Questions tagged [syntax]

The study of the internal structure of expressions, especially between words and phrases, and the principles and processes that determine it. This includes words order, but also the grammatical relations that hold between words, as well as structural ambiguity, binding, reference, and similar issues. Common approaches are numerous phrase structure grammars (GPSG, HPSG, LFG, G&B, X-bar, Minimalism, ...) and, on the other hand, dependency grammars.

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73 votes
12 answers
26k views

What characteristics are unique to English (or at least rare among language as a whole)?

After wondering about this today at work, I turned to the Internet. A short piece that focuses on pronunciation points toward "none". I've scoured ELU and Google (perhaps not as thoroughly or ...
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47 votes
9 answers
215k views

What's the difference between syntax and grammar?

From what I've read, both terms have to do with the rules of formation of sentences. I've seen grammar used in mathematical contexts, in computability theory, where it has a precise definition. But ...
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41 votes
9 answers
12k views

What is word order used for in "free word order" languages?

Consider languages whose case-systems allow the order of arguments to be changed without changing the arguments’ grammatical relations. (Note the 189 languages noted as having “no dominant word-...
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38 votes
4 answers
6k views

Why isn't "I've" a proper response?

Suppose someone asked me the question, "Have you completed the project?". A standard response would be "I have". Why does the equivalent "I've" sound so strange and never used as a replacement? I am ...
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34 votes
4 answers
2k views

Why are certain there-sentences infelicitous in English?

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language states that the first three of the following four excerpts are semantically or pragmatically anomalous (to give that term some context, it cites We ...
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30 votes
11 answers
5k views

Articles before the name of a person

In the question “La” or “le” before a person's name? on the French SE site, the asker refers to the phenomenon that in some rural/dialect settings the first name of a person is preceded by the ...
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30 votes
5 answers
20k views

What meaningful distinction is there between morphology and syntax?

While I am not interested in hearing the common distinction made in introductory text-books, I am interested in hearing what meaningful distinction there can be between morphology and syntax. Is there ...
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26 votes
6 answers
8k views

Why is constituency needed, since dependency gets the job done more easily and economically?

I do dependency grammar (DG), and my personal view is that dependency gets the job done more efficiently than constituency by far. The average constituency parse (= phrase structure parse) contains ...
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22 votes
4 answers
3k views

Why do Polish and Belarusian have an atypical greeting if compared to other Slavic languages?

While chatting with a polish penpal, I've discovered that in Polish the expression for "good morning/good day/hello/good afternoon" varies if compared to the other Slavic languages; later I saw that ...
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  • 9,220
20 votes
7 answers
2k views

What divides semantics from pragmatics?

To my understanding... Semantics is the raw meaning and connotations a word carries on it's own and pragmatics is the context-dependent meaning a word holds. Is this accurate? Can anyone explain it ...
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20 votes
3 answers
888 views

How are mathematical operators like "plus" and "cos" analyzed?

Consider the mathematical statement 1 + 2 = 3 It is read in English as One plus two equals three. One plus two is equal to three. In English at least, equals is obviously an ordinary verb, ...
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19 votes
8 answers
8k views

Why do even completely illiterate persons, who speak their national language poorly, speak their local dialect with perfection?

Disclaimers: I have no linguistic knowledge whatsoever, I'm just fascinated by these subjects. Also, I will use the word "dialect" due to my lack of a better word, although I see that the ...
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18 votes
8 answers
3k views

Are there any languages in which verbs are a closed class?

In English, the verb "do" can be a transitive verb whose object stands for an action. So, we English speakers can "do a somersault," "do a back flip," and "do a cartwheel." The productivity of this ...
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18 votes
4 answers
2k views

Are there any languages that mark nouns as mass?

Nouns like water, mud, furniture in English are odd with plural morphology (adding -s, as in furnitures), with numerals (three furniture(s)), and seem to have their own quantifier (much water but not ...
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18 votes
1 answer
430 views

Are there any languages that don't permit instrumental subjects?

In English, and no doubt in many other languages, instruments can be subjects. We can speak not only of John (an agent) cutting the canvas, but also of the knife (an instrument) cutting the canvas. ...
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17 votes
4 answers
5k views

Do any languages mention the top limit of a range first?

