Syntax in Linguistics


          The word syntax is derived from a Greek word meaning 'ordering together', 'systematic arrangement', or 'putting together'. It is the study of sentence-building, of the ways in which words are arranged together in order to make larger units. A syntactic analysis is generally concerned with sentences and the constituents of sentences. Briefly speaking, syntax is the grammar of sentences; it is the, science of sentence construction. 'It is perhaps best to define syntax negatively, as the study of the combinations of such morphemes as are not bound on the levels of either inflection or derivation' (Robert A.Hall, 1969:91). By this definition, most of the elements involved in syntactical combinations will indeed be free, but some will be phrasally or clausally bound.

          There are two quite distinct areas of syntax, one related to morphology, the other wholly or largely unrelated to it. In the past morphology dealt with the ways in which words are built up and syntax with the ways in which they combine with each other to form sentences. It was Saussure who pointed out that 'morphology' has no distinctly autonomous object. It cannot, he said, be distinguished from syntax. It was Saussure, too who demonstrated that lexicology cannot be isolated from either syntax or morphology. 'Morphology, syntax and lexicology interpenetrate because every synchronic fact is identical. No line of demarcation can be drawn in advance.'

          However, the chief concern of syntax is the sentence which is the maximal unit of grammatical analysis, and the minimal syntactic level is the morpheme. Sentence may be analysed segmentally into phonological units called phonemes and syllables; into morphological units called morphemes and words; and into syntactic units called phrases; and clauses. At the same time, sentences may be described suprasegmentally in respect of the prosodemes of length, stress and pitch and intersegmentally in respect of the prosodeme of syllable transition or juncture. Some linguists, notably of the school of Transformational-Generative Grammar are trying to study the maximal linguistic units through a fusion of all these approaches. They have closely inter-related all the components of language: the phonological, syntactical grammatical (fusing morphology and syntax together) and semantic.

                                   Semantics              Syntax           Phonology

          Nevertheless, syntax, not only to the Transformational Grammarians but also to a number of other linguists, is the core, the centre of grammar. And the linguists are interested in two aspects of this structuring of language. First, they are interested in the patterns underlying the sentence and its constituents. Secondly, they are interested in that syntactic devices used to link the constituents together, and the rules that transform one structure into another (the deep structure into immediate/surface) structure.