# Introduction to Syntax

## Semester:

N/A

Course Learning Goals
By the end of this course, students will:
i. Gain technical mastery over the tools of linguistic analysis in syntax
ii. Gain understanding of syntactic theory as it applies in these areas
iii. Learn how to investigate syntactic data and analyze it
iv. Develop strong problem-solving skills in syntax.

Department Learning Goals

Students will reason about language; identify how incorrect or irrational assumptions and prejudices distort understanding of language; demonstrate knowledge about language in the world including a sophisticated understanding of linguistic and cultural variation, and evaluate popular views on the nature of human languages and their speakers.

Majors and minors will also demonstrate technical mastery over the tools of linguistic analysis in syntax, phonology and semantics and apply linguistic theory in these areas.  They will investigate linguistic data and analyze it; demonstrate strong problem-solving skills; extend their understanding of theoretical linguistics into other domains of linguistic research; apply the techniques of linguistics that they have learned in the core courses to new topics; and access current research in the field.  Some students will investigate language in a broader context, where it can be systematically and rationally explored using their sophisticated understanding how language works.

Description:

The basic objectives of this course are:

(A) to familiarize students with the basic goals and assumptions of Generative Grammar,

(B) to train students in the rudiments of syntactic analysis and syntactic theorizing and argumentation, and

(C) to familiarize students with the major syntactic structures of English and their relevance to linguistic theory.

The central goal of Generative Grammar is to understand what a person knows when he or she knows a language, and to understand how it is that people acquire this knowledge. Syntax is that portion of what we know about our language that deals with the structure and word order of sentences. Most of this "knowledge" is actually unconscious, that is to say, native speakers of English "know" what sounds to them like a perfectly normal English sentence, but when native speakers hear a sentence that sounds "ungrammatical" to them, they rarely can say exactly why. In fact the greatest portion of our linguistic knowledge has never been explicitly taught to us, rather we have acquired it because we have human brains, and human brains are specially equipped to learn certain kinds of languages. Linguistics, from this perspective, is a "cognitive" science, like much of psychology, dedicated to understanding how our brains work in a particularly human way.

Part of the charm of investigating the syntax of one's native language is that it is often not necessary to go to the library to amass the facts. Each native speaker of English knows what sounds like a good sentence of English, and native speakers agree about this much more than they disagree. For example, a sentence like (A) "Who did Mary say that she saw?" is a typical question which one might answer by saying, "Mary said that she saw Joe," but a question like (B) "Who did Mary see the film which pleased?" sounds terrible, although one could imagine a logical response like "Mary saw the film which pleased Joe." The curious fact about sentences like the ungrammatical question just mentioned is that no one is ever taught not to say it. In fact, a native speaker of French or Swahili will not have to be instructed not to say such a sentence either, as sentences with a "structure" like that in (B) are ungrammatical in every language in the world. English, or, for that matter, Swahili, are learnable precisely because children do not have to even consider the possible existence of sentences like (A). What humans "know" without being taught is what is of particular interest to linguists who want to understand what "knowledge" we are born with, and how it affects what we know after we have "learned" the language we know as adults.

The study of syntax is a very young science that has nonetheless made a remarkable degree of progress in understanding just how rich, complex and systematic the mind is. Advances in syntactic theory have led to much more subtle descriptions  and understanding of the grammar of particular languages, such as English, Chinese, Swahili, and Warlpiri, as well as to the discovery of linguistic universals, i.e., properties true of every human language. But as a young science, this sort of linguistics as cognitive science has barely come of age, and some of the most exciting questions about human potential are just beginning to be asked.

English has been the most intensely studied of all the natural languages, so most of the interesting issues in theoretical syntax can be presented using structures familiar to every speaker of English. As time allows, less familiar languages will also be discussed for comparison. Though most of the major syntactic structures of English will be analyzed, the presentation of the course is designed to illustrate theoretical concepts and to provide practice in syntactic analysis rather than to present a complete a description of English syntax.

This course is likely to be of interest to students in computer science, anthropology, language studies, philosophy and psychology, as well as students in linguistics.

Syntax: A Generative Introduction, 3rd Edition, by  Andrew Carnie ISBN: 978-0-470-65531-3, August 2012 Wiley. $49.95 Kindle edition$39.96