur with
different nouns
Distribution tests
 Distribution tests for syntactic
categories are different in all
languages.
 Chinese has no articles like a, the. So
you can’t test for nouns with them.
 But in Chinese, only nouns co-occur
with classifiers. If a word can come
after a classifier, it must be a noun.
Sentence Structure
 Recall from morphology that words are
not simply strings of morphemes. They
have a hierarchical structure that we
can represent with trees.
devaporize
vaporize
de-
vapor
-ize
Sentence Structure
 Similarly, sentences do not consist of a
string of words. They also have an
internal hierarchical structure.
 The structural elements of sentences
are called syntactic constituents.
Constituents
 The following sentence is not just a
string of eleven words:
Bill and John ate all the cookies
yesterday at the park.
 It is made up of four basic
constituents:
Bill and John ate all the cookies
yesterday at the park.
Constituency tests
 I can demonstrate that these are
constituents by movement and
substitution tests.
 Only constituents can be moved to
another part of the sentence; only
constituents can be substituted for in a
sentence.
Test 1: Movement
Bill and John ate all the cookies
yesterday at the park.

We can move at the park:
Bill and John ate all the cookies at the
park yesterday.

We can’t move at the:
*Bill and John ate all the cookies at the
yesterday park.
Test 2: Substitution (1)
 Bill and John ate all the cookies at the
park yesterday.
 Substitute they for Bill and John:
 They ate all the cookies at the park
yesterday.
Substitution (2)
 Bill and John ate all the cookies at the
park yesterday.
 Substitute did so for ate all the
cookies:
 Bill and John did so at the park
yesterday.
Substitution (3)
 Bill and John ate all the cookies at the
park yesterday.
 Substitute there for at the park:
 Bill and John ate all the cookies there
yesterday.
Substitution (4)
 Bill and John ate all the cookies at the
park yesterday.
 Substitute then for yesterday:
 Bill and John ate all the cookies at the
park then.
Substitution 5
 Can’t substitute across boundaries:
 Bill and John ate all the cookies at the
park yesterday.
 Substitute did so for ate all the:
 *Bill and John did so cookies at the
park yesterday.
Substitution 6
 Can’t substitute across boundaries:
 Bill and John ate all the cookies at the
park yesterday.
 Substitute them for cookies at:
 *Bill and John ate all the them the
park yesterday.
Constituents are phrases
 all the cookies is a noun phrase. We can
substitute any noun phrase for it:
 They ate cookies yesterday.
 They ate some cookies yesterday.
 They ate the cookies left over from dinner
last week yesterday.
 They ate the cookies that their mother told
them several times not to eat yesterday.
Sentence structure
 We form sentences by combining words
into phrasal constituents, phrases into
larger constituents, and these
constituents into sentences.
 All phrases have the same basic
structure:
Phrase Structure
Phrase (XP)
Specifier Head (X) Complement(s)
 The specifier narrows the meaning of
the head. The complements give
more information about the head.
Phrase types
 Noun Phrase (NP): Functions like a
noun, head is noun (N)
 Verb Phrase (VP): Functions like a verb,
head is verb (V)
 Adjective Phrase (AP): Functions like
an adjective, head is adjective (Adj)
 Prepositional Phrase (PP): Head is
preposition (Prep) [in, on, with, etc.]
Exercise 1
 On your handout, identify the specifier,
head, and complement(s) of each
phrase.
 Hint: In English, specifiers come
before the head, complements come
after the head.
Exercise 2
 On your handout, say whether each
phrase is a noun phrase, verb phrase,
adjective phrase, or prepositional
phrase.
 Then identify the specifier, head, and
complements of each phrase.
 Warning: Some phrases have other
phrases inside them!
Specifier types
 In NPs, specifiers are determiners like
a, the, this, that, these, those.
 In VPs, specifiers are adverbs like
always, never, seldom, often.
 In APs, specifiers are degree words like
very, quite, too, so.
 In PPs, specifiers are adverbs like
almost, nearly.
Complement types
 In NPs, complements can be PPs: cabin
by the lake, book on the table.
 In VPs, complements can be NPs or
PPs: ate the cookies, ate at the park.
 In APs, complements can be PPs: happy
about the new job.
 In PPs, complements are NPs: at the
park.
Sentence structure
 The basic English sentence structure is:
S
NP (Subject)
VP (Predicate)
 For this course, we ignore the I (for
“inflection”) found in your textbook.
Simple Sentence
 The NP and VP might only contain a
head (no specifiers or complements):
S
NP
N
Bill
VP
V
swam
More complex sentence 1
S
NP
Det
VP
N
The boy
V
swam
More complex sentence 2
S
NP
Det
VP
N
The
boy
V
PP
Prep NP
Det N
swam in the stream
More complex sentence 3
S
NP
Det N
VP
PP
V
PP
Prep NP
Prep NP
N
Det N
The boy from Ohio swam in the stream
Exercise 3
 On your handout, draw trees illustrating the
constituent structure of sentences.
 Start by labeling all the syntactic categories.
First identify main subject NP and predicate
VP of the sentence. Then move from right to
left, arranging
[Specifier Head Complement(s)] groupings
into phrases.
Syntax in Asian languages
 In all languages, sentences are formed
from constituent phrases.
 We often say that “word order” is
different in different languages.
 More accurate to say that “constituent
order is different”.
Syntax in Asian languages
 Languages differ in the order of these
constituents.
 In particular, languages can differ in
the order of specifier, head, and
complement within a phrase.
 Consider the basic order of
constituents in a simple sentence:
SVO
S
NP
N
John
[Subject]
VP
V (head)
speaks
[Verb]
NP (comp)
N
English
[Object]
SOV (Japanese)
S
NP
VP
NP (comp)
V (head)
John-ga eigo-o hanasemasu
[Subject] [Object]
[Verb]
NP (head-complement)
NP
N (head)
PP (complement)
Prep
boy
from
NP
N
Tacoma
NP (complement-head)
NP
complement
Tacoma lái de
N (head)
nánhár
Main Points (1)
 Words belong to syntactic categories.
They determine the role a word plays
in a sentence.
 Sentences have hierarchical structure.
They are composed of constituents.
 The most basic constituents are
phrases.
Main Points (2)
 Phrases have three types of
components: head, specifier,
complement. All phrases have a head.
 In English, specifiers precede heads
and complements follow.
 Specifiers are single words; a
complement may itself be a phrase
with internal structure.
Main Points (3)
 Languages differ in their syntactic
categories.
 Languages differ in the order of
constituents in a sentence.
 Languages differ in the order of
elements within a phrase.
 We will learn more about the syntax of
Asian languages in Week 9.
End
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Syntax - University of Washington