What is Syntax? Discuss in detail with reference to IC Analysis

With syntax, we enter into a level of linguistic analysis that is higher than morphology and lexicology. Morphology has no autonomous existence as syntactical analysis includes morphological processes.

However, the chief concern of syntax is the sentence which is the maximum unit of grammatical analysis and the minimum syntactical level is morpheme. Sentences may be analyzed Segmentally into phonological units called Phones and Syllables, into morphological units called morphemes and words into syntactic units called Phrases and Clauses. Sentences may also be described Suprasegmentally in respect of Prosodemes of length, stress and pitch and Intersegmentally in respect of the Prosodemes of syllable transition or juncture. The school of TG grammarians are trying to study the maximal linguistic units through a fusion of all these approaches. They have closely interrelated all the components of language. Thus, syntax is the core of grammar. Some linguists include morphology and semantics in syntax; however, syntax has been defined by Richard, Platt and Weber as:

“The study of how words combine to form sentences and rules which govern the formation of sentences”
Figure 1
One of the established methods of analyzing sentence is the ‘Immediate Constituent Analysis’. It highlights the fact that sense is conveyed not only by the dictionary meanings of words but also by their arrangement in patterns. In IC analysis sentences are broken down into successive components. Each component has some grammatical relevance. Here the aim is to arrive at the ‘ultimate constituent’ by identifying and establishing the ‘immediate constituents’ (ICs for short). Relations between the segments of an utterance are established at different hierarchical levels. If we take a simple sentence like ‘students travel’, we can identify the two constituents ‘students’ and ‘travel’. It is possible to substitute a two-word sequence for the constituent students without changing the basic structure – ‘old men’. The immediate constituents of the first sentence is ‘students’ and ‘travel’ and of the second sentence ‘old men and travel. But at the next lower level old and men are the immediate constituents. Similarly, we can have substitution for ‘travel’ also, something like ‘walk regularly’. This can be developed further as shown in figure 1. Thus the principle of syntax, according to N.R. Cattell is that:
“A sentence is not just a linear string of words; it is a sequence grouped in a particular way. The groupings are important for understanding the sense”
Figure 2.       S = The Sentence


               NP                                VP

      Dear            friend    went           away

Adjective           Noun    Verb               Adverb
   Dear                friend   went                 away
Figure 3.
1.     S (sentence                ¾®       NP + VP
2.    NP  ¾®       Mod (Adj) + N (Noun)
3.    VP  ¾®       Verb (MV) + PP
4.    VP  ¾®       Verb
5.    PP   ¾®       Prep. + NP
6.    NP  ¾®       Art.
7.    NP  ¾®       N           
There is another way of marking the ICs, that of bracketing. We can show this in the following manner. (((the) ((poor) (boy)) (ate) (the) (stale) (bread))). However, the inverted tree diagramming has come to be widely accepted. Immediate constituent analysis is essentially a process of pure segmentation dividing a sentence into its constituents. One of the weaknesses of this analysis is that it does not indicate the role or function of the constituent elements.  There is little in this to tell us about the grammatical function and nature of the elements. Though there is a concept ‘Labelling’ but still it is not as elaborated as Phrase-Structure Grammar. The labeling process and tree diagram is illustrated in figure 2.  Noam Chomsky developed mathematically precise methods and built up a system known as Phrase Structure Grammar. Phrase Structure Rules, or Grammar considers sentence as linear sequence of elements. The aim is to identify these elements for their functions and class them appropriately. This is, therefore, better viewed as an alternative system to the IC analysis.  For example, the sentence “Old Sam sunbathed beside a stream” can be shown as in Figure 3. Chomsky’s method aims to generate all the possible and only correct sentences that a native is able to generate with the rewrite rules.  In short, syntax is the system of the arrangement of words in meaningful sentences and all and also the descriptive rules to form new sentences. These syntactic theories have attacked traditional grammar and come up with radical ideas about grammar; notably T-G Grammar. 

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