Author Topic: The meaning of a sentence  (Read 662 times)

Offline Natalia

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The meaning of a sentence
« on: August 03, 2017, 01:56:16 PM »
Talking about phrasal compounds (phrase + noun combinations), Bauer et al. write that "It is even possible to use strings that are not syntactic constituents as initial elements (e.g. thumbs-up sign)."

I am not sure if I understand that sentence. What are "not syntactic" constituents?

« Last Edit: August 03, 2017, 03:12:30 PM by Natalia »

Offline Daniel

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Re: The meaning of a sentence
« Reply #1 on: August 06, 2017, 05:59:57 AM »
They are [not [syntactic constituents]].

A constituent is a node in a tree, or otherwise a syntactic combination that fits together.

In "the small dog", the phrase "small dog" is a constituent, as is "the small dog" (and all of the individual words). But not "the small", because that's not a complete phrase in itself.

I think they're saying that "thumbs up" is not a constituent, as in the phrase "the thumbs are up", or "put your thumbs up". But I'm not sure about that particular example because it depends on your analysis of "put your thumbs up" (it MIGHT be a constituent there, depending on the syntactic structure you believe it has). And it's certainly not a compound without other examples, even if they aren't normal syntax.  For example, you can just say to someone "thumbs up!" like "good job". And that's where the compound comes from, not some other syntactic phrase. It also is a constituent as a depictive small clause in the sentence "I saw the thumbs up". So that's not a good example. Without more evidence, I'm not sure I agree with them. Having a "syntactic constituent" requires a specific sentence. So they'd need to show that the phrase never occurs as a syntactic constituent in any sentence, and I find it unlikely. To use the example above, "the small" is an unlikely compound because it's never going to form a constituent in English.
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Offline Audiendus

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Re: The meaning of a sentence
« Reply #2 on: September 26, 2017, 08:44:47 PM »
So they'd need to show that the phrase never occurs as a syntactic constituent in any sentence, and I find it unlikely.
Is "happy-go-lucky" (as in "a happy-go-lucky attitude") an example of a non-syntactic-constituent phrase used in a phrase + noun combination?

Offline Daniel

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Re: The meaning of a sentence
« Reply #3 on: September 26, 2017, 09:27:15 PM »
Yes, that does seem like a good example. As a three-word phrase with a syntactically anomalous verb in the middle, it's very hard to imagine that ever being a constituent.
(The explanation is probably just historical reduction of a large phrase after compounding occurred, though, so now it's a single lexical item. I'm not sure what theoretical import that results in.)
I'm not sure that's what they had in mind though: I think their point was that "thumbs up" does occur as a linear sequence in speech but is not a structural constituent. Since "happy-go-lucky" would never occur in that sequence, it isn't a constituent, but it may also not be an example of the phenomenon they were pointing out. I'm not sure without more context from the original source though.
« Last Edit: September 26, 2017, 09:29:34 PM by Daniel »
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