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Proposed merge[edit]

Someone proposed merging this article with the article on grammar. I think that's not a good idea. First, "grammar" is a rather vague term that, in some circumstances, can refer to the whole body of regularities that a given language obeys, including but not limited to syntactic regularities. Second, "syntax" is by far the more common term in the study of formal languages, programming languages, etc. Best to keep those two concepts and their articles distinct. --MarkSweep 02:11, 19 Apr 2005 (UTC)

I proposed the merger. Currently both articles have content on natural-language grammars, and both mention formal-language grammars, so it seems something needs to be done. I would support refactoring along the natural divide between these two topics, under whatever titles seem appropriate. Should we just arbitrarily move formal-language stuff to "syntax" and natural-language stuff to "grammar"? -- Beland 05:27, 19 Apr 2005 (UTC)
I just graduated with a degree in linguistics (I say so in Talk:grammar article too, I'm not trying to brag). I don't feel that such a merger would be appropriate. It would be like saying the article Holland should be merged with the article the Netherlands, or Pediatrics with Medicine. Syntax is a PART of grammar, it is NOT synonymous with grammar. The notion that sytnax and grammar are synonymous is the result of a common misconception that arises among English speakers because most of what we're taught in school about grammar is actually syntax. Furthermore, this is not just a distinction between natural and formal languages. Natural languages all have their respective grammars, and they all have syntax as a part of their grammars. Formal languages might only have syntax (I'm less certain about this, someone who knows formal language better than me could answer this), but in any case, maintaining a distinction between syntax and grammar along these lines alone is not sufficient. Natural languages have BOTH grammar AND syntax as part of that grammar, and both topics are large enough to merit separate articles. 13:45 UTC 24 April 2005
I removed the merge request, as per the discussion above and on the Talk:Grammar page. However, I do think that this article needs some cleaning up. Would anyone like to work on this with me? Physicist 17:51, 26 Apr 2005 (UTC)
I've been meaning to clean this up for a long time. I especially dislike the early division of "In <field X>, syntax means Y". There are lots of commonalities between these fields that could be discussed meaningfully in a unified way. Other details such as the choice of start symbol under "transformational grammar" are rather arbitrary and ultimately irrelevant. I would prefer a unified discussion, perhaps starting with the material that's currently grouped under "semiotics", before branching out into the various individual fields (which are clearly related, so perhaps these distinctions are not needed at all?). I'd be glad to help out, even more so toward the weekend. --MarkSweep 18:54, 26 Apr 2005 (UTC)

Bulldogs bulldogs fight fight.[edit]

A classic example of English syntax.error

If you really think about adding this to the article, please explain why it is a 'classic' and also why it is relevant; in other words, give the example some context. I pulled it out for now because it lacked it. — mark 13:55, 30 August 2005 (UTC)

Merge "Syntax In Computer Science"[edit]

The "Syntax In Computer Science" section should be moved since it is extremely off the topic of linguistics. If this could be done by someone with a Wikipedia username (seeing that I'm not), that would be greatly appreciated. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk)


I don't think it should be merged - I do think it should be completely rewritten though, especially as a significant proportion of the formal study of syntax in CS is derived from work like that of Noam Chomsky. Keywords're a minor issue at best! It's possible it should also be extended to include relevant issues in mathematics and logic, and (speaking from the CS side) I'd be rather surprised if there were no notion equivalent to that of abstract syntax in CS.

-- 02:26, 11 June 2006 (UTC)

Systemic Functional Grammar[edit]

There is a statement about Systemic Functional Grammar that seems to me out of place. Could somebody either explain what Systemic Functional Grammar has to do with a general article on Syntax or else remove it? If I don't hear any arguments to the contrary, I'll remove it myself. --Svenonius 11:24, 21 June 2006 (UTC)

Syntactic combination[edit]

Monotonic approaches to syntax, such as Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar, Lexical Functional Grammar, Construction Grammar, and cognitive grammar generally do not operate with rules of syntactic combination but rather with the notion of syntactic schemata which license or block the occurrence of sequences of words in discourse.

