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SYNTAX . by Don L. F. Nilsen and Alleen Pace Nilsen. BASIC SENTENCES:. John swims well (Subject, Predicate, Adverb) John saw Mary (Subject, Predicate, Direct Object) Bush became President (Subject, Predicate, Subject-Complement)

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SYNTAX

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Syntax l.jpg

SYNTAX

by Don L. F. Nilsen

and Alleen Pace Nilsen

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BASIC SENTENCES:

John swims well (Subject, Predicate, Adverb)

John saw Mary (Subject, Predicate, Direct Object)

Bush became President (Subject, Predicate, Subject-Complement)

John gave Mary a mink coat (Subject, Predicate, Indirect Object, Direct Object)

The country elected Bush President (Subject, Predicate, Direct Object, Object Complement)

(Fromkin, Rodman & Hyams [2011] 173-174)

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BASIC TRANSFORMATIONS

John gave Mary a mink coat.

Question:

Did John give Mary a mink coat?

Negative:

John didn’t give Mary a mink coat.

Negative Question:

Didn’t John give Mary a mink coat?

Information Question:

Who gave Mary a mink coat?

Tag Question:

John gave Mary a mink coat, didn’t he?

(Fromkin, Rodman & Hyams [2011] 155-164)

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Who’s on First?

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John gave Mary a mink coat.

Passive:

Mary was given a mink coat by John. A mink coat was given to Mary by John.

Imperative:

Give Mary a mink coat!

Negative Imperative:

Don’t give Mary a mink coat!

Contrastive Stress:

John gave Mary a mink coat.

(Fromkin, Rodman & Hyams [2011] 155-164)

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SPECIAL PROBLEMS

Whiz Deletion: I met the girl (who was) doing the dishes.

Extraposition: For John to be nice is very difficult  It is very difficult for John to be nice.

Expletive: Thirty-seven students are in the room  There are thirty-seven students in the room.

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EMBEDDING TRANSFORMATIONS 1

Relative Clause as Substantive:

He didn’t know who had the bicycle.

Relative Clause as Modifier:

Bill is the boy who has the bicycle.

(Fromkin, Rodman & Hyams [2011] 133)

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EMBEDDING TRANSFORMATIONS 2

Present-Participle as Substantive:

The young girl’s watching the children surprised everybody.

Present-Participle as Modifier:

I met the girl (who was) watching the children.

(Fromkin, Rodman & Hyams [2011] 133)

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EMBEDDING TRANSFORMATIONS 3

Infinitive as Substantive:

For John to be nice is very hard.

Infinitive as Modifier:

John came (in order) to be nice.

(Fromkin, Rodman & Hyams [2011] 133)

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EMBEDDING TRANSFORMATIONS 4

That-Clause as Substantive:

That John didn’t get angry was a miracle.

That-Clause as Modifier:

I was surprised that John didn’t get angry.

(Fromkin, Rodman & Hyams [2011] 133)

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PRONOMINALIZATION AND DELETION:

Possible only when information is recoverable from linguistic context (antecedant) or social context:

John wanted Bill to buy the drinks.

(Fromkin, Rodman & Hyams [2011] 208-209)

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PARTS OF SPEECH

Lexical Categories:

Noun, Verb, Adjective, Adverb

Grammatical Categories

Preposition, Conjunction, Auxiliary, Expletive

Pro-Form

Relative Pronoun, Interrogative Pronoun, Personal Pronoun, Indefinite Pronoun

(Fromkin, Rodman & Hyams [2011] 128-129)

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FUNCTIONS

A Noun can function as a Subject, Subject-Complement, Direct-Object, Indirect-Object, Object-Complement

A Verb can function as a Predicate

A Verbal can function as a Modifier

An Adjective and an Adverb can function as a Modifier

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TENDENCIES OF LEXICAL VS. GRAMMATICAL CATEGORIES

Can refer to things in the real world

Can be stressed

Cannot be guessed in a Cloze Test

Can be inflected

Can enter into compounds

(Fromkin, Rodman & Hyams [2011] 128-129)

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DO SUPPORT

Look at the following English sentences:

John is doing his homework.

a. Is John doing his homework?

b. John isn’t doing his homework.

c. John is doing his homework.