In many languages we usually say "between min and max" (e.g., grades "between 1 and 10"). Are there any languages where the reverse construction ("between max and min", e.g. grades "between 10 and 1")...
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17 votes
6 answers
18k views

Why are many ancient languages so complicated compared to many modern languages?

Many ancient languages have a structure that is more complex than that of the "respective" modern languages. Modern languages like English have simpler structure, without case, gender or declination, ...
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17 votes
4 answers
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What are the chief advantages & disadvantages of describing sentences with dependency vs. phrase structure trees?

What are the chief advantages & disadvantages of describing sentences with dependency vs. phrase structure (aka. constituency) trees? From what I've read, dependency grammar trees lack phrase ...
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17 votes
5 answers
4k views

Which language would be easiest for a computer to parse?

I have an idea for a programming language that would work more like a spoken language. "sentences" would have an initial context in which specific subjects, verbs, and objects would have meaningful ...
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17 votes
5 answers
2k views

What empirical evidence can be produced that all syntactic structure is binary branching?

A tenet of the Minimalist Program is that all syntactic structure is binary branching. Merge always merges two constituents to a greater constituent until the greatest constituent, the sentence, is ...
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16 votes
3 answers
5k views

What are the criteria that distinguish clitics/particles from affixes?

This question inspired me to finally ask a question that has been bothering me for years: how does one distinguish clitics and/or particles from affixes, especially when those clitics are ...
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15 votes
6 answers
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Does Pirahã syntax contradict the principles of Universal Grammar?

The Wikipedia article on Universal Grammar cites the research by Everett (2005) about the Pirahã language: Finally, in the domain of field research, the Pirahã language is claimed to be a ...
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14 votes
2 answers
20k views

What is the difference between "anaphora" and "deixis"?

I've been trying to understand an answer from another SE site (Japanese Language & Usage) where the answer involves the differences between anaphora and deixis. Here is the link. What would be ...
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14 votes
2 answers
15k views

What's the difference between accusative, unaccusative, ergative, and unergative?

What does it mean for a language or verb to be one or the other of these typologies (examples would help)? Can it be more than one at once?
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14 votes
1 answer
526 views

Are there languages in which plural classifiers co-occur with numerals?

I'm aware that a number of classifer languages have what might be called "plural classifiers" which -- unlike "normal" classifier -- force a plural, count interpretation, instead of being ambiguous ...
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13 votes
5 answers
33k views

What is the relationship between syntax and semantics?

There are a number of positions you can take on what the relationship between syntax and semantics. You could think that syntax is prior and so think that an expression's syntactic function ...
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13 votes
6 answers
7k views

Why is English so much more simplified than other, similar languages?

English seems to have rules that are much more simple than its cousin German and its influencer French, as well as most of the languages that those are related to. What caused this? I suspect it's ...
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13 votes
2 answers
808 views

What determines how noun compounds are formed in a language?

In English and other Germanic languages, noun compounds are formed simply by “appending” the nouns in a certain order. For example, phrases like this are very common: electricity price comparison ...
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12 votes
1 answer
1k views

What is this feature of British English called?

In British English you'll often hear them post-fixing expressions that American English tends to keep up front. For example, I've heard British English speakers (golf commentators in particular) say ...
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  • 452
12 votes
3 answers
1k views

How can adjective-noun order in French be explained by parameter theory?

I just finished reading The Atoms of Language. The gist is that languages have parameters, one of which will tell you which side of a phrase to add a new word. But in some languages, like French and ...
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12 votes
3 answers
2k views

What is an example of a syntactic structure that can't be represented by a BNF grammar?

The tools for working with BNF grammars are a little more discoverable (ANTLR, Gold, etc) and usable than for other types of grammars. What sort of sentences can't be represented with ordinary BNF ...
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12 votes
0 answers
2k views

Do "only if..." and "if... only then..." have the same LF representation?

I'm currently writing a term paper where I am comparing if... then..., only if..., and if... only then... statements. I've noticed that only if p q and if p, only then q have the same truth conditions ...
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11 votes
9 answers
8k views

Textbook suggestions for syntax, semantics/pragmatics and phonetics/phonology

I am coming to linguistics from a completely non-linguistic background; I was a mathematician. Next year I will start taking some serious (Master's level) linguistics courses and I would like to have ...
11 votes
5 answers
1k views

Is there anything analogous to grammatical gender for verbs?

