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Syntax

March 20, 2012

The Last
Quick Write

Flashback
Way back when, we talked about how its possible to
produce infinitely long sentences in a language.
Example:
John said that Mary thought that Robin knew that Angela
saw that Quinton wanted Sam to think that Becky heard
that Steve wished that Forrest hoped that Bronwen
believed that....
Idea: our knowledge of language consists of patterns of
patterns

Flashback
We also talked about sentences like the following...
Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.
Im memorizing the score of the sonata I hope to
compose someday.
Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe
The claim was that these were acceptable sentences of
English, even though they made no sense.

Flashback
In contrast, the following sentences were not acceptable:
Green sleep ideas furiously colorless.
Im memorizing the perform of the score I sonata to
hope someday.
Brillig and, slithy and the toves
Wabe gimble in the gyre and did
What makes these sentences unacceptable, and the
other sentences acceptable?

Syntax
Syntax = the rules a language has for putting words
together into sentences
also: rules for putting words together into phrases
Important terminology: grammatical
= strings of words that form possible sentences of a
language
= conform to the syntactic rules a language has for
putting words together into sentences
What is grammatical is based on a native speakers
judgment of acceptability.
(descriptive grammar)

On the other hand


Another important term: ungrammatical
= string of words that is not a possible sentence in a
language
= cannot be produced by the syntactic rules of a
language
What is ungrammatical also reflects a native speakers
judgments
Symbolized with a * before a string of words:
*Green sleep ideas furiously colorless.

Game Plan
Our goal for today:
Figure out some basic syntactic rules
i.e., how languages put words together into larger units
Lets start with this observation:
The rules for putting words together into sentences do not
necessarily yield utterances that make sense.
Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.
Q: If syntactic rules are not based on what words mean,
how do they work?

Lexical Categories: Distribution

The rules for putting words together into sentences


operate on lexical categories (word types), not word
meanings.

Words of each lexical category have a specific syntactic


distribution:

= the words that may appear around them, in their


syntactic environment

Also: there are restrictions on the inflectional affixes


which may attach to them.

= morphosyntax

Lexical Categories: Distribution

Example: Nouns (N)

Semantically: refer to persons, places and things

Syntactically:

1. May occur after Determiners

this book, the water, an idea

*this excite, *the somber, *an exactly

2. May be modified with Adjectives

this funny book, the bad water, a slippery idea

Also, nouns can be plural:

the dogs, the cats, *the sombers, *the exactlys

Lexical Categories: Distribution


Verbs (V)
Semantically: refer to events and states of affairs
Syntactically: may appear after Auxiliaries
he can go, she will stay, I have walked
*he can printer, *she will strange, *I have occasionally
Verbs also take specific inflectional affixes:
He runs, She plays, It works.
*He printers, *She stranges, *It precipitouslies.
He is running, She is playing, It is working.
*He is printering, *She is stranging, *It is occasionallying

Lexical Categories: Distribution


Adjectives (Adj)
Semantically: describe things that nouns refer to
Syntactically: may be modified by Degree Words
very funny, too wet, quite slippery
*very building, *too walk, *quite these
Adjectives can also take specific inflectional affixes:
wetter, funniest
*buildinger, *walkest

Lexical Categories, part 1


The familiar lexical categories are open-class
categories
It is relatively easy to add new items to the category.
Nouns (N): wickedness, phonology, smock, blog
Verbs (V): eat, smash, insult, hug, chillax
Adjective (A): creepy, red, humungous, snarky
Adverb (Adv): quickly, now, sneakily
Note: many adverbs are derived from adjectives.
But remember that category membership can be fluid...
Ex: Calvins verbing of nouns

Lexical Categories, part 2


Other lexical categories are closed-class or functional
categories
It is very difficult to add new items to the category.
Prepositions (P): to, in, on, near, at, by
Pronouns (Pro): I, you, he, she, we, they, it
Auxiliaries (Aux): will, can, may, must, should, could
Determiner (Det): a, the, this, those, my, their
Conjunction (Con): and, but, or
Degree (Deg): too, so, very, more, quite
The meaning of these categories is harder to define; their
function is to help string words in a sentence together.

