Article

What is syntax?

Maggie Tallerman

in The Oxford Handbook of Language Evolution

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199541119
Published online September 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199541119.013.0048

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 What is syntax?

More Like This

Show all results sharing these subjects:

  • Linguistics
  • Language Evolution
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology

GO

Show Summary Details

Preview

This article discusses the kinds of universal syntactic capacities that prompt many linguists to postulate that syntax is a separate, biologically determined entity. Lexical items are stored in the “mental lexicon”, an inventory of arbitrary form-meaning associations. These include single words and morphemes smaller than words (such as affixes), multi-word idioms, set phrases, and constructions of various kinds. Vocabulary learning in humans is sophisticated, involving a complex mix of grammatical properties, phonology, semantics, and cultural knowledge. Some aspects are universal, others language-specific. Vocabulary items belong to complex, structured semantic categories. Universally, verbs fit into one or more “subcategorization frames”, which specify the number and type of obligatory dependents of the verb. The human lexicon displays at least three further unique characteristics. First, the speakers probably store at least 50,000 entries for each of their native languages. Second, though the learning of syntax, phonology, and morphology is subject to critical period effects, new lexical items are learned throughout life and there is no critical period for vocabulary acquisition. Third, the human lexicon crucially contains two major classes of items that include content words, known as lexical categories, and grammatical elements, or functional categories. The lexical/functional division occurs in all languages, including simple languages, such as Riau Indonesian, although functional categories in particular vary greatly cross-linguistically.

Keywords: syntactic capacities; morphemes; vocabulary learning; subcategorization frames; phonology

Article.  5559 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Language Evolution ; Grammar, Syntax and Morphology

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.