Notice that in each case something is happening to the auxiliary verb. In a, which is a question, the subject and auxiliary are inverted. In b, which is a negative, “n’t” is attached to the auxiliary. And in c, which is stressed, the auxiliary is emphasized.

(Fromkin, Rodman & Hyams [2011] 162-163)

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English has two regular auxiliary verbs:

“have” (coming from perfect and passive constructions)

“be” (coming from progressive constructions)

When an English sentences has no auxiliary verb, we need to provide one to form questions, negatives, or stressed auxiliary.

“Do” serves this function.

(Fromkin Rodman Hyams [2011] 145-148)

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From the sentence “Michael read the book.” we get:

“Did Michael read the book.”

“Michael didn’t read the book.”

“Michael did read the book.”

(Fromkin, Rodman & Hyams [2011] 162-163)

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SYNTACTIC AMBIGUITY

Smoking grass can be nauseating.

Dick finally decided on the boat.

The professor’s appointment was shocking.

The design has big squares and circles.

(Fromkin, Rodman & Hyams [2011] 149-151)

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That sheepdog is too hairy to eat.

Could this be the invisible man’s hair tonic?

The governor is a dirty street fighter.

I cannot recommend him too highly.

Terry loves his wife and so do I.

They said she would go yesterday.

No smoking section available

(Fromkin, Rodman & Hyams [2011] 149-151)

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TOPICALIZATION AND FOCUSING TRANSFORMATIONS

Sentences consist of Subjects and Predicates.

The Subject is what we are talking about, and the Predicate is what we say about it.

Therefore the Subject contains old information (so speakers will have something to talk about), and the Predicate contains new information (so speakers will be able to say something new).

(Fromkin, Rodman & Hyams [2011] 167-168)

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Any transformation that moves a constituent up into the Subject or Topic position is called a “Topicalization Transformation.”

Any transformation that moves a constituent down into the Predicate position is called a “Focusing Transformation.”

(Fromkin, Rodman & Hyams [2011] 167-168)

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The Passive Transformation is both a Topicalization Transformation and a Focusing Transformation.

“John saw the girl” 

“The girl was seen by John

“The girl” has undergone a Topicalization Transformation, and “John” has undergone a Focusing Transformation.

Note that this has not affected the truth value. “John saw the girl” is true if and only if “The girl was seen by John.”

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Notice that in a normal sentence the strongest stress is on the last word. This is because this is part of the Predicate or new information, and is important enough to be stressed.

Therefore, changing the word that is stressed in a sentence is a focusing transformation.

John saw ten girls on bicycles.

John saw ten girls on bicycles.

John saw ten girls on bicycles.

John saw ten girls on bicycles.

John saw ten girls on bycles.

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RECURSION: THE INFINITY OF LANGUAGE

This is the house that Jack built.

This is the malt that lie in the house that Jack built.

STUDENTS: Using embedded relative clauses expand this sentence. Notice that this expansion could go on until you run out of breath, run out of daylight, or die.

The same is true of adding “very” as a modifier.

(Fromkin Rodman Hyams [2011] 135-142)

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Other examples of infinitely recursive sentences are “On the tenth day of Christmas,” and “The Farmer in the Dell,” even though these examples do end.

“The Farmer in the Dell” example ends with “The cheese stands alone.”

This is the basis for Robert Cormier’s novel, I Am the Cheese, which is about the Farmer family that is in the witness protection program and has no friends.

As Kurt Vonnegut would say, “And so it goes…” (NOTE: No Final Period)

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NONSENSE IS NOT NONSENSE

Grammars must be able to parse nonsense sentences.

