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Syntax In Linguistics: A Free Intro to Linguistics College-Level Essay

Updated on August 5, 2014
Is there a better way to learn foreign languages?
Is there a better way to learn foreign languages? | Source

Who is this hub for?

This hub is specifically targeted to college students in a 100 level linguistics class. Use this as a guide to help you learn to analyze linguistics and help you to write your papers. This will help you better prepare and better understand what your professor is looking for.

This is also for anyone who wants to learn about or is interested in the field of linguistics, or to anyone who is interested in learning a language, or teaching a language. Before you begin reading, I ask you to reflect on what you know about how language is taught in schools today.

What's Syntax?

By studying grammatical sentences in a language, we learn about the syntax of that language. Syntax helps us understand grammar. Syntactic categories are very useful in the study of language. By consisting of a set of expressions that have the same properties, we can determine about how to combine new expressions, understand them and their arguments. By exploring some of the syntactic properties of English, it’ll prove helpful in learning about how a language can be analyzed, as well as, why looking at syntactic properties is an important idea when language exploration and acquisition. From this, we can learn how language acquisition occurs in both first and second languages.

I am going to appeal to the syntactic branch of linguistics to explore these topics, as well as, language acquisition. I believe syntax is important in learning about how language is acquired. Through the use of Wilson’s Language Files, I will begin to explore some syntactic evidence to help classify and identify specific word classes and discuss the acquisition of both first and second languages. By looking at the examples below, you'll see what syntax is about and see why using this branch of linguistics may be a good approach to acquiring a secondary language.

Analyzing Syntax

There are two kinds of evidence that I know of to help determine which word classes particular words can fit into, morphological and syntactic. I will explore the syntactic evidence that categorizes the bold words in sentences (1) through (5) below into specific word classes.

(1) She is sure that things will work out.

(2) Eventually, things do work out.

(3) The way it worked out was lovely.

(4) Work things out carefully.

(5) It seems clear that it will all work out.


When exploring syntactic evidence, we have to use the words location in an expression to determine what kind of word it is. I will look firstly at what syntactic evidence can be used to classify a word as a noun using the sentences (1) through (5). If a word occurs after a determiner, we can say that word is a noun. It appears that none of the sentences above has a determiner placed before it. However, we can try to see if determiners will fit before these words in sentences (6) through (10)

(6) *She is the sure that things will work out.

(7) *Every eventually, things do work out.

(8) *The way it worked out was this lovely.

(9) *Work things out my carefully.

(10) *It every seems clear that it will all work out.

The determiners in sentences (6) through (10) are underlined and occur before a noun. However, determiners do not seem to fit in front of the bold words, so this acts as evidence that the bold words are not nouns. We can also examine whether or not these words are an object of a preposition, which I did in sentences (10) through (15)

(11) *She is at sure that things will work out.

(12) *Without eventually, things do workout.

(13) *The way it worked out was behind lovely.

(14) *Work things out about carefully.

(15) *It between seems clear that it will all work out.

Source

In sentences (10) through (15), the prepositions are underlined. We can tell if a word is an object of a preposition, and therefore a noun, if it is grammatically correct to do so. Looking at the sentences above, we notice that not one of them is correct grammatically, supporting the belief that these bolded words are not nouns.

More syntactic evidence to look for to find proof of a noun is if the word takes place after a determiner and adjective, which I try to do in sentences (16) through (20).

(16) *She is at today sure that things will work out.

(17) *Without fast eventually, things do work out.

(18) *The way it worked out was behind tomorrow lovely.

(19) *Work things out about slow carefully.

(20) *In between gentle seems clear that it will all work out.

Again, the sentences (16) through (20) just aren’t grammatically correct, and these bold words very obviously are not nouns.

Now I will examine if any of these words are a verb by looking for syntactic evidences. The first piece of evidence I will look at is if the bold words can fit after the word “please”, which I will do in sentences (21) through (26).

(21) *Please sure.

(22) *Please eventually.

(23) *Please lovely.

(24) *Please carefully.

(25) *Please gentle.


Looking at the sentences above, we see reason to believe that none of these words are verbs either, because none of these sentences look and sound grammatical. However, there is more syntactic evidence to look for to determine if a word is a verb. If the bold words can occur in the blanks “To ____ or not to ___”, then we’ll have reason to believe these words are verbs. I will try to do this in sentences (26) through (30).

(26) *To sure or not to sure.

(27) *To eventually or not to eventually.

(28) *To lovely or not to lovely.

(29) *To carefully or not to carefully.

(30) *To gently or not to gently.

Again, these sentences are not grammatical, and we can therefore assume that none of these words are verbs.


I will next determine if these words are adjectives. I will examine in sentences (31) through (35) if the bolded words can occur between a determiner and a noun. I will add a noun to the sentences (6) through (10) since they already have a determiner placed in them.

(31) *She is the sure catthat things will work out.

(32) *Every eventually meal, things do work out.

(33) *The way it worked out was this lovely bottle.

(34) *Work things out my carefully house.

(35) *It every seems lightclear that it will all work out.


After adding a noun to sentences (6) through (10), I had to star all the sentences. However, I reluctantly stared (31), (33) and (34). In my head, these do not sound grammatical. I am especially concerned about sentence (33), so I am going to try and make another sentence to see if it’ll work in (36).

(36) *The way it worked out was this lovely book.

Again this doesn’t seem to work, but I believe this word is an adjective. However, there is a second syntactic evidence to look for to see if the bold words are an adjective. If the bold words can occur after the word “is” like in “he is”, then there is reason to believe that these words are adjectives. I will do this in sentences (37) through (41).

(37) She is sure.

(38) *He is eventually.

(39) He is lovely.

(40) *She is carefully.

(41) *She is seems.


Sentences (38), (39) and (41) were starred because these sentences are not grammatical and we can conclude that these bolded words are not adjectives. However in sentences (37) and (39), the bolded words seem to work within the sentence. From this, it can be concluded that “sure” and “lovely” are in fact adjectives.

Lastly, I will examine if the bolded words can be considered adverbs through the use of syntactic evidence in sentences (42) through (46).

(42) *She read the book sure.

(43) She reads the articles eventually.

(44) *He looks at her lovely.

(45) He runs around the block carefully.

(46) *He turns on the light seems.


Looking at the sentences, I tried to place the bolded words after a verb phrase. If it sounds grammatical, it can be concluded that the bolded words are adverbs. Sentences (42), (44) and (46), all are ungrammatical- so, we can decide that “sure”, “lovely”, and “seems”, are not adverbs. However, we find that sentences (43) and (45) are grammatical and we can therefore conclude that “eventually” and “carefully” are both adverbs.

Language teachers need to reunite and think  about different approaches to language teaching.
Language teachers need to reunite and think about different approaches to language teaching. | Source

Implications

By studying syntax more carefully and closely, in relation to language learning, it’s apparent that to learn and know a language is not just about associating words with concepts, but knowing how to put words together. Syntax teaches us about structure. We can use syntax to help identify and describe a grammatical system of a language- this would be useful in both first and second language acquisition.

Although first language acquisition comes naturally, and second language acquisition, depending on how early you learned it, may or may not come naturally, syntax is very useful in learning about the structure within words and the structure of words in an expression. By studying syntax, language could be better taught and therefore better grasped. Perhaps how we go about teaching language in middle and high school is not the right approach to doing so.

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