Constituenc1 - Constituency, Trees, and Rules 0....

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Constituency, Trees, and Rules 0. INTRODUCTION Syntax is about the study of sentence structure . So let’s start by defining what we mean by “structure.” Consider the sentence in (1): 1) The students loved their syntax assignments. One way to describe this sentence is as a simple linear string of words. Certainly this is how it is represented on the page. We could describe the sentence as consisting of the words the, students, loved, their, syntax, assignments in that order. As you can probably figure out, if that were all there was to syntax, you could put down this book here and not bother with the next fourteen chapters. But that isn’t all there is to syntax. The statement that sentence (1) consists of a linear string of words misses several important generalizations about the internal structure of sentences and how these structures are represented in our minds. In point of fact we are going to claim that the words in sentence (1) are grouped into units (called constituents) and that these constituents are grouped into larger constituents, and so on until you get a sentence. Notice that on a purely intuitive level there is some notion that certain words are more closely related to one another. For example, the word the seems to be tied more to the meaning of students than it is to loved or syntax . A related intuition can be seen by looking at the sentences in (2). 62 Preliminaries 2) a) The student loved his phonology readings. b) The student hated his morphology professor. Compare these sentences to (1). You’ll see right away that the relationship between the student and his syntax assignments in (1) and the student and his phonology readings in (2a) is the same. Similarly, the relation between the student and his morphology professor in (2b), while of a different kind (hating instead of loving), is of a similar type: There is one entity ( the student ) who are either hating or loving another entity ( his syntax assignments, his phonology readings or his morphology professor ). In order to capture these intuitions (the intuition that certain words are more closely connected than others, and the intuitions about relationships between words in the sentence), we need a more complex notion. The notions we use to capture these intuitions are constituency and hierarchical structure . The notion that the and student are closely related to one another is captured by the fact that we treat them as part of a bigger unit that contains them, but not other words. We have two different ways to represent this bigger unit. One of them is to put square
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brackets around units: 3) [the student] The other is to represent the units with a group of lines called a tree structure: 4) the student These bigger units are called constituents . An informal definition for a constituent is given in (5): 5) Constituent : A group of words that functions together as a unit. Constituency is the most important and basic notion in syntactic theory.
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This note was uploaded on 03/19/2012 for the course BA 232 taught by Professor Anishkoshy during the Spring '12 term at Faculty of English Commerce Ain Shams University.

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Constituenc1 - Constituency, Trees, and Rules 0....

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