Thursday, April 11, 2013

Intro to Linguistics: Syntax

Today we'll be looking at syntax, the study of the rules of sentence formation. Check out our previous Intro to Linguistics posts on phonetics, phonology, morphology, and semantics to get up to speed on the other major fields of study within linguistics.

In addition to the aforementioned definition, syntax also refers to the part of mental grammar that represents a speaker's knowledge of sentences and their structures. Syntacticians research ways to describe languages through the use of sentence formation rules, as well as attempting to uncover general rules that apply to all languages.

A couple of cute kittens playing in a pot.
Another important aspect of the field is the division of words and morphemes into syntactic categories, which are also known as grammatical categories or parts of speech. If you were paying attention in school, you should definitely know most of these word categories such as nouns, adjectives, articles, and verbs. Expressions from the same category can usually be substituted for each other without loss of grammaticality.

The rules of syntax also specify the correct word order for languages. This word order is determined by looking at the order of the subject, the object, and the verb in each sentence. English is an SVO language, which can be seen in a sentence such as "The kittens play in the pot," for example. There's much more to syntax, so we'll go into more depth on aspects such as the complex study of word order typology another day.