Term Paper, 2001
18 Pages, Grade: 2,0
2. English Syntax
2.1 Transformational Grammar
2.2 The argument structure of sentences
2.3 Thematic roles
2.4 X-bar theory
3.1 The VP-Internal Hypothesis
3.1.1. Syntax of quantifiers
3.1.2 Syntax of idioms
3.1.4 Reflexive pronouns
Goal of this piece of work is to provide a thorough overview and explanation of the movement of noun phrases (NPs) in the English language. Emphasis will be laid on the passivization and raising processes and the VP-Internal-Hypothesis which gives an understanding and explanation where nouns originate and move up to.
A general introduction of transformational grammar and categories is supposed to give the necessary frame for understanding English syntax.
Language is a set of sentences and we need finite rules for infinite sentences. Although sentences need to have meaning to meet semantic criteria, structures don’t have to do with meaning. Each language has a unique structure and we know five levels of analysis: morphology, phonology, phonetics, semantics and syntax.
In the following we are going to have a closer look at English syntax.
“Transformational grammar” is a theory of how grammatical knowledge is represented and processed in the brain. Developed by Noam Chomsky in the1960's, the transformational grammar consisted of two levels of representation of the structure of sentences: an underlying,
more abstract form, termed deep structure, and the actual form of the sentence, called surface structure (I will rely on and refer to these terms later on) . Deep structure is represented in the form of a hierarchical tree diagram, or "phrase structure tree," depicting the abstract grammatical relationships between the words and phrases within a sentence.
Consider the two sentences "Steven wrote a book on language." and "A book on language was written by Steven."
Chomsky held the view that there is a deeper grammatical structure from which both these sentences are derived. The transformational grammar provides a characterization of this common form and how it is transformed to produce actual sentences.
Or take the sentence "Who will John see."
This corresponds to its surface structure. According to the transformational grammar, we form this sentence by unconsciously applying transformation rules to the underlying deep
structure given in the phrase structure tree of the form "John will see who."
In this particular case, the transformation rule applied is termed "Wh-movement."
The transformational grammar formed the basis for many subsequent theories of human grammatical knowledge. Since Chomsky's original presentation many different theories have emerged. Although current theories differ significantly from the original, the notion of a transformation remains a central element in most models.
We need to understand that English syntax contains two main categories which exist in a certain structure. In English there are five different word classes or lexical categories such as nouns (e.g. house, ball, man …), verbs (e.g. (to) kiss, (to) play, …), adjectives (e.g. nice, beautiful, angry …), adverbs (e.g. gently, well, …) and prepositions (e.g. in, after, before …). The other category is functional in nature and contains the classes of determiners (e.g. the, a, these …), auxiliary verbs (e.g. will, must …), pronouns (e.g. him, herself …), conjunctions (e.g. and, or …) and complementisers (e.g. that, if, but …).
The noun within a sentence can occupy different functions. It can be subject of a sentence or its object; it can also be the complement of a preposition or part of an adverbial phrase. The subject can be identified through word order which does not work in German, through subject-verb agreement or through case which works very well in German. In English we can assign case by means of pronouns which will serve us later in our discussion of the position of the subject.
Let’s take a closer look at the structure of English phrases. In order to do not get confused, we need to differentiate between sentences such as (1) a and b of which the latter is a more complex sentence.
(1) a They built the house.
(1) b They built the big house on Sunday after church.
(2) *They built.
(3) I am sleeping.
The reason why (1) a and (3) are grammatical and (2) is not is the fact that the verb to build requires two arguments and to sleep only one. For purposes of grammaticality we need two noun phrases in sentence (1) a: they functions as the subject or the agent of the sentence and the house as the object or the theme of it. In sentence (4) Mary is in the position of the object and functions as the patient whereas the book is once again the theme.
(4) Sarah gave Mary the book.
Each language has a certain and unique structure which Chomsky explained with the terms of performance and competence, and so do sentences. Each verb sets the scene for some type of action or state and requires a number of participants. In this so called argument structure there are distinct participant roles attributed to the arguments, called thematic roles or theta-roles. The agent theta role is assigned to the subject position, that of the patient to the object position and the goal theta role to the indirect object position.
Theta roles are the primary elements of theta role theory. Theta role theory explains the assignment of theta (or thematic) roles to constituents within a sentence. To assign theta roles to sentence constituents is to distinguish who is doing what to whom in that sentence.
For example, in the sentence "Steven wrote a book about language." we would assign the theta role agent to Steven and patient to the book, since Steven is performing the action and the book is the recipient of that action.
In each language we have so-called phrase structure rules. Every single word that we use is taken from the lexicon and is either in its lexical form, thus a lexeme, in a derived form (and therefore a result of the derivation process) or in an inflected form. These words we use appear in the written as well as in the spoken language in its surface structure. But before that happens sentences have to undergo an unconscious process conditioned and guided by certain rules which speakers are not aware of. Consequently I argue that words are taken from the lexicon and are applied to sentences in their deep structure. Here transformation rules are applied to and give us the surface structure which again affects the phonology of a language. Between deep structure and surface structure semantic interaction is happening.
X-bar theory is a theory of general conditions of phrase structures. One phrase structure that was already mentioned is the noun phrase, shortened as NP. The traditional analysis is the following as shown in
illustration not visible in this excerpt
Det. AP N Det. = determiner
this fast car AP = adjective phrase
Other types of phrases are shown in the table below.
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