This strikes me as inaccurate. For example, the principle/rule in HPSG which licenses sisters of a head which match that head's SUBCAT list would seem to be a fairly clear instance of a rule of syntactic combination. Perhaps schemata-based grammars are more common in construction grammar than in HPSG/LFG. In any case, the difference between grammars using "rules of syntactic combinatiion" and schematic grammars is mostly just notational. (People mostly seem to be interested in schematic grammars because they want to hang some kind of noncompositional semantics off them, but you can do that with a non-schematic grammar too.)

Anyway, I don't want to change this too hastily, any comments? Cadr 11:36, 21 June 2006 (UTC)

Syntactic terms?[edit]

I would tend to regard the following as primarily morphological or semantic terms, not syntactic: FilipeS 20:18, 6 February 2007 (UTC)

Unnecessary Chomsky bias?[edit]

I notice that this statement:

From a biological and neurobiological perspective syntax has recently played a crucial role. On the one hand, it has been proven that syntax (in that it involves recursion rules) is a specific characteristic of all and only human language; on the other, experiments in neuroimaging have shown that a dedicated network in the human brain (crucially involving Broca's area, a portion of the left inferior frontal gyrus), is selectively activated by those languages that meet the Universal Grammar requirements characterizing all and only human languages as shown by generative grammar in the pioneering work of Noam Chomsky.

Is marked as "citation needed." However, I wonder if it should be there at all, particularly in the introductory paragraphs. For ome, it's bringing up an issue relatively advanced and (despite what some will argue) disconnected from the meat-and-potatoes of what a treatment of linguistic syntax should deal with. Is it really necessary to discuss purported (and rather controversial) connections between linguistic theory and neurobiology in the first part of an introduction to a major area of the field--in particular ones that large amounts of professionals would dispute?

I don't mean to say that this shouldn't be mentioned at all. But in this paragraph, something that is a major claim of only one albeit somewhat dominant school of linguistics should not be dressed up as if it were undisputed fact; this would be misleading. I take particular issue with strong and misleading phrases such as "it has been proven" and "specific characteristic of all and only human language," particularly when the two are combined. While I might have personal issues with Chomsky and associates' "results" indicating that recursion is the defining characteristic of language, I think anyone can agree that a claim that such a disputed claim is "proven" is problematic. For those interested, consider LanguageLog post for an effective and easily understandable criticism of this recursion claim.

It's also a bit unnecessary, I think, to make reference to a very specific part of the brain's anatomy in this context, as it's very disjoint from the body of the article in subject matter and is only there to reinforce the strength of the already dubious claim.

Space Dracula 01:05, 7 May 2007 (UTC)
You're right that it shouldn't be in the introductory section, and that it needs to be cited, with its claims softened. For the moment, shall I comment it out? --Śiva 03:27, 11 May 2007 (UTC)
I think I'll go ahead and comment it out. If it gets reverted for my lack of experience here or similar, I'll defer the situation to someone else. Thanks though! Space Dracula 19:10, 19 May 2007 (UTC)

Too technical?[edit]

My previous comment was based entirely on that paragraph in the introduction. Reading the entire article more closely, however, indicates that the person who wrote most of it is working from a heavily Chomsky- or at the very least generative-biased view of linguistic syntax. Possibly more problematically, the article is also highly technical, a facet exacerbated by its brevity, and makes reference to things that those seeking a simple, readable introduction to syntax will be put off by, such as several different branches of linguistic theory, and describes some of their formal properties. I would be willing to help fix the article, but I honestly suspect much of it will require a complete rewrite.

