3 Topic 1: Syntax: some background What is syntax?Syntax as a (cognitive) scienceRulesprescriptivism vs. descriptivismEvaluating GrammarsLanguage as an instinct
4 Q. What is Syntax?? The scientific study of sentence structure Perspective: The psychological (or cognitive) organization of sentence structure in the mind.Syntax as a science? More questions than answers. When we speak of physics as a science we mean we are looking for the universal laws that govern physical events. But what does it mean to do syntax as a science? The”laws”of Spanish are different from the “laws” of English. There AREN’T any universal laws. Each language has its own arbitrary set.To say some thing is a science we need to have some idea of what we are trying to explain. So the perspective we take is to say that scientific syntax is a branch of psychology: We study (seek to explain) the organization of sentence structure in the mind.
5 sounds sentences meaning Q. What is a sentence??A hierarchically organized structure of words that maps sound to meaning and vice versa.sounds sentences meaningHierarchically organized structure: There is structure. Structures contain structures. Those structures might contain further structure. There is an outermost structure (the TOP of the hierarchy). There structures contained by it (LOWER, lesser structures)Meanings can be hierarchically organized. The meaning of “the brown dog” contains the meaning of “brown”. The phrase “the brown dog” contains the word “brown”. So there’s a connection between the organization of the meaning and the organization of the phrases. When we can precisely specify that connection we call it a MAPPING. Our working hypothesis is that we can precisely specify it.Notice the arrows between mng & sent go in both directions. Syntax shd tell us how to go from mng to sent (generation) and from sent to mng (understanding). Very important. Our syntax is neutral between these two views. It’s what computer scientists cal an “interface”. It lets us communicate in both directions.Sound? That’s phonology. Phonology tells us what happens to the basic sounds of the lang (phon) when you put them together into words. But doesn’t tell you how to put words together. Syntax tells us that. Minimally it tells us what order the words shd come in.
6 Scientific Method Study of syntax is a science. Uses the scientific methodObserve some dataMake some generalizationsDevelop a hypothesisTest against more data
7 Anaphor: A noun that refers back to a previously mentioned noun: “self” nouns. Scientific method1) John loves himself2) Mary loves herself3) John and Mary love themselvesGeneralization: The form of the “Xself” seems to be dependent upon the gender/number of the noun they refer to.Hypothesis: Anaphors (Xself) agree with the noun they refer to in number and gender.4) The boy loves himself/*herself/*themselves
8 Rules: A kind of hypothesis In this class, we will encode our hypotheses about sentence structure using rules.A group of rules are called a Grammar.Grammar is a scary word. But it doesn’t mean what you think it does. A grammar in the linguistic sense is a cognitive structure. It is the part of the mind that generates and understands language.Scientific syntax seeks to understand the KNOWLEDGE of linguistic structure that a speaker has. We characterize that knowledge as follows: when a speaker knows the syntax of a language s/he knows a set of RULES (for generating and understanding), for getting from sound to meaning and back. We call the entire SET of rules a grammar. So a grammar is something a speaker KNOWS.By hypothesis: you ALL know the grammars of your native language, and so does every native speaker. Without having studied “grammar”.
9 Prescriptive vs. Descriptive Rules We are always told to never split infinitives.Who(m) did you give the book to?Hopefully, we’ll never learn the rules of grammar!A] don’t split infinitives. Based on Latin.B] Never end a sentence with a preposition. Based on Latin. Inherited by Romance.C] Always say “whom” unless “who” is the subject of a sentence. Based on Latin case=marking rulesD] Dont use “hopefully” to mean “I/We am/are hopeful that…” The subject of the sentence shd be the one who is hopeful.John entered the office hopefully.
10 Prescriptive vs. Descriptive Prescriptive rules prescribe how we should speakDescriptive rules describe how we actually speak.Which is more scientific?
11 Descriptive rules are the way to go! Prescriptive RulesThese are made up by so called language mavensThese are made up by so called language mavens! Who are they to tell you how to speak?!?Prescriptive rules are often based on the rules of Latin or “logic”. Who says Latin is so great? Why should language be logical?Descriptive rules are the way to go!
12 Descriptive RulesThe rules we will use are said to generate the sentences of the languages we are looking at. They actually build the sentences we produce. They are sentence building rules.The kind of grammar we are looking at is called generative grammar (=group of rules that generate the sentences of a language)
13 Sources of Data Corpora of Spoken & Written Language Collections of recorded real world speechTelephone recordings (LDC)Newspapers, Books, MagazinesFolk tales etc recorded in the field.
14 Sources of Data *Where do you wonder if he lives? How do you know this is ungrammatical?Have you ever heard this sentence uttered?Will the fact that this sentence is ungrammatical appear in any corpus?Every day, you produce grammatical sentences that have never been uttered before.When you make up ungrammatical examples, they should MAKE SENSE. There should be some context in which it OUGHT to make sense. But even in that context, the sentence doesn’t work;Everybody has a guess about where John lives but nobody knows exactly where.Sue wonders if he lives in Spain.Alice wonders if he lives in Sardinia.Where do you wonder if he lives?Still sounds pretty funny. Why? Is it because you’ve never heard this sentence before?
15 Sources of DataCorpora are not sufficient. They don’t contain negative information (such as what sentences are ungrammatical), and they can never contain all the sentences of a language.We need to access our mental knowledge (also called “competence”) about sentences.
16 Sources of DataA special experimental technique for tapping our syntactic knowledge.This technique is called the acceptability judgement.In the psychology literature, this is sometimes also called magnitude estimation
17 Acceptability Judgements Unfortunately, sometimes acceptability judgements are called intuitions.The term ‘intuition’ has a negative connotation: makes us think of fortune tellers and psychics.However, acceptability judgements are both experimentally valid and statistically sound.