Otherwise they must conclude that nonsense sentences don’t have any meaning.

Since all nonsense sentences have the same meaning, zero, then they all mean the same thing.

However, the following sentences do not mean the same thing:

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*I never saw a horse smoke a dozen oranges. (Martin Joos’s example)

*Enormous crickets in pink socks danced at the prom.

*A verb crumpled the milk.

*Colorless green ideas sleep furiously. (Noam Chomsky’s example).

(Fromkin Rodman Hyams [2011] 49, 57, 302)

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Such sentences mean very different things and have very different functions in the English language.

For example only “*Colorless green ideas sleep furiously” is a grammatically well formed sentence, although all of the sentences demonstrate incompatabilities of certain words with other words in the same sentence.

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The asterisk in front of *”Colorless green ideas sleep furiously” means that the grammar doesn’t generate this sentence. It should not occur in English.

Ironically, this “non-occuring” sentence is the sentence most likely to occur in many linguistics classrooms.

Furthermore, it’s very poetic.

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SEMANTIC VS. SYNTACTIC PARSING

You may have been told that a word gets its meaning from its linguistic context.

This is both true and not true. Words out of context tend to be very ambiguous.

What the linguistic context does is to disambiguate a word. Social and cultural context do the same thing.

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As an example, consider the word “ball.” The fact that this word is written rather than spoken already disallows another word that sounds the same “bawl” meaning “to cry loudly.”

If we add a “the” (more linguistic context) we know the word is a noun and not the verb “ball” meaning “to roll paper or mud into a ball”

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As we add more linguistic context we make the word less and less ambiguous, so that “the beach ball” is different from “the basketball” or “the harvest ball” which is a dance.

In the case of “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously,” we’ve disambiguated the meanings down to zero, because of feature incompatibilities.

Something “colorless” can’t be “green.” Abstract things like “ideas” can’t be any color, and can’t sleep. “Sleeping” is usually not done “furiously,” etc.

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Like “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously,” “‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves / Did Gire and gimble in the wabe” is also syntactically well formed but semantically anomalous.

In the “Colorless green…” example the words are incompatible; however in the “’Twas brillig” example the content words don’t even exist.

The function words “it,” “was” “and” “did,” and “in” exist, but the content words “brillig,” “slithy” “toves,” “gyre,” “gimble” and “wabe” are not English words, and therefore the issue of their compatibility with other words is a mute point.

(Fromkin Rodman Hyams [2011] 57, 123, 187)

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!TOM SWIFTIES

People who used to read the Tom Swift novels invented a new type of joke:

“My name is Tom, he said Swiftly.”

This pattern is extended to:

“I’d like my egg boiled,” she whispered softly.”

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!!

“Get to the back of the boat!” he shouted sternly.

“Would you like another pancake?” she asked flippantly.

“She works in the mines,” he roared ironically.

(Nilsen & Nilsen 176)

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!!!The Whitest Kids Grammar Lesson

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=el1GyY3ZezA

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References:

Chomsky, Noam. “Degrees of Grammaticalness.” Fuzzy Grammar: A Reader, Eds. Bas Aarts, et. al., New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004, 321-325.

Clark, Virginia, Paul Eschholz, and Alfred Rosa. Language: Readings in Language and Culture, 6th Edition. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.

Heny, Frank. “Syntax: The Structure of Sentences” (Clark 189-224).

Fromkin, Victoria, Robert Rodman, and Nina Hyams. “Syntax: The Sentence Patterns of Language.” An Introduction to Language, 9th Edition. Boston, MA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2011, 117-178.

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Langacker, Ronald W. “Siscreteness.” Fuzzy Grammar: A Reader, Eds. Bas Aarts, et. al., New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004, 131-137.

Nilsen, Alleen Pace, and Don L. F. Nilsen. Encyclopedia of 20th Century American Humor. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2000.

Truss, Lynne. Eats(,) Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation!. Aukland, New Zealand: Gotham Books, 2004.

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