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Introduction to Syntax

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  1. Introduction to Syntax Linear structure Hierarchical structure Ambiguity

  2. Syntax is: • The study of sentence formation • Subconscious grammatical knowledge • Word order

  3. Grammaticality Judgments: • We went to my grandmother’s house. • Visiting relatives can be a nuisance. • The children might being sing. • We fed her snail poison. • Colorless green ideas sleep furiously. • Me and Beth are watching a movie. • Swedes like fish more than Italians. • She ain’t got nothing to hide.

  4. Grammaticality Judgments: • We went to my grandmother’s house. • Visiting relatives can be a nuisance. • The children might being sing. • We fed her snail poison. • Colorless green ideas sleep furiously. • Me and Beth are watching a movie. • Swedes like fish more than Italians. • She ain’t got nothing to hide. • AMB: ambiguous, *: ungrammatical, #: grammatical but nonsensical, %: grammatical in a non-standard v.

  5. Ambiguous? • I scratched the dog with a stick I love linguistics!!! I’m a stick I’m a dog (I think!)

  6. Do I mean this? • I scratched (the dog with a stick) Nice doggie!

  7. Or do I mean this? • I scratched (the dog) with a stick. scratch scratch

  8. The two meanings are a result of: HIERARCHICAL STRUCTURE Sentences are more than just ordered sequences of words. They have internal hierarchical structure as well. scratched the dog with a stick scratched the dog with a stick dog has stick I have stick

  9. Unavoidable Ambiguity • Why can’t we convey these internal hierarchical structures and avoid ambiguity? • LINEAR ORDER • Human verbal communication is limited by linear production. Consequently, sentences are organized linearly.

  10. Two kinds of ambiguity: • She called her boyfriend from Australia. • STRUCTURAL AMBIGUITY • We went down to the bank yesterday • LEXICAL AMBIGUITY

  11. Basic Word Order • SVO (English, Chinese) • The boy saw the man • SOV (Russian, Turkish, Japanese) • Pensive poets painful vigils keep (Pope) • VSO (Irish, Arabic, Welsh) • Govern thou my song (Milton)

  12. Basic Word Order • OSV (Jamamadi) • When nine hundred years you reach, look as good you will not. (Yoda) • OVS (Apalai - Amazon basin) • VOS (Malagasy (Madagascar)

  13. How would you say… • English (SVO) • Susiebringscoffee • Japanese (SOV) • sushi-ga co:hi:-o mottekuru • Susiecoffeebring • Malagasy (VOS) • Entin’ kafe Susie • bringcoffeeSusie

  14. Two principles of sentence organization • 1. LINEAR ORDER • not only a limitation, we actually make use of the linearity of the language • In English, limited morphology forces us to use word order to distinguish subject from object. • Tom chased Jerry. • Jerry chased Tom.

  15. Two principles of sentence organization • 2. HIERARCHICAL STRUCTURE • As we saw with the ambiguous sentence, this structure is ‘invisible’ upon first glance. • However, there are tests we can perform to discover the hierarchical structure of sentences.

  16. Constituency CONSTITUENT a group of words in a sentence that behave syntactically and semantically as a unit. I have stick dog has stick scratched the dog with a stick scratched the dog with a stick

  17. How to determine constituency • Semantic intuitions • sometimes, we just know that certain strings of words go together as a unit. • Constituency Tests (more reliable) • tests that can be applied to string of words in a given sentence to determine if the string is a constituent or not.

  18. Next Time • Constituency tests • Phrase Structure Rules