Author Topic: Typology of clause types  (Read 12271 times)

Offline zaba

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Typology of clause types
« on: March 02, 2014, 02:01:37 AM »
In simple, a clause is a reduced form of a sentence. I'm describing the syntax of a wildly agglutinative indigenous language and identified several clause types (e.g. RCs, advbl clauses, prep clauses, etc) but have yet to make any general comments on "clause types" as such.

How should one go about describing a main clause? What kind of information would be useful to you, as a fellow linguist?

Offline Daniel

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Re: Typology of clause types
« Reply #1 on: March 02, 2014, 10:03:47 AM »
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In simple, a clause is a reduced form of a sentence.
No. A "sentence" is not part of syntactic theory. A clause is a sentence, although one clause can be contained within another. Some clauses are independent utterances in themselves (and therefore "sentences").

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How should one go about describing a main clause? What kind of information would be useful to you, as a fellow linguist?
The general approach is to describe everything relative to main clauses, starting with phonology, etc. Then at the end of the grammar there is discussion of non-main clauses. Depending on how the language works, this may require more or less attention-- do non-main clauses behave similarly to the already discussed main clauses? If there's a lot more, for example, morphology to be discussed, you'll need to spend more time on that.

I would focus more on describing the variation you observe than some kind of cookie-cutter theory-motivated approach. Syntactic theory is, in my opinion, not yet to the point of really understanding clause interaction. So what would be most helpful would be lots of data with clear explanations of how clauses are joined and what different structures each has.

Broadly there are a few topics to cover, some of which you already mentioned:
--Main clauses
--Complement clauses
----Also, nominalized clauses in general (eg, as subjects)
--Adverbial clauses
----including interesting subtypes like purpose clauses
--Relative clauses
--Coordination
--Serialization/chaining

Whether all of those exist, or perhaps others not on the list, will determine exactly what applies for those language.
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Offline zaba

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Re: Typology of clause types
« Reply #2 on: March 02, 2014, 10:13:17 AM »
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No. A "sentence" is not part of syntactic theory. A clause is a sentence, although one clause can be contained within another. Some clauses are independent utterances in themselves (and therefore "sentences").

Thanks for clearing this up! But sometimes it's tricky to know what's what. According to my Oxford Concise Dict of Ling, a clause is "any syntactic unit whose structure is, or is seen as reduced from, that of a sentence. thus, in particular, one which includes a verb and the elements that accompany it."

Do you think this definition is incorrect or am I misunderstanding?

Offline Daniel

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Re: Typology of clause types
« Reply #3 on: March 02, 2014, 10:42:09 AM »
That's basically correct. "Sentence" is not a technical term in Linguistics, really. Basically "clause" and "sentence" refer to the same thing, but almost always we only use "sentence" to refer to a main clause. So think of sentences as a subtype of clauses, while at the same time a sentence may contain multiple clauses. A bit confusing when phrased like that, I admit.
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Offline zaba

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Re: Typology of clause types
« Reply #4 on: March 03, 2014, 12:40:28 AM »
THanks! So how do I recognise a main clause as distinct from a complement clause, advbl clause, or RC? What's the distinguishing characteristics?

Offline Daniel

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Re: Typology of clause types
« Reply #5 on: March 03, 2014, 01:16:59 AM »
Big/controversial questions.

A main clause is just that-- a main clause. A matrix clause is the highest level clause in a sentence, so that's obvious. Coordinated clauses versus adverbial subordinated clauses can sometimes be tricky, but there are various tests that you can try. There is no easy answer.

Adverbial clauses typically are like WH words or other adjuncts-- when, where, why, how, etc.

RCs are simple enough: they modify a noun by adding additional information.

Beyond that, the rest depends on your theoretical approach and the specific language.

Rather than worrying about the analysis, I'd suggest focusing on what the language uses and trying to work it out from there.
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Offline zaba

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Re: Typology of clause types
« Reply #6 on: March 03, 2014, 10:25:11 PM »
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A main clause is just that-- a main clause. A matrix clause is the highest level clause in a sentence, so that's obvious.

Can you give me some examples of main clauses? Beside the word order and the required constituents, what other factors are relevant in their description?

Offline Daniel

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Re: Typology of clause types
« Reply #7 on: March 04, 2014, 12:05:43 AM »
A matrix clause is very easy to define: it's the highest clause within a sentence. It's the whole sentence (and specifically focusing on the part that isn't within any embedded clause).

In "I want to sleep", "want" is the matrix verb.

A main clause is roughly that: it isn't embedded.

Another term for it is "independent" clause, which either means separate or possibly conjoined.


In some languages there is also formal marking such as required morphology on subordinated predicates.
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Offline zaba

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Re: Typology of clause types
« Reply #8 on: March 04, 2014, 12:13:41 AM »
Sure, that's easy enough. Can you give me an example of a main clause where the verb is not the matrix verb?

Offline Daniel

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Re: Typology of clause types
« Reply #9 on: March 04, 2014, 12:16:55 AM »
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Can you give me an example of a main clause where the verb is not the matrix verb?
Nope. That's the definition.

Maybe in a coordinated structure:
I walked to the park, and I played with the dog.


In some cases, a "main clause" or "independent clause" might be distingiushed from a "dependent clause" or "subordinate clause", so you could have one embedded lower, but that would depend on the analysis:
I want to sleep. [dependent]
I know that you slept. [independent?]
But they're still embedded, so calling that a "main clause" is misleading in a way.
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Offline zaba

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Re: Typology of clause types
« Reply #10 on: March 04, 2014, 12:35:09 AM »
So sentences like : "I am drinking wine now" and "Don't eat that" are main clauses, correct?
How should a description of main clauses differ from a description of sentences in a language?

Offline Daniel

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Re: Typology of clause types
« Reply #11 on: March 04, 2014, 12:40:04 AM »
Basically, a "sentence" is a "main clause". The distinctions are:
1. Main clauses can be coordinated. (Upon which the whole thing becomes the sentence, not each part.)
2. "Main clause" tends to refer mostly to the highest level part of the sentence, not also embedded parts, while "sentence" can refer to the whole thing.
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Offline zaba

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Re: Typology of clause types
« Reply #12 on: March 04, 2014, 01:03:21 AM »
Can you give an example or two of (1) and (2) to make sure I'm not misunderstanding? Examples always help me see things more clearly...

Offline Daniel

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Re: Typology of clause types
« Reply #13 on: March 04, 2014, 01:31:40 AM »
I want a pony!
Linguistics is awesome!

Both "main clauses" and "matrix clauses" and "sentences".

Linguists know [that linguistics is awesome].

The bracketed part is embedded/subordinate. The whole sentence is a "main clause" and a "sentence". The "matrix" part is "Linguists know" because the rest is embedded. As a whole phrase "that linguistics is awesome" is part of the matrix clause, but the details within it are only relevant within the embedded clause.


I think you're overthinking this :)
(There ARE lots of more controversial things, but "main clause" is basically whatever is left over after eliminating the rest.)
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Offline zaba

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Re: Typology of clause types
« Reply #14 on: March 04, 2014, 02:42:41 AM »
The reason I'm so curious is because I am trying to write an article on clause types. I have a section on CCs, RCs, locative clauses and the sentence. The prof said he wanted to see something about "main clauses" too -- but since I already described sentences, to what extent do I need to describe the main clause?