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1 Syntactic structure in familiar and exotic languages Richard Hudson Krakow, October 2009.

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1 1 Syntactic structure in familiar and exotic languages Richard Hudson Krakow, October 2009

2 2 Plan 1. Understanding syntactic structure 2. Showing syntactic structure 3. Teaching syntactic structure 4. Using syntactic structure

3 3 1. Understanding syntactic structure For example: Time flies like an arrow and fruit flies like a banana. The sentence-parts have: –different word classes. verb noun preposition verb –but also different relations among words. i.e. different syntactic structures Groucho Marx

4 4 How to analyse syntactic structures? Two theoretical traditions: –the old European tradition –the young American tradition Poland contributed to the old tradition –Kazimierz Ajdukiewicz invented Categorial Grammar (1935) But the young tradition dominates theory.

5 5 The old tradition How old? At least 1,000 years –in 8 th century Arabic grammar from Basra and Kufa Part of a much longer tradition of grammatical analysis –starting in Babylonia

6 6 About 2,000 BC

7 7 Babylonia Akkadian Sumerian Babylon new, semitic, in fashion earliest written language, out of fashion

8 8 Becoming literate in Babylon

9 9 Verb conjugations (Sumerian and Akkadian)

10 10 We – you – they (in that order) SumerianAkkadianEnglish menden-e e ni:nu-miwe menzen-e e attunu-miyou emene-e e unu-mi they NB!!! 4000 years ago!!!

11 11 Syntactic structure: old tradition Among the units, words are basic. –but also some word-combinations: clauses and prepositional phrases Syntactic relations: –relate words directly to one another. –are classified: subject object, etc.

12 12 The new tradition Invented in 1933 in USA –by Leonard Bloomfield Called Immediate Constituent Analysis –then Phrase structure grammar Assumed by all leading theories –Chomsky: Minimalism –Head-driven Phrase Structure Grammar, etc.

13 13 Syntactic structure: new tradition Units: –most units are phrases – word groups –words have no special status Relations: two primitive relations: –order: A before B –part-whole: A is part of B –but sometimes combined with subject etc.

14 14 For example … fruit flies like a banana. old tradition: the word flies is subject of the word like new tradition: the phrase fruit flies is the first part of the phrase fruit flies like a banana no direct link between flies and like

15 15 Who cares? Linguists care. So theyve formalised these traditions: –old = dependency grammar (no phrases) –new = phrase structure grammar (no classified relations) Psychologists care too: –how do our minds handle syntax?

16 16 Claim: Our minds use dependency grammar We recognise abstract classified relations in other areas –e.g. social relations: brother, cousin, colleague, friend, … So why not in syntax? –e.g. fruit modifies flies, which is subject of like But then phrase structure is redundant.

17 17 2. Showing syntactic structure Complex structures need a notation. –geography has maps –music has musical notation –mathematics has formulae, graphs, etc. Syntax needs a notation. –first introduced in 19 th century –for teaching grammar in school

18 18 Standard notation for phrase structure Time flies like an arrow. N NP VPDN PP VP S OK before VP OK after D agreement

19 19 A notation for dependency structure Time flies like an arrow. NVPDN sa subject adjunct c complement c

20 20 The joke Time flies like an arrow NVPDN sa c c and fruit flies like a banana. NNVDN as o c

21 21 3. Teaching syntactic structure Dependencies are relevant to: meaning agreement selection optionality word order

22 22 Teaching meaning LIKE and PLEASE are synonyms, but … He liked it. so Him liking it himit feelerstimulus It pleased him. so

23 23 Teaching agreement Time flies like an arrow NVPDN sa c c NNVDN as o c and fruit flies like a banana. agreement

24 24 SZUKAĆ selects a genitive Teaching selection RELY selects ON He relies on her. s c c selection CAN selects an infinitiveHe can swim. s p predicative s extra dependency infinitive o Szukam prezentu. I seek present. genitive

25 25 Teaching optionality Some verbs demand an object, others allow one: He tookit obligatory object He ateit optional object Absent objects usually have indefinite meaning: He ate. = He ate something. *He made a sandwich and ate. This is English. What about other languages?

26 26 mo keeki-wa yaki-mashita-ka already cake-topic make- did - ? Have you baked a/the cake? Japanese o o hai, yaki-mashita yes make-did Most dependents are optional When absent, they are definite

27 27 Relations are abstract, not just word order: subject, not the noun before the verb –The man who we think knows the answer complement, not the noun after the verb –The man on whom she relies dependent, not nearby word Why use dependencies? s agreement c selection

28 28 Teaching word order All word-order rules use dependencies. Many languages have very general rules. Dependents take their position from the head: –free order: no restrictions –head-final: head follows all dependents –head-initial: head precedes all dependents –head-medial: head follows some dependents and precedes others.

29 29 Free order JankochaMarię os JankochaMarię so JankochaMarię s o Jan kocha Marię s Jan kocha Marię os o Jan kocha Marię so Polish

30 30 Head-final or -initial shinbun-ga teburu-no ue-ni desu newspaper-subj table-s top-on is s Japanese Welsh Mi roddes i lyfr da i dad Eleri - gave I book good to father Eleri I gave a good book to Eleris father.

31 31 Head-medial English We dread cold weather just before Christmas. Every dependent is either a pre-dependent or a post-dependent. Every major word class allows both. Why?

32 32 4. Using syntactic structure Speakers use syntactic structure to combine words. Hearers use it to combine meanings. Therefore, we must hold words in memory until their dependencies are complete. This places a load on memory. No problem if dependencies are short.

33 33 A words dependency distance is the number of words that separate it from its parent. That Cracow is a very beautiful city by any standards is clear. It is clear that Cracow is a very beautiful city by any standards. Dependency distance dd = 9 dd = 1

34 34 Human minds are the same everywhere –so we expect similar dd figures in all languages. Conversation: –English: 0.4 (mean dd) –Japanese: 0.4 –German: 0.9 Chinese news: 1.89 –head-initial: 3.3 Are these figures correct and typical? –If so, what do they tell us? Some figures ! !! !!!

35 35 Conclusions Syntactic structure is important when teaching languages or learning them. Dependency structure is better than phrase structure. Structural analysis allows important generalisations. Syntactic structure needs diagrams.

36 36 Dziękuję This slide-show is available at The theory is called Word Grammar

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