Syntax

All native speakers of a language are
able to produce and comprehend an
unlimited number of sentences.
Syntax

All native speakers of a language are
able to produce and comprehend an
unlimited number of sentences.
– All the passengers on the plane, which is
flying to Pago-Pago, would rather not listen
to Abbot and Costello.
Syntax

All native speakers of a language are
able to produce and comprehend an
unlimited number of sentences.
– It is furthermore, not a question of
memorizing all the possible sentences in
the English language, otherwise, how could
you understand new sentences you never
heard before?
Syntax

Speakers of a language are able to
make intuitive judgments about
sentences:
Syntax

Speakers of a language are able to
make intuitive judgments about
sentences:
– The dog bit the horse.
– Dog the horse the bit
Syntax

Speakers of a language are able to
make intuitive judgments about
sentences:
– The dog bit the horse.
– Dog the horse the bit

Without giving grammatical
explanations, any native speaker of
English can determine that the first
example is correct.
Syntax

This intuitive skill is a reflection of our
linguistic competence, as opposed to
our linguistic performance
Syntax

Competence vs. Performance
Syntax

Competence vs. Performance
– Real speech (Performance) is marked by
lapses, memory gaps, coughs, “umms” and
“uhs”, etc.
Syntax

Competence vs. Performance
– Real speech (Performance) is marked by
lapses, memory gaps, coughs, “umms” and
“uhs”, etc.
– Our competence is much more consistent.
Syntax

Structural ambiguity:
– In languages which depend on word order,
the syntax may not lead to perfect
understanding.
Syntax

Structural ambiguity:
– The mother of the boy and the girl will
arrive soon.
Syntax

Structural ambiguity:
– The mother of the boy and the girl will
arrive soon.
– Such a sentence needs further clarification.
Syntax

Structural ambiguity:
– The mother of the boy and the girl will
arrive soon.
– Such a sentence needs further clarification.




The mother of the
The mother of the
soon
The mother of the
soon, won’t she?
The mother of the
soon, won’t they?
boy and girl is arriving soon.
boy and the girl are arriving
boy and the girl will arrive
boy and the girl will arrive
Syntax

Structural ambiguity:
– The mother of the boy and the girl will
arrive soon.
– Or, meaning can be gathered through
context, for example, if you knew you were
talking about a certain group of people,
further clarification probably wouldn’t be
needed.
Syntax

In studying syntax, a linguist tries to
state explicitly the grammar rules of a
given language - beyond what might be
taught in a grammar book.
Syntax

Example: the English question rule...
Syntax
Example: the English question rule…
 QR-I

– John can lift 500 pounds.
Syntax
Example: the English question rule…
 QR-I

– John can lift 500 pounds.
– 1
2 3 4
5
Syntax
Example: the English question rule…
 QR-I

– John can lift 500 pounds.
– 1
2 3 4
5
– Reverse the order of words 1 and 2
Syntax
Example: the English question rule…
 QR-I

– John can lift 500 pounds.
– 1
2 3 4
5
– Reverse the order of words 1 and 2
– Can John lift 500 pounds?
Syntax
Example: the English question rule…
 QR-I

– Yesterday John could lift 500 pounds.
– 1
2
3
4 5
6
– Reverse the order of words 1 and 2
Syntax
Example: the English question rule…
 QR-I

– Yesterday John could lift 500 pounds.
– 1
2
3
4 5
6
– Reverse the order of words 1 and 2
– John yesterday could lift 500 pounds.
Syntax
Example: the English question rule…
 QR-II

– To form a sentence from a delcarative
sentence, place the first verb at the
beginning of the sentence
Syntax
Example: the English question rule…
 QR-II

– To form a sentence from a delcarative
sentence, place the first verb at the
beginning of the sentence
– Could yesterday John lift 500 pounds?
Syntax
Example: the English question rule…
 QR-II

– To form a sentence from a delcarative
sentence, place the first verb at the
beginning of the sentence
– Could yesterday John lift 500 pounds?
– Close, but no cigar… also what about:

Know you those women?
Syntax
Example: the English question rule…
 QR-III

– Place the auxiliary verb at the beginning of
the sentence
– If there is no auxiliary verb, place an
appropriate form of the verb “do” at the
beginning of the sentence
Syntax
Example: the English question rule…
 QR-III

– Place the auxiliary verb at the beginning of
the sentence
– If there is no auxiliary verb, place an
appropriate form of the verb “do” at the
beginning of the sentence
– Do you know those women?
Syntax
Example: the English question rule…
 QR-III

– What about sentences with two auxiliary
verbs?
Syntax
Example: the English question rule…
 QR-III

– What about sentences with two auxiliary
verbs?
– John will have left.
Syntax
Example: the English question rule…
 QR-IV

– Place the first auxiliary verb at the
beginning of the sentence...
Syntax
Example: the English question rule…
 QR-IV

– Place the first auxiliary verb at the
beginning of the sentence…
– Will John have left
Syntax
Example: the English question rule…
 QR-IV

– Place the first auxiliary verb at the
beginning of the sentence…
– Will John have left
– Works fine for simple sentences, but what
about: The people who were saying that
John is sick will leave soon.
Syntax
Example: the English question rule…
 QR-V

– Locate the first auxiliary verb that follows
the subject and place it at the beginning of
the sentence
Syntax
Example: the English question rule…
 QR-V

– Locate the first auxiliary verb that follows
the subject and place it at the beginning of
the sentence



Yesterday John could lift 500 pounds.
Could yesterday John lift 500 pounds?
Yesterday could John lift 500 pounds?
Syntax
Example: the English question rule…
 QR-VI

– Take the first auxiliary verb and place it
immediately to the left of the subject
– Yesterday could John lift 500 pounds?
Syntax

The notion of subject
Syntax

The notion of subject
– The farmer fed the ducklings
Syntax

The notion of subject
– The farmer fed the ducklings
Syntax

The notion of subject
– The farmer fed the ducklings
– In declarative sentences, subject generally
precedes the main and auxiliary verb.
Syntax

The notion of subject
– Did The farmer feed the ducklings?
– In declarative sentences, subject generally
precedes the main and auxiliary verb.
– It forms the constituent around which an
auxiliary is fronted in forming a questions
Syntax

The notion of subject
– The farmer feeds the ducklings, does he?
– In declarative sentences, subject generally
precedes the main and auxiliary verb.
– It forms the constituent around which an
auxiliary is fronted in forming a questions
– It is the constituent with which a pronoun
in a tag agrees in person, number and
gender.
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Syntax - State University of New York