Structural Analysis of the English Sentence
What makes a group of words a meaningful structure which conveys an intended message is the arrangement of the constituents with respect to their syntactic positions in the structure in accordance with the roles they play. These roles refer to functions such as “subject”, “object”, “predicator”, “modifier” “linker”, etc. In addition to the function that it bears, each constituent has some individual characteristics which it shares with other units of the same kind. This refers to its category (which is identified on the basis of the word class membership of at least one of its constituent words) such as “noun phrase”, “adjective phrase”, “conjunction”, “quantifier”, etc.
To understand how something works, we generally try to dissect it into its components to see how they behave, what their functions are, and what type of interconnections or relationships there are among them. This process is simply called “analyzing something”.
Following the approach suggested by Flor Aarts and Jan Aarts in 1982, this book suggests a multi-dimensional sentence analysis which includes both sentence functions and categories in the same tree diagram.
For this reason, this book is not a general language learning book, and the main aim is to provide English teachers with a set of reliable and objective criteria that can be used for the evaluation of various structural units from the viewpoint of their correctness.
In this work, I attempt to introduce an approach to analyze the structure of the English language.
With this approach, I mainly intend to provide English teachers with a set of reliable criteria that can be used for the evaluation of structural units from the viewpoint of their correctness.
Most of the time, we judge the grammaticality or correctness of a structural unit by using our “inner criteria”, which is the result of our self-monitoring and self-correction of our own productions (Gattegno, 1976, p. 29). However, this self-awareness is neither objective nor easy to express with a meaning familiar to others. An English teacher should be able to judge the correctness of a structural unit by using objective and reliable criteria, and through terms and explanations that can make the meanings familiar to the learners.
Language teachers deal with grammar; they teach the structure and the rules of the language. On the other hand, a language teacher who believes in the importance of communication pays attention to language functions. For this dual purpose, teachers mostly use sentences, since the essential language unit which embeds the basic language structures and language functions is the sentence. In other words, a sentence is a unit of language in which two crucial aspects of language, “form” and “function”, overlap. For this reason, this book aims to show English teachers what the structural units of a sentence are, and the rules that regulate syntactic behaviours of these units in the sentence structure. A detailed structural analysis of the sentence seems to be a good way to realize the main aim of the book.
Our knowledge about a language can be viewed from two perspectives. On the one hand, we know the rules of the language that govern the way it works, either explicitly or implicitly. On the other hand, we can make use of what we know about the language to produce and to understand it. The first one is generally called “competency”, and the latter is “performance”. Today it is widely accepted that in language instruction, from the viewpoint of learners, “performance” gets more attention. Still, from the perspectives of language teachers, “competency” constitutes a significant part of their professional background of language teaching, since a deep understanding of how a language works might enable them to find solutions to some specific language teaching problems. Moreover, except young learners, there may be analytical learners who have some questions about the rules of language, and instead of a response such as “it is a rule”, a response which says “this is the rule” may facilitate the learning of the language.
This book is not a general language teaching / learning book. This book is intended as a tool for language teachers who would like to know and explain how language works and for those who need to judge the structural correctness of a language structure with reliable and objective criteria. This work can be considered to be a short book for grammatical awareness.
To understand how something works, we generally try to divide it into its components to see how the smaller parts behave, what their functions are, and what type of interconnections or relationships there are among them. This process is simply called “analyzing something”.
Following the approach suggested by Flor Aarts and Jan Aarts (1982), this book suggests a multi-dimensional sentence analysis which includes both sentence functions such as subject, object, etc., and their realizations such as noun phrase, adjective phrase, etc. This approach interconnects functional analysis with categorical analysis. I show that one more dimension can be added to the analysis with the semantic roles of the structural units. Moreover, I expand the analyses of some structural patterns, such as discontinuous modifiers, which consist of different phrase types. In the structural analysis, I use the same terminology that Aarts and Aarts used. However, in some cases, I have needed to add some additional terms such as “postpositional phrase” or “determinative group”. Most of the sentences that constitute the examples of structures are quoted from Aarts and Aarts.
In the literature, customarily, the English language is analyzed within four levels by the followers of structural linguistics, and each one is referred to as a linguistic level. These levels are:
1-Sound level (phonetics and phonology, which deals with the sound system)
2-Morphological level (morphology, which deals with word structure)
3-Syntactic level (syntax, which deals with sentence or phrase structure)
4-Semantic level (semantics, which deals with meaning and usage)
In this work, although there are interdependencies between the levels, I focus on an analysis of the English language from the morphological level to the syntactic level due to the goals I have set. When the units of analysis are considered from this perspective, the following hierarchical table of units emerges:
1-Morphemes, 2-Words, 3-Phrases, and 4-Clauses (or sentences)
With the examples of phrases that can include clauses within their internal structures, some deviations from this hierarchy are shown as well.
I have taught the topics within this book to English teacher candidates for many years and, at first, some teacher candidates and even a few colleagues found them difficult and showed resistance. However, according to my periodic surveys on the subject, in the end, most of the teacher candidates confessed that they had learned those details for the first time from this perspective and that they found the lectures beneficial and useful. With this book, I am also trying to share what I have accumulated together with those teacher candidates who would like to deal with the structure of the English language. Of course, the final evaluation of this work will be made by readers with their discussions and contributions in the future.
For this book, I owe much to my university teachers, later colleagues of mine, Dr. Mehmet Zaman, who introduced me to those aspects of the language and encouraged me in my studies in that way, and Philip Smith, who proofread and checked the whole book.
Without the unconditional love and support of my wife Seyhan and my son Oguzhan, I would not be writing these lines. Any remaining mistakes and inadequacies in this work are my own.
Dr. Abdullah Can
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