Applied Linguistics. The Sentence Structure in Children Version vs. Adult Version. "Little Red Riding Hood"

Essay, 2018

16 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of content

2 Introduction

3 Syntactical Categories
3.1 Sentences
3.2 Clauses
3.3 Phrases
3.4 Word Classes

4 How children are introduced to the written language

5 Little Red Riding Hood - Syntax Analysis

6 Conclusion

7 List of references

8 Appendix 1: The children version of Little Red Riding Hood

9 Appendix 2: The adult version of Little Red Riding Hood

2 Introduction

“Once upon a time” there were only 100 languages in the world. Nowadays there are around 5,000 to 10,000 languages (Kracht 2011: 4). Every language has five levels of analysis: morphology, phonology, phonetics, semantics and syntax. Both the semantic and the morphology are closely related to the syntax. While the morphology deals with the structure within words, the semantic deals with the meaning of sentences and the syntax with the grammatical structure of sentences (Brown & Miller 1980: 12). Each language has its own unique structure. However, there are also differences within a language. The structure not only changed historically but also when it comes to the target groups. To make these differences clear, this essay will focus on the syntactic structure of children vs. adult fairy tales.

3 Syntactical Categories

The syntax (gr. ‘syntaxis’ = compilation), also known as doctrine of sentence construction, deals with the rules according to which individual lexical or grammatical meaning carriers are put together into phrases, these into clauses and these in turn into well-formed sentences (Brown & Miller 1980: 12).

3.1 Sentences

The highest ranking of syntax are the sentences. Two types of sentences can be distinguished: the major sentences, such as “The wolf has eaten the girl.” and the minor sentences, such as “Happy Birthday”. Whether a sentence is a major or a minor sentence can be determined using three criteria that only the major clause has: (a) Substitution, (b) Transformation and (c) the Subject-Predicate Structure (Plag et al. 2015: 117-118). In the substitution test, a part of the sentence can be replaced (e.g. “The bear has eaten the girl.”). The transformation test is the transformation of an active to a passive construction (“The girl has been eaten by the wolf.”).

The focus of each syntactic analysis is on the major sentence, as they have a fully developed structure. We distinguish four major sentences types. The DECLARATIVE one has a Subject-Verb-Object-Structure (e.g. “The wolf has eaten the girl.”) (Akamajian 1984: 1). In the INTERROGATIVE sentences, the operator (auxiliary verb) has to precede (e.g. “Has the wolf eaten the girl?”) (ibid.). In the category of the IMPERATIVE sentences, the verb occurs in the initial position (e.g. “Eat the girl, wolf!”) (Akamajian 1984: 1). The last type, the EXCLAMATORY to convey excitement and emotion such as “What a wolf has eaten the girl!” (Akamajian 1984: 2). All these sentences, consist of only one clause and therefore called SIMPLE SENTENCES (Tallermann 2015: 88).

3.2 Clauses

Sentences can also consist of several clauses. As an example, the sentences “The wolf has eaten the girl and the girl was gone.” and “When the wolf has eaten the girl, the girl was gone.”. In the first sentence two clauses are integrated, they can stand by their own and are connected by the conjunction and. Such sentences are called COMPOUND SENTENCES (Plag et al. 2015: 131). In the second example, also two clauses can be found but with the differ, that only the last clause (“The girl was gone”), the main clause, can stand by its own (ibid.). The first clause by contrast is dependent on clause 2 and is therefore a subordinated clause (ibid.). Such sentences are so-called COMPLEX SENTENCES (Tallermann 2015: 88).

3.3 Phrases

Clauses can also be broken down once again into phrases. Phrases in general are syntactic units that consist of one or more words. We distinguish between HEADS and MODIFIERS (Kim & Sells 2008: 52). So, when we have the phrase “The wolf”, the the is the modifier and the wolf is the head. Heads are the central or obligatory elements which determine the type and distributional properties of the phrase (Kim & Sells 2008: 53). Modifiers add something to the meaning of the head (ibid.). If a Modifier stands in front of the head, it is called a pre-modifier. But if the modifier follows the head it’s a so-called post-modifier. The words of a phrase form a single syntactic unit which can be moved around and substitute by another word or phrase (Kim & Sells 2008: 19-23). Phrases are formed out if the main word classes: adjectives (ADJECTIVE PHRASES (AP)), adverbs (ADVERBAL PHRASES (AdvP)), nouns (NOUN PHRASES (NP)), verbs (VERB PHRASES (VP)) and prepositions (PREPOSITIONAL PHRASES (PP)) ((Kim & Sells 2008: 22-26). A sentence must consist at least of one NP and one VP. Phrases can then also be nested (Kim & Sells 2008: 27).