Space Dracula 19:21, 19 May 2007 (UTC)
It's quite clear from the way the article in split into sections that generative syntax is only one branch of syntax. I think the best solution would be for others to add information about other kinds of syntax in separate sections. Cadr 21:15, 19 May 2007 (UTC)
That's probably true, and the lack of non-generative theories should definitely be addressed, but I maintain that it's too technical and doesn't cover enough of the guts of syntax, e.g. the problems it faces, and reads too much like a laundry list of theories and ideas. This is an area of the article I would like to address and may attend to it when time allows. Space Dracula 01:46, 20 May 2007 (UTC)
Having said that, I've edited the intro to try and make it more neutral. Cadr 21:22, 19 May 2007 (UTC)

Fairly big changes Dec 07[edit]

This article was a weird mix of very specific technical information and a general outline of what syntax is. I did three major pieces of surgery. The long discussion on substitution tests was removed. This properly belonged in the entry on constituent structure, which already has a discussion of substitution tests. I moved the very technical (and pretty biased) discussion of stochastic vs. rule based syntax to the article on Stochastic context-free grammar where it is more appropriate. Finally I changed the discussion of Modern Theories to be a more general discussion of each type of syntax (from a wide variety of perspectives) followed by links to specific articles on specific theories. (talk) 00:43, 26 December 2007 (UTC)

Thanks for the warning about Syntax[edit]

I had just rephrased the entire first paragraph for the Syntax article when I became uncomfortable with how the very first sentence was then beginning to sound to me — so I decided to look through previous versions of the article entry in order to try to at least begin to figure out exactly what that first paragraph was originally supposed to say (of course, if it had always read like gibberish, I was still hoping to ascertain the original intent of that first sentence). Fortunately, I was able to discover the original meaning of the opening sentence — but, unfortunately, I also discovered that I had accidentally tampered with the intent of the sentence by stupidly assuming that the version which I had at that time was an accurate description of the subject matter that was being described in the sentence. Most assuredly, the version of the sentence which I was editing was not faithful to the original intent of that sentence.

When I came back to the article in order to correct my mistake, I found that you had detected what was now wrong with the lead sentence, and that you had caught my mistake for me by reverting back to the gibberish that was there beforehand. I noticed that you have been handling this entry since Christmas 2007 — but I did not see (I only gave a cursory glance at this archival data) any attempts by you to edit this lead paragraph so at least it would come out reading in a grammatically correct way. You're a linguistics professor — so why haven't you made these grammatical corrections yourself? Why have you been comfortable with the bad syntax in the lead paragraph for all of this time?

Instead of reverting to gibberish, you should have rewritten the paragraph yourself so that it would actually make grammatical sense, while at the same time still relaying correct information to the reader. Even though you were wrong to leave this paragraph as it was for almost half a year, you were right to object to the inaccuracy which was the result of my editing of the first sentence, as I had inadvertently tampered with the meaning of the sentence. However, none of the other changes to the paragraph changed the original intent of any of the information which was being described, so this time I will revert and edit accordingly. Now, instead of having me do this rewrite all by myself, why don't we rewrite this paragraph together? Come back to it whenever you can — TalkHistory 19:15, Friday May 30, 2008 (UTC)

I've gone in and done some work on the paragraph. It still isn't perfect. Why didn't I do it earlier? Well, I only wikipedia when I can, the rest of the time I have to work! AndrewCarnie (Talk) 08:20, 31 May 2008

We must make Syntax easier to read for everyone with no background in linguistics[edit]

