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Final

LING 1 Lecture Notes - Lecture 5: The Language Instinct, Markov Model, Syntactic CategoryExam


Department
Linguistics
Course Code
LING 1
Professor
Green
Study Guide
Final

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Ling 1 - Introduction to the Study of Language, UCLA
Introduction to Language - Lecture Notes
Sentence Structure II:
Phrase Structure Grammars
Goal: How are sentences built (or 'generated', as linguist say)? Corresponding to the two hypotheses that
were considered in the preceding Lecture Notes, we discuss two possibilities. The first hypothesis, based on a
'word chain device' (formally called a 'finite state model' or a 'Markov model), yields sentences that have a flat
structure. We already found an argument against such a hypothesis in the preceding Lecture Notes- the
sentences of English do not have a flat structure. We show that this hypothesis has other defects as well. The
second hypothesis, by contrast, generates (=produces) sentences that do not have a flat structure. It involves
Phrase Structure Rules, which yield trees with labels added to indicate the syntactic category of each
constituent (e.g. Noun Phrase, Verb Phrase, etc.). The resulting tree is seen to recapitulate the process by
which a sentence is generated =produced) by the rules of grammar: a group of elements forms a constituent
whenever they have been introduced by the application of the same rule.
1 Review: Constituency
1.1 Summary: Trees
(i) In every sentence, certain groups of words form 'natural units' [=constituents] and may:
-stand alone
-be moved as a unit
-be replaced as unit by a pronoun
(ii) Trees encode the information about constituents: two expressions are a natural unit (=constituent) if there
is a sub-tree that contains them and nothing else.
(iii) A sentence that can be analyzed as 2 different trees is structurally ambiguous (e.g. Lucy will hit the
student with the book)
1.2 A Puzzle Explained: Question Formation
q The Puzzle (repeated from earlier Lecture Notes)
Pinker discusses in Chapter 2 of The Language Instinct (p. 29) the example of question formation. If we wish
to form a question that corresponds to the assertion John is in the garden, we may simply move the auxiliary is
to the beginning of the sentence, yielding Is John __ in the garden? [here __ simply indicates that a word has
been displaced]. In a slightly more complex case, such as John is in the garden next to someone who is asleep,
we form the corresponding question by moving to the beginning of the sentence the first is, yielding Is John __
in the garden next to someone who is asleep? If we tried instead to move the second is, we would obtain a

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Ling 1 - Introduction to the Study of Language, UCLA
2
sharply ungrammatical result ('ungrammatical' in the descriptive sense we will use throughout this course): *Is
John is in the garden right next to someone who __ asleep?
These contrasts are recapitulated in (1):
(1) a. John is in the garden next to someone who is asleep.
b. Is John __ in the garden next to someone who is asleep? (Move the first is)
c. *Is John is in the garden right next to someone who __ asleep? (Move the second is)
From these one might be tempted to infer that the rule of question formation is to systematically move to the
beginning of the sentence the first is which is uttered. Pinker shows that this hypothesis is incorrect, since it
predicts (incorrectly) that the question corresponding to (2)a is (2)b:
(2) a. A unicorn that is eating a flower is in the garden
b. * Is a unicorn that __ eating a flower is in the garden? (Move the first is)
c. Is a unicorn that is eating a flower __ in the garden? (Move the second is)
We do not discuss at this point what the correct rule is (it will turn out that it must be stated in more abstract
terms than 'moving the first is' or 'moving the second is'). But we observe that a child that only heard simple
cases of question formation (e.g. Is John __ in the garden?) would have to infer a rather complex and subtle
rule from limited data. For the same reason as in the case of integers mentioned above, the child must have
something to guide his acquisition of a rule that goes beyond the sentences that he has heard."
q The Solution: 'move the auxiliary which is immediately under the right-hand daughter of the root'
The solution of the puzzle is that the rule of question formation should be stated in terms of structure (i.e. in
terms of syntactic trees) rather than in terms of strings (=linear order). The rule of question formation in
English is to move to the beginning of the sentence (i.e. to add to the tree) the auxiliary which is immediately
under the right-hand daughter of the root (the root is the top-most node of the tree).
(3) a. b.
If Mary is replaced with the person who will be hired (clearly a constituent - for instance it may be replaced
with the pronoun 'he' or 'she'), the general structure of the sentence is not affected, and in particular the same
word will is moved which was moved in the simple sentence. Crucially, it is not the word will contained in the
person who will be hired which is moved - as one wants. This is illustrated in (4) [note that a triangle stands
for a constituent whose internal structure is omitted for simplicity; in homeworks you should specify the
complete structure of a tree, i.e. you should not use triangles, unless the exercise tells you to do so]:

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Ling 1 - Introduction to the Study of Language, UCLA
3
(4) a. b.
Going back to our original puzzle with A unicorn is in the garden, we can apply exactly the same reasoning.
Constituency tests would lead one to posit the following structure, where a unicorn is a single constituent.
(5)
The rule of question formation can then be applied in the same way as in our earlier examples:
(6)
And just as we want, the rule functions in exactly the same way when a unicorn is replaced with a unicorn that
is eating flowers; and the right result is obtained:
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