3.4 Word Classes

Furthermore, English word classes consists of two main categories. First the LEXICAL CATEGORIES also called word classes such as NOUNS (N) (e.g. dog, boy, ball, conversation …), which “[refers] to an individual or entity” (Kim & Sells 2008:12), VERBS (V) (e.g. scream, laugh, kiss …), which “[refers] to an action” (ibid.), ADJECTIVES (A) (e.g. happy, sad, beautiful …), which “[refers] to a property” (ibid.), ADVERBS (Adv) (e.g. friendly, angrily, nicely …), which “[refers] to the manner, location, time or frequency of an action” (ibid.) and PREPOSITIONS (P) (e.g. in, out, under, after …) referring to places, positions and times. The second, the FUNCTIONAL CATEGORY contains DETERMINERS (Det) (e.g. the, a/an, these …), “articles, possessives, quantifiers, and demonstrative all ‘determine’ the referential properties of jobs […]” (Kim & Sells 2008: 14), CONJUNCTIONS (Con) (e.g. for, but, so, and …), which are used to connect words, phrases, clauses or sentences, COMPLIMENTIZERS (C) (e.g. that, for, if and weather), which are used to introduce a complement clause (Kim & Sells 2008: 15). AUXILIARY VERBS (Aux) (e.g. be, will, can, should …), which “appears in front of the main verb” (ibid.), PARTICLES (Part) (e.g. up, off …), which can, in contrast to prepositions, “occur after the object” (Kim & Sells 2008: 16), and last the PRONOUNS (Pro) (e.g. her, his, there, so …), which “refer back to other constituents” (Kim & Sells 2008: 21).

4 How children are introduced to the written language

It does not matter which language is learned, the acquisition has a “high degree of similarity […] all over the world” (Lightbown & Spada 2013: 6). It is important that language learners first speak a language, then read and last write. That is why the age of the learner and the number of already learned languages are irrelevant. But important is that reading and spelling takes place before writing, as these supports the writing process (Schrüder-Lenzen 2013: 66).

Ute Frith distinguishes three levels in her model for literacy acquisition from 1985 (Schrüder-Lenzen 2013: 67).The first is the logographic or logographic stage: language learners often recognize repeating and emotionally meaningful words (ibid.).

The second stage is the alphabetical one: the learners internalize the phonemic-phonological principle (Schrüder-Lenzen 2013: 69). They are able to combine the typeface (the letter) with the phonetic expression (ibid.) The reading at this stage is still very hesitant because the language learner first has to recognize each letter, pronounce it and put it together with the remaining letters. In order to read a text fluently, regular practice is very important. Gradually, the difficulty is the increased by first longer words, with more syllables and later on also longer sentences.

5 Little Red Riding Hood - Syntax Analysis

Both texts used are about the story of the Little Red Riding Hood. As already mentioned (see point 2), language is very versatile and can be examined on several aspects. In both fairy tale versions, the form in which speech can occur is clearly recognizable.

It is striking that the children’s version1 (see Appendix 1) is much shorter than the adult version2 (see Appendix 2). Therefore, much has been omitted in terms of content. In addition, the version for children uses a simplified diction, such as abbreviations as ‘Granny’ (see Appendix 1 verse 2).

But the versions also differ in syntactical structures. To illustrate this with examples, the sentence from the children version is used:

(1) He got into Granny’s bed. (CV)

(2) She looked at the wolf. (CV)

(1)Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

(2)Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

In the children’s fairy tale, mainly simple sentence structures are used and follow a specific sequence, such as declarative sentences (see point 3.1) can be seen in the example above. The sentence begins with the subject, then continues with the action which the subject performs, the verb. This is followed by a preposition (see point 3) that describes the action in more detail.

In the adult version, such sequences are less represented:

(3) The huntsman took the wolf's pelt. (AV)

(3)Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Often, sentences with additional phrases can be found. They are usually connected by conjunctions and thus form compound sentences (see point 3.2). They automatically become longer and more complex:

(4) He cut a little more, and the girl jumped out and cried. (AV)

(5) Little Red Riding Hood opened her eyes and saw the sunlight breaking through the trees and how the ground was covered with beautiful flowers. (AV)

(4)Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

A further increase in complexity can be seen from the additional parts of speech as adjectives, adverbs and auxiliary verbs. Especially adjectives are common. The children version renounces these.


1 marked as CV

2 marked as AV

Excerpt out of 16 pages


Applied Linguistics. The Sentence Structure in Children Version vs. Adult Version. "Little Red Riding Hood"
University of Hildesheim
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Sentence Structure, Linguistics, Grammar, Syntax
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Hanna Fennekohl (Author), 2018, Applied Linguistics. The Sentence Structure in Children Version vs. Adult Version. "Little Red Riding Hood", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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