TESL Certificate Program -- SCCC

Grammar

Phrase Structures Rules and the Beauty of the Trees

In class on Tuesday, we discussed the issue of grammaticality and how fluent speakers of a particular language or dialect usually agree on whether a sentence follows the "rules." Of course, that's because fluent speakers of a language really know the language, even if they've never studied it formally. We talked about Phrase Structure rules and how utterances in a language follow a particular path to articulation: the meaning and basic structure come first; then, a variety of transformational rules is applied (or none at all!); finally, the surface structure is revealed.

Here are the phrase structure rules that we worked with in class. We started off by recognizing that a sentence has a noun phrase and a verb phrase.

Jacquie slept.

S NP VP

In this sentence, Jacquie is the noun phrase and slept is the verb phrase. (Also, we know that Jacquie is the subject; this tells us that noun phrases are subjects in English.

So, if we know that sentences are made up of an NP and a VP, it would be helpful to know what NPs are or can be. NP and VP are known as syntactic categories.

NOTE: S = sentence, NP = noun phrase, VP = verb phrase, DET = determiner, N = noun, PRO = pronoun ADJ = adjective, PP = prepositional phrase, V = verb, ADV = adverb. (Determiners can be things like the, a, these, every, five, my, your cousin, etc...)

A Smattering of English Phrase Structure Rules:

NP N

Jacquie
Seattle
Children

NP (DET) N

The children
A chicken
The dogs

NP (DET) (ADJ) N
NP (ADJ) N

The dirty cats
Clean bathrooms

NP (DET) (ADJ) N (PP)
NP (ADJ) N (PP)

The dirty cats across the street
Clean bathrooms at SCCC

NP that + S

That he told the truth
That my mama spoke Spanish

NP PRO

He
You

VP V

slept
ate

VP V (NP)

ate the chicken
loved The Namesake

VP V (NP) (PP)

ate the chicken with friends
read the book on the bus

VP V (NP) (PP) (ADV)

ate the chicken with friends quickly
read the book on the bus quietly

I will be posting some trees and sentences for you to draw, but until then, play with the syntactic categories above. In fact, just using those options above, try to write at least 20 sentences about the video montage we watched in class, or write sentences about this video montage from The Namesake.

Clearly, there has been a struggle in finding a way to post some tree samples for you. I've been trying to make them small and easily downloaded. I have admitted defeat ... for now. I'll give you some hard copies in class on Monday and we'll work on constructing the trees ourselves! Still, use the video montage to write some sentences using the phrase structure rules above.

 

 

 

Sources:

Fromkin, V. & Rodman, R. (1998) An introduction to language (6th ed.). New York: Harcout Brace College Publishers.

Soames, Scott & Perlmutter, D. (1979) Syntactic argumentation and the structure of English. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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