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Syntax (by Edward J. Vajda) Let us now move on to another major structural aspect of language, syntax.

The word syntax derives from the Greek word syntaxis, which means arrangement. Morphology deals with word formation out of morphemes; syntax deals with phrase and sentence formation out of words. What is a sentence? Although everyone knows or thinks they know what a word is and what a sentence is, both terms defy exact definition. The sentence as a linguistic concept has been defined in over 200 different ways, none of them completely adequate. Here are the most important attempts at defining the sentence: The traditional, or common sense definition states that a sentence is a group of words that expresses a thought . The problem comes in defining what a thought is. The phrase an egg expresses a thought but is it a sentence? A sentence like I closed the door because it was cold expresses two thoughts and yet it is one sentence. Another definition is that a sentence is a group of words expressing a topic (old information) and some comment (new information) about that topic: John left. (Notice how intonation--which is a part of phonology--interacts closely with syntax in delimiting topic from comment--another example of the grammatical interconnectedness of all the so called levels of language.) The problem with the topic-comment definition is that many sentences have no clear topic and comment structure: It's raining. The grammatical definition of the sentence is the largest unit to which syntactic rules can apply. In terms of syntactic categories, most sentences--at least in English-- can be divided into a subject and a predicate. This applies to sentences with or without a clear topic/comment structure: John ---left. Many sentences have no clear topic and comment structure: It--is raining. (The word it here is the so-called dummy it used to fill the subject slot for impersonal verbs in English; cf. prsh, snez.) Another problem with grammatical, or syntactic, definitions of the sentence is that not all sentences--even in English--are divisible into subject and predicate. Some sentence types make no internal syntactic structure; there is no distinction between subject and predicate: a) Emotive sentences such as Gee! Wow. Darn! Yes! No! b) Imperatives: Go! Leave! Taxi! All aboard! Down with alcohol! c) Elliptic sentences: Who took the car? John. d) small talk phrases: Hello. Good-bye. Good morning.

In polysynthetic languages the single word serve as a complete sentence much more frequently. In such languages, morphology rather than syntax usually expresses the distinction between subject and predicate.