AndrewCarnie, thank you for all of the work that you have been doing on this article entry, and thank you for adding in the reference as well. (I was afraid for a short time that I had lost you to your work demands.) Needless to say, because of all of the changes that we have made to the article, I really need to ask for more of your imput and advice because I am not sure about exactly how to proceed forward.
  • I do not understand the difference between restrictive relative and free relative clauses (you knew that). I am inferring that because the word that is introducing a very specific object, namely the sentence structure of a specific language (Modern Irish), therefore you are establishing the fact claim that the object dictates which definite article should introduce it. (Can the word which be considered a definite article? That is the way I intended to use the word.) First Problem: English, unlike certain other spoken/written languages (I couldn't care less about the fact that English is also signed), is read and written left-to-right – and the objects which modify the final object of a specific language are rules and principlespluraltwo distinct modifiers, not one. Doesn't what is mentioned beforehand in a sentence dictate whatever is described in the latter portion of the sentence? If this fact claim is correct, then how can an article of speech which is solely meant to describe a singular object be used now in order to describe two objects? Isn't using the word that inappropriate in this instance? For the time being, I'm leaving the word that right where you left it. [Special:Contributions/|]] (talk) 01:59, 3 June 2008 (UTC)
There are two words "that" in English, one is a demonstrative article. It serves a pointing function (known as deixis). It does, indeed, agree in number with the noun it modifies, e.g. you can say "that book" but not "that books" (you have to use "those" instead. But there is another "that" in English, which is a complementizer (in the old days they called these subordinating conjunctions), found in sentences like "She said that Bill likes peanuts". There are a number of ways to tell the two "that"s apart. The complementizer is optional in simple declaratives ("She said Bill likes Peanuts"), the complementizer has no deictic (pointing) function, and finally it doesn't agree with the noun that follows it: She said that peanuts are Bill's favorite food". In the relevant sentence, the word "that" is a complementizer not an article. (Well, some people would argue that it's a relative pronoun, but relative pronoun is just a specific kind of complementizer). The difference between a restrictive relative and a free relative is that restrictive relatives "complete" the meaning of the expression. Free relatives are more like parantheticals, they offer an aside comment on the noun they modify. Prescriptively (and to a certain degree in actual usage), restrictive relatives are introduced by 'that' or 'who' relative pronouns, free relatives are introduced by 'which'. AndrewCarnie (talk) 06:02, 3 June 2008 (UTC)
One other minor correction. Most signers don't sign English, in the US they sign in their own language (ASL) which has more in common with French than it does with English. AndrewCarnie (talk)
  • It is never appropriate to write an encyclopedia article entry by using technical terms which are not used in everyday reading and conversation by the general public like the expression natural language, even when it, as in this case, is the correct term which is actually used on a regular basis by linguists themselves. Encyclopedia articles are aimed at a general public audience. I'll try not to lawyer you, but Wikipedia makes it very clear in its Manual of Style that article entries are meant to be written so that the largest number of people can understand what is being discussed in any certain article in as easy a manner as possible. Second Problem: What should replace the expression natural language? I just ran out of time - I'll try to return to this as soon as possible. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 01:59, 3 June 2008 (UTC)
I have to disagree on your basic assumption here. Ultimately, when talking about a technical subject one has to use some technical vocabulary or one can't be precise. The key to writing a good wikipedia article is to only use terms that are either in common use OR are defined elsewhere in the wikiverse and linked to the article. Natural Language is defined in an excellent article Natural_language, so it isn't off limits as long as it is linked in. But I'd also argue that the term Natural Language is not a technical term anyway, it's a noun (language) which we all hopefully understand preceded by an unabiguous adjective meaning "naturally occurring". So a "natural language" is a language that occurs naturally. Nothing technical about that! The term "natural language" refers to language produced by humans (and not by, for example, machines). It is a different from the term "spoken language" because it refers to any medium of language including signed languages (not just signed English, but real honest to god signed languages like ASL or BSL), written languages and languages that are no longer spoken. Natural language distinguishes these forms from (i) formal languages (like Algebra or Logic), (ii) invented languages, (iii) computer programming languages, etc. AndrewCarnie (talk) 06:02, 3 June 2008 (UTC)
I hate to be whiny, but you keep changing clear simple (and very grammatical) sentences that mean what they are supposed to mean into complex circumlocutions that are mangled, barely grammatical, and lose the basic intent of the original sentence. It's kind of driving me nuts. I'm doing my best to re-edit the sentences you "/correct"/ into better and clearer sentences than the original ones on the assumption that they must not have been sufficiently clear, but the mistakes you are making are just making things worse. I know this message is very unwikipedean of me and I'll be told off for it, but really, it's starting to get sillyAndrewCarnie (talk) 06:19, 3 June 2008 (UTC)
I have to agree with Andrew here. Wikipedia has lots of articles on lots of highly esoteric topics, and they use technical terms that are properly linked to pages where they're explained. It would be impossible to write precisely about these topics without using technical terms. I also agree with Andrew that changing "In linguistics, syntax is the study of the principles and rules for constructing sentences in natural language" to "In linguistics, syntax is the study of the principles and rules which establish how words which come from a spoken language are supposed to be arranged in order to complete a correct sentence in that language" is actually making things more difficult to understand, not less so. —Angr 18:17, 3 June 2008 (UTC)

