Saturday, September 17, 2011

Definition of Sentence

Four processes are involved in the production of the words and sentences of language: selection, arrangement, modification, and intonation. We may thus define a sentence as follows: A sentence is a sequence of selected syntactic items combined into a unit in accordance with certain patterns of arrangement, modification, and intonation in any given language.

Many other definitions of sentences have been given. Otto Jespersen referred to them as "notional kernel". The term kernel has subsequently beer applied to the smallest, most fundamental sentences of a language. But since we cannot define notional satisfactorily, little can be done with Jespersen's characterization. Notebooks might be viewed as a notional kernel, for example, but it is not necessarily a sentence. Yet when uttered with an appropriate intonation pattern, in answer to a question like "What did you want me to bring?" is a sentence. A sentence has also been defined, therefore, as any string of morphemes ending with a final intonation pattern.

To provide the means for analyzing sentences or any other syntactic entities, two terms are used: construction and constituent. A construction is any complete group of words or morphemes. The term may be used for phrases, for example, "in the house"; clauses, for example, "if he comes"; or even sentences, for example, "She is leaving". A constituent is a morpheme, a combination of morphemes, or a construction that is component of a construction. For example, "in" is a constituent of "in the house"; "he comes" is a constituent of "if he comes"; and "She is leaving" is a constituent of "if he comes, she is leaving".

In syntactic analysis, constructions are progressively analyzed into smaller and smaller entities. The phrase "in the house", for example, is first analyzed into the preposition and its object "in" + "the house". The object is then analyzed into article and noun, "the" + "house". Each of there constituents is known as an immediate constituent, that is, one of the two (or less commonly three or more) constituents into which a construction may be analyzed. An immediate constituent is any one of the largest grammatical units that constitute a construction. Immediate constituents are often further reducible.
Examples of  immediate constituent:
In the complex noun phrase "the dog that killed the cat", each of the following items are immediate constituents:
  • the
  • dog
  • that killed the cat
A major aim of syntactic analysis is to determine the constructions and constituents of sentences.
In other words, the purpose of syntactic analysis is to determine the structure of the input text. This structure consists of a hierarchy of phrases, the smallest of which are the basic symbols and the largest of which is the sentence. It can be described by a tree with one node for each phrase. Basic symbols are represented by leaf nodes, and other phrases by interior nodes. The root of the tree represents the sentence.

Descriptive linguistics

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