Basic Syntactic Notions

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LECTURE 6 BASIC SYNTACTIC NOTIONS

1. Some approaches to the study of syntactic units.
The central role of syntax within theoretical linguistics became clear only in the 20th century, which some scholars call the "century of syntactic theory" as far as linguistics is concerned. Nowadays theoretical approaches to the discipline of syntax are numerous and extremely diverse. One school of thought treats syntax as a branch of biology, since it conceives of syntax as the study of linguistic knowledge as embodied in the human mind. Other linguists regard syntax to be the study of an abstract formal system. Yet others consider syntax to be a taxonomical device to reach broad generalizations across languages. One more school of thought approaches syntactic phenomena from the philosophical point of view proceeding from the idea that reality consists of things, their qualities and relationships. Hence, the subdivision of words by the parts of speech and the treatment of syntactic problems as philisophic processes. The hypothesis of generative grammar is that language is a structure of the human mind. The goal of generative grammar is to make a complete model of this inner language (known as i-language). This model could be used to describe all human language and to predict the grammaticality of any given utterance (that is, to predict whether the utterance would sound correct to native speakers of the language). This approach to language was pioneered by Noam Comsky. Most generative theories (although not all of them) assume that syntax is based upon the constituent structure of sentences. Generative grammars are among the theories that focus primarily on the form of a sentence, rather than its communicative function. Among the many generative theories of linguistics, the Chomskyan theories are: Transformational Grammar (TG) (Original theory of generative syntax laid out by Chomsky in Syntactic Structures in 1957 ; Government and binding theory (GB) (revised theory in the tradition of TG developed mainly by Chomsky in the 1970s and 1980s); Minimalist program (MP) (a reworking of the theory out of the GB framework published by Chomsky in 1995) Categorial grammar is an approach that attributes the syntactic structure not to rules of grammar, but to the properties of the syntactic categories themselves. For example, rather than asserting that sentences are constructed by a rule that combines a noun phrase (NP) and a verb phrase (VP) (e.g. the phrase structure rule S → NP VP), in categorial grammar, such principles are embedded in the category of the head word itself. So the syntactic category for an intransitive verb is a complex formula representing the fact that the verb acts as a functor which requires an NP as an input and produces a sentence level structure as an output. This complex category is regarded as " a category that searches to the left for a NP (the element on the left) and outputs a sentence (the element on the right)". The category of transitive verb is defined as an element that requires two NPs (its subject and its direct object) to form a sentence. Dependency grammar regards structure as determined by the relations (such as grammatical relations) between a word (a head) and its dependents, rather than being based in constituent structure. For example, syntactic structure is described in terms of whether a particular noun is the subject or agent of the verb, rather than describing the relations in terms of phrases.

Stochastic/probabilistic grammars/network theories These are theoretical approaches to syntax based upon probability theory. They are known as stochastic grammars. One common implementation of such an approach makes use of a neural network or connectionism. Some theories based within this approach are: Optimality theory and Stochastic context-free grammar.

Functionalist grammars are functionalist theories, which (though focused upon form)...
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