Author Topic: A question about syntax  (Read 197 times)

Offline Muikkunen

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A question about syntax
« on: August 26, 2018, 09:14:27 AM »
Recently I participated in a summer school and I took intro to syntax. In one of my homeworks, I had to draw a tree for "The fact that he is tall bothers him". I've done it. There were no corrections for this sentence, so I assumed it to be correct and didn't pay much attention to it anymore. However, after I looked at it today, it seemed to be wrong to me, so I redrew it in a different way, which I believe to be correct, but wanted to clarify here to be sure.

(I've drawn full trees, but I omit here the parts which I'm sure are correct).

This is the first tree (drawn at the summer school):


This is the second one (drawn today):


Am I right that the second tree is the correct one?
I am here to learn. I am a beginner.

Offline Daniel

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Re: A question about syntax
« Reply #1 on: August 26, 2018, 10:29:00 AM »
Well, that's actually a complicated question. It depends on how you analyze things. Nominalized clauses (e.g., with "that") act like nouns. So the distinction between CP and NP can seem to fade away.

Another way to address this is to question what type of clause that is. Are you considering it a relative clause modifying 'fact'? In that case, your second approach makes sense.

So the first approach seems like it might work, but probably not quite like that. The problem is that even if you wanted to consider that whole structure a CP*, it's not clear what position within it NP would take. It's not the subject or topic within that clause (right?) so it doesn't seem like it would fit with that structure.

In summary, there are two ways to address this:
1. Consider structural and semantic analyses that clarify the best representation.
2. Focus just on constituency, such as matching up heads and phrases to see what should go where. This is probably where your instinct to switch to option 2 came in.

By the way, looking at heads and phrases for constituency can actually be easier if you draw out the full trees, so that's one reason to do it even if you're confident about the structure within those phrases above. (I realize it's time-consuming to write out the trees here, so I'm not objecting to that, just mentioning it for your own notes as you sketch these things out. Even just indicating the head by underlining it or something could help you to think about these issues.)

[*Indeed, a CP can act as the subject, because "the fact" is optional! So this is on alternative hypothesis you could consider.
Actually, one further possibility would be to extend this by analogy to assume that even without "the fact" there is some noun head there converting the CP to an NP, so you'd have to imagine a silent "N" element that takes the same position as "the fact" in your second approach, and that might be a reasonable way to go. Of course some might say that "that" actually does that itself, although it's then debatable whether the resulting structure is a CP or NP. These details can get complicated.]
« Last Edit: August 26, 2018, 10:31:40 AM by Daniel »
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