Grammatical gender often seems arbitrary from a semantic point of view. When I was taking French many years ago, we were told that one must simply memorize the gender for each noun. Are there any ...
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11 votes
6 answers
6k views

Languages with stricter and less strict word order?

I'm sure most people here know, but for completeness, let's define what syntax is: The arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language. [NOAD] N.B. It can also refer to ...
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11 votes
5 answers
2k views

How usual is it for languages to have both prepositions and postpositions?

It has seemed to me (though I might be wrong) that languages usually take either prepositions (English, German, Spanish) or postpositions (Japanese, Hungarian, Turkish). (Yes I know sometimes a ...
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11 votes
3 answers
22k views

Why are affix hopping and head movement considered as distinct operations?

Affix hopping is a morphological operation by which an unattached affix in the T position is lowered onto a verb. This attachment is done by the "Phonetic Form component" (the posited component in the ...
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11 votes
2 answers
2k views

Does Chinese have proper nouns and are they distinguished morphosyntactically or only lexically and or semantically?

In an earlier question I wanted to learn about the nature of proper nouns in a language-neutral way, but the comments and answers to that question so far state that this is not possible, that only ...
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11 votes
2 answers
755 views

Ontological status of syntactic transformations

Syntactic theories in the generative tradition involve transformations, i.e. movement of constituents, between deep structure and surface structure. What is actually meant by this? Is it intended as a ...
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10 votes
4 answers
2k views

Can prepositional phrases with "of" ever be adjuncts to nouns, or only complements in English? If they can't be adjuncts, why?

This question came up while doing syntax homework. It seems to me that prepositional phrases with "of" can only ever be complements to nouns, not adjuncts. The basis for my conclusion was that, while ...
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10 votes
1 answer
590 views

Why exactly is *“I Am America (And So Can You!)” ungrammatical?

Stephen Colbert wrote a book entitled “I Am America (And So Can You!)”. As discussed in a question on English Language and Usage, the title is an intentionally strange way of saying "I am America, and ...
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10 votes
1 answer
2k views

Difference between Minimalism and old P&P

What are the differences between the old Principles and Parameters approach and the developing Minimalist Program? As I understand it, though the MP is just a framework for developing theories in, in ...
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10 votes
4 answers
2k views

Italian passato prossimo agrees with subject with 'essere' but not 'avere'. Why?

Another question about Italian grammar aside from this one which has bugged me for ages. In Italian, when forming the passato prossimo with an intransitive verb, we use forms of the auxiliary verb ...
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10 votes
3 answers
762 views

What motivates / allows preposition stranding in English, but disallows it in other languages, like Mandarin?

If someone could direct me to papers/sites that describe this, and a summary or something, that would be great. It is just a parameter for languages? What do linguists think so far? Example: "Which ...
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  • 343
10 votes
1 answer
424 views

Languages with subordinate imperatives?

English does not allow an imperative to be used in a subordinate clause: Eat that pizza! *There's a pizza on the table, which eat! (="which I order you to eat") *I told you eat that pizza! (A ...
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10 votes
1 answer
784 views

What is the role of syntax in understanding event descriptive sentences?

I've been closely following the work stemming from St. John and McClelland's Sentence Gestalt Model, which uses a connectist model to extract semantic information about events from sentences without ...
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9 votes
5 answers
422 views

What are the different ways in which languages express the notion of passivity?

In English, the passive is expressed by the use of an auxiliary and past participle. The agent is demoted to an optional by-phrase, and the theme/patient is promoted to the subject position. Rome ...
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9 votes
2 answers
1k views

Can one sentence have two or multiple possible phrase structure grammars? And what is this called?

After reading about syntactic structure and phrase structure grammar in Wikipedia and on the internet, I was wondering if there are any sentences with more than one possible phrase structure grammar? ...
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9 votes
5 answers
1k views

Languages where articles occur to the right of nouns

Are there languages where articles appear—as independent words—on the right-hand side of the noun phrases they occur in - in other words after the head noun in the noun phrase?
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9 votes
3 answers
13k views

What's the difference between recursion and embedding?

Chains of relative clauses and strings of attributive adjectives are both examples of recursion--Correct? Chains of relative clauses have each non-initial relative clause embedded within the previous ...
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