18 Acceptability Judgements We will apply acceptability judgements in this class non-statistically. For the most part this will give us the right results. Statistical proof of judgements is possible, but we won’t bother.
19 Performance vs. Competence Performance refers to what we doCompetence refers to what we know about the languageOur scientific concern: BothOur focus in this course: Competence
20 Evaluating GrammarsObservationally Adequate Grammar: A grammar that accounts for all the observed (corpus/performance) data.Descriptively Adequate: Accounts for observations and acceptability judgements (competence). And generalizationsExplanatorily Adequate: Accounts for observations, acceptability, AND accounts for language acquisition.we aspire to Explanatorily Adequate Grammars.
21 Observationally Adequate Grammar: A grammar that accounts for all the observed corpus data. All and only the sentences in the dataAllow only sentences that have been seenExclude any sentences that have not been seenA problem: Any corpus both over and undergeneratesA solution: Competence-based observational adequacy
22 Descriptively Adequate: Accounts for all observed data and all acceptability judgements (competence).Account for grammaticality intuitionsCapture descriptive generalizations
23 Explanatorily Adequate: Explain why things are the way they are Identify the Laws of Nature at workHeavenly BodiesTyco: Described motions of planets with unprecedented accuracy (Observation)Kepler: Determined that all planets have elliptical orbits (Descriptive Generalization)Newton: Deduced the elliptical orbits of the planets from the laws of motion and gravitation (Explanation)
24 Chomsky's Conception of an Explanatorily Adequate Grammar The Laws of Grammar: Universal GrammarWhat's being explained by the laws: the miracle of language acquisition
25 Learning vs. Acquisition Learning involves conscious gaining of knowledgeAcquisition involves subconscious gaining of knowledgeChemistry is learned. Languages are acquired.
26 How do we acquire languages? Obviously this question is too big to answer here, but …Are we instructed by our parents?Do we mimic our parents?NOPE!1) Language is infinite: We produce sentences we’ve never heard before2) We know things about our language that we’ve never been exposed to.
27 Language as an instinct Despite what they may think, parents don’t teach their children to speak!They correct content not form:(from Marcus et al. 1992)Adult: Where is that big piece of paper I gave you yesterday?Child: Remember? I writed on it.Adult: Oh that’s right, don’t you have any paper down here, buddy?
28 Language as an instinct (from Pinker 1994, 281 – attributed to Martin Braine)Child: Want other one spoon, DaddyAdult: You mean, you want the other spoon.Child: Yes, I want other one spoon, please Daddy.Adult: Can you say “the other spoon”?Child: Other … one … spoonAdult: Say “other”Child: otherAdult: “spoon”Child: Spoon.Adult: “other … spoon”Child: other … spoon. Now give me other one spoon.
29 Language as unconscious knowledge You know things about your language that you’ve never been taught:Who(m) did you think Shawn hit ?Who(m) did you think that Shawn hit?Who did you think hit Bill*Who did you think that hit Bill
30 Language as unconscious knowledge: Things you don't know you know Who married his mother?which person x married x's mother? (who married his own mother? Oedipus reading)which person x married y's mother? (who married HIS, say Bill's, mother? who is Bill's father or stepfather? Stepfather reading)Who did his mother marry?* which person x did x's mother marry? (no Oedipus reading)which person x did y's mother marry? (stepfather reading okay)
31 A shocking proposal! Noam Chomsky The ability of humans to use language is innate (an instinct). We are prewired to use language!
32 Huh? languages differ?!?How can language be an instinct if languages differ?Proposal: Languages differ primarily in terms of what words are used, and in a set number of “parameters”These things are learned but the rest (the basic architecture of the grammar) is innate.
33 Refining InnatenessA particular language is not innate (it is acquired), but the basic tools that any given language uses are built in.We’ll be looking at these tools. Both within languages, and crosslinguistically to see what is universal (innate) and what varies among languages.
34 Task of a child acquiring English Match up a sentence that they hear with a situation in the context around them.The cat spied the kissing fishes =1To make the proof let’s turn this into an algebraic operation. We’ll number sentences, and we’ll number situations, and look for the rule that matches them up.
35 What are basic building blocks? Example: Inferring a curve from an infinite set of pointsA grammar defines an infinite set of sentencesThe logical problem: From a finite set of data, a child must infer an infinite set of sentencesSolution: we need a set of laws for making grammars: Universal Grammar
36 The content of this class In this class, we will be looking at the innate principles that govern sentence structure (Called Universal Grammar)And we will be looking at the different ways in which languages implement these innate principles.
37 Universal Grammar (UG) The building blocks that all languages use to construct the sentences of their languages.All languages use the same basic hardwired tools. It is the particular implementation of these tools that varies between languages.
38 Universal Grammar (UG) Other evidence for UGHuman Specificity of LanguageDistinct area of the brainCrosslinguistic similarities in language acquisition (despite cultural differences)Lack of overt instructionLanguage Universals
39 SummarySyntax: A Science, uses Scientific method, studies sentence structurePrescriptive/Descriptive RulesGenerative Rules as Hypotheses
40 Summary Performance/Competence Evaluating Grammars: Observationally AdequateDescriptively AdequateExplanatorily AdequateLearning vs. AcquisitionInnateness of LanguageUniversal Grammar: innate, hardwired building blocks of syntax.
41 Summary about SyntaxSyntax is the scientific study of sentence structureSyntax is a branch of psychology [linguistics is a branch of psychology]We study competence=knowledgeCompetence is implicit knowledge
43 Discussion TopicsWhat things that we know are learned? What things are acquired?Language is an instinct. How is this an argument against prescriptive rules?There are some good reasons to keep prescriptive rules. What are they?