Syntax

Syntax

Syntax, put simply, is the grammatical arrangement of each element of a sentence. Its main concern is ensuring the coherence of your subject, verb and object, as well as the relationships that tie them together. Involving a logical sequence, it’s the framework from which you build sentences correctly.

According to about.com, “Syntax is the study of the principles and processes by which sentences are constructed in particular languages. Syntactic investigation of a given language has as its goal the construction of a grammar that can be viewed as a device of some sort for producing the sentences of the language under analysis.”

Each word we use in our language has a meaning. A combination of words is a sentence. When we string words together to form a sentence, the goal is for the complete statement to relay a specific message. How these words are arranged and presented is usually dictated by syntax. The reader, who looks at these arranged words, uses syntax to determine what it means as well. Without the structure of syntax, there is no point in putting words together to form a sentence – they would not make any sense anyway. Syntax, It is the branch of grammar that deals with the inner structure and general characteristics of sentences. The founder of syntax is generally considered to be the Greek grammarian A. Dyscolus (second century).

Over the course of the development of linguistic theory, the content and relative significance of syntax in the description of language have varied. In the early period of the study of linguistics, syntax was the study of the sentence and its parts, which were analyzed according to the general concepts of logic (the study of the parts of a sentence). The categories of syntax, unlike morphological forms, were considered to be universal. Thus, syntax dealt with the meaning of a sentence, or the semantic aspect of speech. In contrast, phonetics and morphology studied the expressive aspect. This approach later led to the view that syntax was a branch of grammar that examined linguistic phenomena in terms of their evolution from meaning (function) to form (J. O. Jespersen). Since the content of a sentence was regarded as the subject of syntax, syntax was sometimes equated with the method of synchrony analysis and contrasted to the diachronic approach to language (A. A. Potebnia).

In the second half of the 19th century, interest awakened in the national character of languages, and morphology became paramount in importance. In connection with these developments, syntax came to be regarded as the study of the functions of classes of words or parts of speech in the sentence. The syntax of parts of speech was a continuation of morphology. However, syntax did not include phenomena characterizing a sentence as an integral unit. Such phenomena were regarded as an unrelated supplement to the syntax of parts of speech. In an effort to eliminate the inconsistency in the division of grammar, the German scholar J. Ries defined syntax as the study of word groups described from the perspective of form and content and also distinguished syntax from the study of the word. Ries’ approach was continued by V. Mathesius, who defined syntax as the study of ways of combining nominative units.

This approach to syntax was used by many other linguistic schools of the first half of the 20th century. Thus, the adherents of formal and structural grammar have viewed syntax as the study of the combinative, valent, and relational potentialities of words (syntagmatic syntax). Descriptivists have regarded syntax as the study of the arrangement of words or morphemes in utterances (distributive syntax). The representatives of the logical and psychological schools of grammar—in a broader sense, the adherents of a content-related approach to language—have treated syntax as the study of sentences or utterances. It was impossible to exclude either the combinative or the content-related aspect from the description of language or to reduce them to a common denominator. Hence, it became necessary to include in syntax two independent and internally separate branches: the study of the combinative potentialities of words and the study of sentences. Syntax came to be treated as “the study of the word in the sentence and of the sentence as a whole” (I. I. Meshchaninov). The difference between these divisions of syntax is seen in the opposition of the two types of units studied: word groups (nominative units functionally equivalent to a word) and sentences (predicative, communicative units).

Catching Syntax Errors
When you read a sentence and it doesn’t make any sense, it’s usually a syntax problem. Try running it through a grammar software and check the suggested rewrites. Chances are, one of those will actually point you in the right direction.

We usually pick up on the basic English syntax constructs just from repeated use. However, when composing more complex sentences and statements, it isn’t unusual to commit writing mistakes that can leave our copy muddled and confused. Using English writing software, syntax problems are usually easily caught, with often-accurate suggestions how it can best be revised (even with long and complicated sentences).