Check it out!
Words can be categorized on the basis of distributional
and morphosyntactic evidence...
Even if they dont mean anything:

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves


Pro V A Con Det A
N
did gyre and gimble in the wabe.
V V Con V
P Det N
All mimsy were the borogoves,
Det A
V Det N
And the mome raths outgrabe.
Con Det A N
V

Twas Brillig?
Brillig is actually in the
appropriate syntactic frame
for either an adjective or a
noun.
It was pleasant
It was evening
It was four in the
afternoon.

A First Hypothesis
How do we put words together into (grammatical)
sentences?
A really simple way = string one word category after
another:
S Det N V Det N
( = may consist of)
The child found a puppy.
S Det A N V P Det N
The slithy toves gimbled in the wabe.
These syntactic rules could capture patterns of words.

Important Data

Whats going on in these sentences?

1. We need more intelligent leaders.


2. I like green eggs and ham.
3. The police shot the terrorists with rifles.

Syntax also puts words together in units that are


smaller than sentences.

These units are called phrases.

Same string of words, more than one interpretation =

more than one phrase structure

structural ambiguity

Actual Newspaper Headlines

One way in which syntax can enrich your life is through


unintentional humor.

1. HOSPITAL SUED BY SEVEN FOOT DOCTORS


2. LAWYERS GIVE POOR FREE LEGAL ADVICE
3. ENRAGED COW INJURES FARMER WITH AX
4. COMPLAINTS ABOUT NHL REFEREES GROWING UGLY
5. CROWDS RUSH TO SEE POPE TRAMPLE MAN TO DEATH
6. FRENCH OFFER TERRORIST REWARD

Ambiguity (again)

There are two ways to represent structural ambiguity in


sentences.

Method 1: Bracketing
a. [more intelligent] leaders
b. more [intelligent leaders]

Just like morphological bracketing:

[[unlock]able]

[un[lockable]]

Ambiguity (again)
Method 2: Phrase Structure Trees

more intelligent leaders

more intelligent leaders

Tree Terminology
node

root node

more intelligent leaders

constituents
more intelligent leaders

Ambiguity (continued)
Recall: in morphology, each node in a tree had to be a real
word
Adj

Adj

Aff

Verb

Aff

[un-]

[lock]

[-able]

= not able to be locked

Ambiguity (continued)
Recall: in morphology, each node in a tree had to be a real
word
Adj

Verb

Aff

Verb

Aff

[un-]

[lock]

[-able]

= able to be unlocked

Phrases

The nodes in a syntactic tree above the word level


represent phrases.

phrase = string of words that function as a unit

Basic phrase types:


1. Noun Phrases (NP): [intelligent leaders]
2. Verb Phrases (VP): [shoot terrorists]
3. Prepositional Phrases (PP): [with rifles]
4. Adjective Phrases (AP): [more intelligent]

Phrase Phacts
Every phrase has to have at least one constituent
This constituent is called the head of the phrase.
The head determines the phrases function, behavior and
category.
For example, noun phrases have to consist of at least one
noun.
Robin

the book

a picture of Robin

a picture of the unicorn

that weird picture of Bobs unicorn

In General
Theres a pattern to how these things work:
Noun phrases (NPs) are headed by nouns
NP N
Verb phrases (VPs) are headed by verbs
VP V
Prepositional phrases (PPs) are headed by
prepositions
PP P
Adjective phrases (AdjP) are headed by adjectives
AP A
Basic Phrase Structure Rule: XP X

More About Phrases

Beyond the heads, phrases can be expanded with


specifiers and complements.

Specifiers precede the head of the phrase;

they qualify or pick out a particular version of the


head.

Examples:

1. this book

(Determiner specifying noun)

2. very late

(Degree word specifying adjective)

3. often forgets

(Qualifier/Adverb specifying verb)

4. almost in

(Degree word specifying preposition)

Complements

Complements always follow the head of the phrase

And provide more information about that head.

1. this book about unicorns

PP complement of the head of the NP.

2. very late to class

PP complement of the head of the AP.

3. often forgets his hat

NP complement of the head of the VP.

4. almost in the basket

NP complement of the head of the PP.

X-Bar Theory
Together, heads and their complements form a phrasal
structure known X (X-bar).
Heres the way phrases (of all kinds) normally break
down:
XP

(Specifier)
note: heads are the
only obligatory element
in the phrase
optional stuff is in
parentheses

Head

(Complement)