evolution of syntax

topic posted Mon, May 24, 2004 - 1:19 PM by  Unsubscribed
how did we get from the romantic language sentence structure to the seemingly ruleless structure we use in american english?
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  • Re: evolution of syntax

    Mon, May 24, 2004 - 1:51 PM
    Maybe because English is in the Germanic language family and has an entirely different structure, hence, the differnet language family grouping. Indo-European yes. Romance, no.

    That, or we're kind of a mixed bag, free for all culture that sets our own pointless rules whether they make sense or not.
    • Re: evolution of syntax

      Tue, May 25, 2004 - 12:00 PM
      But English isn't without its influence from Romance languages - the Norman French [who were originally Norse - so you have Northern Germanic influencing French influencing Western Germanic in the form of Middle English...] had an overwhelming affect on the language we now speak.

      While English has no case system like modern German, it used to have one, way back in the day. So did Latin. When there are cases to be had, syntax isn't the same crucial concern.

      So, English is actually quite rule-bound when it comes to syntax. And those syntax rules include rules for transforming sentences into other sentences - for example:

      - The dog was bitten by the man.
      - The man bit the dog.

      Languages that use word order to determine subject/object relationships aren't the only game in town, though. For example, in German, the 2nd sentence above could be produced two ways:

      - Der Man biss den Hund.
      - Den Hund biss der Man.

      They mean the same thing - the way one knows who/what actually did the biting is by the case markers indicated in the definite articles ("the" in English can be rendered a number of different ways in German depending on gender & case).

      [I think Romanian may be the last Romance language with a case system, but I'm not sure of this.]
  • Re: evolution of syntax

    Fri, June 4, 2004 - 4:27 PM
    English is not ruleless. And in fact, sentences are much more rigidly structured in English than in Romance language.

    Languages have two basic strategies for creating sentences. One is to change the form of the word itself. This is what, say, Spanish does when it conjugates a verb -- hablo, hablas, habla, etc. It is what say, Russian does when it changes the ending of a noun for case (according to whether it is the subject, direct object, indirect object, possessor, instrument or location of an action).

    The other strategy is to use words and word order. In Spanish, because the verb ending of "hablo" tells you who is doing the speaking, you don't need a pronoun. Latin, because of its case endings, had a very free word order. In English, however, you cannot change the word order of "The dog chased the cat" without changing the meaning or making an ungrammatical sentence. In Latin, you could change the word order and still have the same chaser and chasee.

    In general, it is sort of like a teeter-totter between how much a language uses word changes (morphology) and how much it uses word order (syntax) to do the work of structuring the meaning of a sentence. English syntax is more rigid than that of most languages with more morphological changes, and furthermore, English syntax (word order) is incredibly complex when it is actually analyzed. As a very simple example, think about how you might explain the rules of forming questions in English to a non-English speaker trying to learn to use the language. "She goes" becomes "Does she go?" "He went" becomes "Did he go?" "She is going" becomes "Is she going?" "They will have gone" becomes "Will they have gone?" These are very rigid rules, and it is just a small sample of how complex and structured English syntax actually is.

    So we have, in effect, traded complications in word formation for complications in word order. A language that has few changes in the word themselves and depends upon word order is known in linguistics "analytic" or "isolating." English is probably the most analytic of all Indo-European languages. We have only a few inflections left -- like -ed, 's, ing, etc.

    As to how English got that way, it is a very complicated story. It boils down to historical sound changes that melded different inflections together and eventually caused them to drop out.

    I'm about to take my Syntax final (which will finish up my degree in linguistics, yay). Wish me luck. It is going to be hard.

  • Re: evolution of syntax

    Wed, April 25, 2007 - 9:26 PM
    If I remember correctly, about half of the English vocabulary comes directly or indirectly from Latin. In Romance languages, inflection tells you a word's function in the sentences, whereas in English, it's position in the sentence tells you its function. Generally speaking. In Latin, you can basically put a word wherever the hell you want and it'll make some sense if everything is conjugated and inflected properly.
    As demonstrated earlier, the same can hardly be said for English.
    • Re: evolution of syntax

      Sat, April 28, 2007 - 7:49 AM
      If you really want to see how "ruleless" English is, try running an English sentence through a computer translator. I took the original question and ran it through Google English-Spanish-English:

      how did we get from the romantic language sentence structure to the seemingly ruleless structure we use in american english?

      English to Spanish to English:
      how we obtained of the structure of romantic oration of the language to the structure apparently ruleless that we used in English American?

      With the original words "get" and "sentence" substituted for "obtain" and "oration" to make comparison clearer:
      how we got of the structure of romantic sentence of the language to the structure apparently ruleless that we use in English American?

      Here is English to Japanese to English:
      We how us the American English are huge from romantic language sentence structure you obtained on the surface which you use in ruleless structure?

      The reason that computers are so bad at natural language translation, especially into English, is that the syntax rules of English are SO complex (and so invisible to us English speakers) that fifty years of effort to teach English syntax to computers have not given computers the English capability of the average English-speaking three-year-old. And I specify English here precisely because English has so little morphology (grammatical word changes) and depends almost entirely on syntax to convey meaning. Languages with more morphology (like Latin with its verb conjugations and noun cases) are easier for computers to handle.

      Here, I'll run that last paragraph English-German-English:

      The reason that computers are so bad to translation of natural speeches, particularly in English, is that the syntax guidelines are SO complicated by English, so invisibly (and to us English loudspeakers) that fifty years effort to inform English syntax to the computers computers of the English ability of the average English-speaking three-year-old not gave. And I specify English here exactly, because English has thus little morphology (grammatical changes of word) and depend nearly completely on the syntax, in order to convey meaning. Languages with more morphology (like latin with its verb conjugation and - article-word-fell) are simpler so that computers touch.

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