Definition of Syntax, Its Area of Study, Properties and Word Orders

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Every language consists patterns and structures. These patterns and structures are so complex but the human brain has a special capability to internalize these structures. Native speakers of a language internalize the patterns and structures of the language subconsciously and without any apparent effort. However, when it comes to learning a new language or analyzing the structures of the spoken language (mother tongue), we need to understand how these structures and patterns are formed and used in daily life. Syntax is the branch of linguistics that helps us to do it.   

Definition:

  • Syntax is the branch of linguistics which investigates, analyzes, and explains the way words are arranged to create sentences.
  • "Syntaxis 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." - (Noam Chomsky, Syntactic Structures, 1971)

Area of Study:

  • Word Order: every language has a general word order. The word order of English is Subject + Verb + Object (complement).
  • Agreement: subject and verb, determiner and noun, noun and pronoun, etc.
  • Hierarchical Structure: what modifies what in a sentence.
  • Cases: complement case, preposition case, etc.
  • Moods: Interrogatives, conditionals, subjunctives, etc.

In a nutshell, Syntax covers all the aspects of grammatical relations between/among two or more words in the sentences. 

Properties of Syntactic Knowledge

  • A language may contain a limited number of words but it contains an unlimited and infinite number of sentences because of its structures.
  • Human beings can produce and understand an infinite number of sentences using only a few structures.
  • There is no specific limit on the length of a sentence. A sentence can be formed using only two words (sometimes using one word; the other is hidden). All the same, it may contain ten thousand or more words in it as there is no limit to    
  • A sentence with clear syntax can be non-sense: Examples: Colorless blue ideas eat furiously.
  • Most of the languages follow some basic syntactic word orders. 

Basic Syntactic Word Order of Some Languages

  • SOV(subject-object-verb): Most number of languages follows this word order such as Hindi, Bengali, Korean, Japanese, Burmese, Armenian, Hungarian, Turkish, Basque, Indo-European languages of India, Dravidian languages of Southern India and many other. 
  • SVO (subject-object-verb): The languages that follow this word order have the most number of speakers. English, French, Thai, and Chinese are the most spoken languages of this word order.
  • VSO (subject-object-verb): Irish, Arabic, Welsh, and some other languages follow this word order.
  • OSV (subject-object-verb): Jamamadi & Yoda follow this word order.
  • VOS (subject-object-verb): Malagasy (Madagascar) follows this word order.

 

Word order in different Syntaxes

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