In this post, we are going to learn what syntax is. To learn more about what Linguistics is and what linguists study, check my other article HERE.
Definition of Syntax
The word ‘Syntax’ is originally Greek meaning ‘arrangement’ or ‘a putting together’. So, syntax is about the arrangement of words in a grammatically correct sentence. Take a look at the following sentence:
The man saw the cat.
Grammatically, there is a subject (the man), and a predicate consisting of a verb (saw), and an object (the cat).
Syntactic Tree Diagram
In syntactic terms, there is a Sentence (S) consisting of a noun phrase (the man), and a verb phrase (saw the cat), which in turn consists of a Verb (saw), and a Noun Phrase (the cat). To illustrate we draw a tree diagram:
NP: Noun Phrase
VP: Verb Phrase
D: Determiner (article)
We make sentences from phrases or groups of words that have a closer relationship to each other than to the words outside the phrase. That is why we cluster those words that go together in a phrase (the man, saw the cat, the cat, …)
The study of syntax and syntactic structures became highly important in linguistics after Noam Chomsky’s book Syntactic Structures (1957).
In that book, Chomsky elaborates on his theory of syntax which became known as transformational generative grammar.
He gave a famous example to emphasize the independence of syntax from semantics:
“The colorless green ideas sleep furiously.”
Although this sentence is syntactically complete and correct, it does not make much sense.