Syntax in linguistics can refer either to the study of the structural rules of language or to the bodies of rules themselves. It is part of the branch of linguistics dealing with the form and structure of natural languages, such as word order in spoken English or the sequencing of physical gestures in American Sign Language. The branch of linguistics that includes syntax also includes morphology, which is the study of the formation of words, and phonology, which is the study of a language’s system of sounds.

Linguistics is the scientific discipline dedicated to the study of human languages, and it comprises three main subfields. The first focuses on the forms of languages, and it includes syntax, morphology and phonology. The second deals with meaning in languages and includes the studies of semantics and pragmatics. In the third branch of linguistics, researchers deal with languages in different contexts, including history, human evolution and neuroscience.

The word “syntax” is derived from the Greek syntaxis, which means “arrangement.”  Syntax in linguistics deals with the ways that the elements of a sentence or phrase can be arranged and rearranged to express different meanings. For example, in spoken and written English, sentences are often constructed by following a subject with a verb and the direct object. The positions of the words convey the subject-object relationship. For example, a sentence such as “The dog bit the cat” conveys a meaning that is different from “The cat bit the dog,” even though they contain exactly the same words.

Researchers and students of syntax in linguistics analyze languages by breaking down sentences and phrases into units known as “syntactic atoms.” A syntactic atom might be a single word, or it might be a phrase that communicates one meaning. In the previous example, the word “the” is not a syntactic atom, but “the cat” is. In the sentence “The dog bit the small black cat that lives in the neighbor’s barn,” the entire phrase “the small black cat that lives in the neighbor’s barn” is a single syntactic atom.

In some languages, sentence structure isn’t used to convey the relationships between the words. Rather, the forms of the words themselves change to communicate those relationships, and word order within the sentence is irrelevant. For this reason, syntax in linguistics is closely related to morphology — the study of how words are formed and how those formations change within the structure of a language. What is communicated syntactically in English might be communicated morphologically in another language.

Syntax allows speakers to communicate complicated thoughts by arranging small, simple units in meaningful ways. In English, for example, a sentence can be as simple as a one-word interjection, or it can be a lengthy composition with multiple clauses strung together. Human language is unlimited, because even within the rules of syntax, humans can generate new sentences or phrases to express novel ideas or experiences.

The Role of Syntax in Language

This section is an introduction to syntax in language as far as it is relevant to language study. It is not meant to be a rigorous discussion of linguistics. What is described here is a simple orthodox view of the grammar of language. Some more complex models are discussed by linguists but these are beyond the scope of this description. This section is included for those readers who would like a brief overview without having to refer separately to linguistics textbook. Languages have rules. The rules of a language are called the grammar. The reason for these rules is that a person needs to be able to speak an indeterminately large number of sentences in a lifetime. The effort would be impossibly great if each sentence had to be learnt separately. By learning the rules for connecting words it is possible to create an infinite number of sentences, all of which are meaningful to a person who knows the syntax. Thus it is possible to construct many sentences that the speaker has never heard before. A finite number of rules facilitate an infinite number of sentences that can be simultaneously understood by both the speaker and the listener. In order for this to work with any degree of success, the rules have to be precise and have to be consistently adhered to. These rules cover such things as: the way words are constructed; the way the endings of words are changed according to context (inflection); the classification of words into

 Parts of speech (nouns, verbs, pronouns, etc.); the way parts of speech are connected together. The rules of grammar do not have to be explicitly understood by the speaker of the language or the listener. The majority of native speakers of a language will have no formal knowledge of the grammar of a language but are still capable of speaking the language grammatically to a great degree of accuracy. Native speakers of a language assimilate these rules subconsciously while the language is being learned as a child.

Reference

Sumerset, J. (2009, May 5). English Writing – The Role of Syntax. Retrieved February 4, 2013, from https://ezinearticles.com/?English-­Writing-­-­-­The-­Role-­of-­Syntax&id=2306523

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