Preposterous stmt[edit]

The stmt:

Many linguists[who?] see syntax as a branch of biology, since they conceive of syntax as the study of linguistic knowledge as embodied in the human mind[citation needed].

looks like  ********  to me, based on a hasty conclusion drawn from the fact that a few linguists (Chomsky, some more?) theorizes that there is a biologically hardcoded syntax. But that does not imply that linguistics is a field of study within biology. Rursus dixit. (mbork3!) 17:22, 13 June 2010 (UTC)

I don't think that's preposterous. Maybe I'm not reading the statement the same way you are, but it seems quite accurate to me. Chomsky isn't by any means the only advocate of the ‘linguistics is ultimately part of biology’ position; I think it's actually a pretty common view especially among linguists working in the Minimalist Program. But even aside from that, the statement doesn't imply that linguistics is part of biology (just that many linguists feel that way; it entails nothing about what biologists think). Also, I think it's a completely separate issue from the idea of syntax being biologically hard-coded. You could assume that no part of language is innate, and that wouldn't be incompatible with thinking of language as a product of the human brain (and therefore seeing linguistics as the study of one organ of one species – a biological endeavour). WmGB (talk) 19:13, 13 June 2010 (UTC)
Actually, functionalists like Talmy Givón have argued for that as well. Tijfo098 (talk) 14:46, 20 April 2011 (UTC)

Journal Syntax[edit]

It's fairly standard to include major journals as "See also" links in articles. So I'm a little baffled about why the link to the Journal _Syntax_ is being described as a "Spam Link" and being deleted. If I'm referring students to this article, I'd want them to follow up and go and look at major journals like Syntax, Linguistic Inquiry, Natural Language and Linguistic Theory. (And just to be clear I have absolutely no affiliation with the publishers or editors of these journals; I just think that links to them are appropriate). Can we find consensus about the inclusion of the link? — Preceding unsigned comment added by Comhreir (talkcontribs) 13:34, 5 February 2011 (UTC)

  • You're right, that is not really a spamlink, I was a bit to quick with that edit summary (but I had been cleaning up several other spamlinks behind that IP for a while, so I hope you'll forgive the mistake). Nevertheless, I don't think that a link in the "see also" section is necessary, given that there is already a dab link at the top of the page. --Crusio (talk) 14:10, 5 February 2011 (UTC)
Thanks for putting in a good linkComhreir (talk) 02:37, 6 February 2011 (UTC)

Regarding recent revert[edit]

I can give you another source saying "linguistics is also a rather belligerent discipline. In this corner, we have formal linguistics, with its deductive method, fierce pretenses to intellectual superiority, and often remarkable blindness." [1] It seems to apply to linguists that edit Wikipedia as well. (Don't you think the reader might wonder why there are so many syntax frameworks listed in this article with virtually no text discussing them?) Let's not transform the Linguistics wars into Edit wars here, but just report them. The quote from van Benthem is quite mild, there are more critical ones in that source. Tijfo098 (talk) 14:37, 20 April 2011 (UTC)

American Sign Language[edit]

there should be a section or at least a mention of ASL here. Many people assume that it simply involves signing out english words but it uses a syntax unique from spoken english that would be difficult for a hearing person to follow if it were ever translated verbatim. Court cases has good to mistrial when deaf witnesses are not provided with an interpreter and instead are asked to just type out their responses. The result made so little sense that the case was thrown out until a proper interpreter was found — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:26, 20 October 2012 (UTC)