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Formalist approaches to the study of language are interested in the thought
processes. Idealized sentences not obscured by the realities of speech (non-
fluency features such as hesitations, false starts, fillers, elision, ellipsis).
Constituent Grammar: interested in determining which the constituents or
categories from which word strings are formed are.
Sentence: The highest unit of syntactic analysis. The sentence is seen as a
hierarchical structure and in which there are different ranks of constituents. At the
bottom level we have the Word rank. Sentences are formed by combining words in
a specific order determined by rules:
The cat devoured the tiny mouse.
*The devoured cat the tiny mouse.
We can replace each of the words in the sentence with other words that behave in
the same way in the language and we get different meanings.
The dog devoured the tiny mouse.
The dog ate the small cat.
A sentence can be seen as a frame for the generation of new sentences.
For De Saussure a sentence can be seen as having two axes:
Syntagmatic axis

Paradigmatic axis

Along the syntagmatic axis we find that words are combined in a specific way with
other words: the system to form a string.
Along the paradigmatic axis a word can be substituted by another word provided that
they belong to the same word category.

Words enter into paradigmatic relations with all the words in the system and in a
syntagmatic relation with other words in the system to combine and form sentences.
Each word in the string is at the point of intersection between these two axes. A
sentences can be considered as a frame consists of different slots which tell us about
the word classes. We can fill in with appropriate words to generate new sentences.
We generate them by filling in the different slots.
An orange devoured a tiny mouse
It is well-formed but it’s not acceptable because it’s nonsensical. Not possible in real
life. It violates a synthetic truth. Semantically odd. The rules of syntax allow us to
form this type of sentences. This is not enough. We need knowledge of the meaning
of words so that we know what makes sense or not. We draw information from two
1. Syntactic component: the one which provides us with information about the
sequence of items. (det.) N V (det.) N.
2. We need to draw information from the lexical components: the lexicon
(information about all the words that the language has together with their
classifications and also contains information about the meanings off words
determined by the conceptual senses – semantic features -)
Animate vs. Inanimate= semantic feature. The verb will require an animate or
inanimate subject. It determines which combination with Ns are possible and which
are not.
The lexical component is important. They’re connected (syntax and semantics). Both
components are necessary.
A frame with slots to be filled with appropriate words (category and meanings).
*an orange devoured… syntactically well-formed, but semantically odd.
Sentences are constructed in terms of higher units, in terms of words, the phrase
The tiny mouse devoured the cat.
When we decide to move an element, we move it in blocks (phrases). This is
evidence for the existence of phrases.
There are two tests to prove the existence of phrases:

1. The Movement Test: if a sequence of words can be moved together as a

group then they form a phrase.
2. The Replacement Test: ‘the tiny mouse’ = ‘it’. We replaced a group of words
with a single one.

The cat devoured the tiny mouse and the dog did too
‘devoured the tiny mouse’ is also a phrase because it can be replaced by the preform
‘did’. ‘the tiny mouse’ is embedded in the Verb Phrase.



The cat devoured the tiny mouse

VP2 is an extended verb phrase because it comprises the main verb plus its
Each of these points of intersection in the tree are known as ‘node’ The trees are
held together by the principle of dominance: each node is said to dominate
everything immediately below it.
S dominates NP1 and VP1 (and everything that follows).
Trees are useful to disambiguate ambiguous sentences.
Word rank Phrase rankClause rankSentence rank
Clauses are obligatorily made up of a verb. As many verbs we have, we have as
many clauses. The term ‘sentence’ is the overarching construction. The stylistic unit
we find between two stops.

Kernel sentences (canonical sentences) are sentences not altered in any way (not
questions, negation, or passive voice). These are simple declarative sentences.
Exceptions are cases of fronting or inversion.
Idealized sentences are the opposite to Kernel sentences.
Rules: rewrite rules
SNP+VP S rewrites as NP + VP
(A sentence consists of…)
NP(det.) + (adj.) + N VPV + (NP)





He has overcome his difficulties with courage and determination

(*conjunctions are indicated with a broken line)






The experienced mountaineer planted the flag on the summit of the mountain

Ambiguous sentences:



The old lady attacked the man with an umbrella.

1st interpretation: ‘The man with an umbrella was attacked by the old lady’. SVO




The old lady attacked the man with an umbrella.

2nd interpretation: ‘The old lady used an umbrella to attack the man’ SVOA






The weatherman said it could snow on the southern region on Monday

1st interpretation: ‘The snowfall that the weatherman forecast is likely to happen on
Monday’. SVO






The weatherman said it could snow on the southern region on Monday

1st interpretation: ‘The forecast by the weatherman that it was likely to snow on the
southern region was made on Monday’. SVO (A)






The English program has one instructor who has taught for twenty years.




The police have injured fans in the stadium.

1st interpretation: ‘The police are helping injured fans in the stadium’ SVO (A)



The police have injured fans in the stadium.

2nd interpretation: ‘The police have caused injuries in fans in the stadium’. SVO(A)







The police caught the two men who robbed the bank in Brighton
1st interpretation: ‘The police caught the robbers of the Brighton bank’. SVO






The police caught the two men who robbed the bank in Brighton.
2nd interpretation: ‘The arrest of the bank robbers took place in Brighton’. SVO (A)

Functional approaches are more concerned with the meaning and the use of the
sentences because functionalists see language as a social phenomenon. Language
as a tool for communication; something that enables us to communicate i.e. the
ideational and recreational functions of language which allow us to conceptualize the
world around us by giving names to things. Thus we bring the world into being
linguistically. The interpersonal function is related with the way we interact with other
people or the world.
A sentence is seen as a S and a P. The S is usually what we are talking about. The
P is the claim being made about the S. The P in turn consists of other elements: V,
O, C, A. These are called functional categories.
Verb: the meaning of the main verb is what tells us what other elements we need to
form a complete sentence be it an O, A or C. There are three main categories:

Copular verbs These require a C or an She doesn’t seem happy.

obligatory A (SVC)
The book is on the table.
Intransitive verbs These don’t require any type The time has come. (SV)
of complementation The sun is shining. (SV)
Monotransitive: These The students did not
require a single O as understand the solution to
complementation the problem. (SVO)
Transitive verbs Ditransitive: These require The teacher gave the
an IO and a DO student his mark. (SVOO)
Complex transitive: They The Jones painted their
require an O followed by an kitchen white. (SVOC)
obligatory A or C of the O Put the book there. (VOA)

Semantic roles:

A semantic role is the part played by an entity in an event. The way in which the
person is involved in the event is determined by the predicator. These are also called
Thematic roles (‘θ roles’).

The systemic function of language: For Halliday syntax and semantics are just one
thing. They can’t be separated. Verbs are processes in this approach. S, C and O are
participants and A is a circumstance. There are 6 different types of processes. According
to the process we will have different participants.
Halliday sees the clause elements as representing part of our experience (Ideational

1. The boy kicked the post.
 ‘The boy’ is the actor because it is the animate entity performing the
action. (same as Quirk’s ‘agent’)
 ‘kicked’ is a material process (dynamic doing verbs)
 ‘the post’ is the goal i.e. the recipient of the action.
If the sentence is changed into the passive, there is no change in roles. They
do change in grammatical function, but they retain their roles.

2. The man liked the new house.

 ‘The man’ is the sensor because he is experiencing.
 ‘liked’ is a mental process because it is a verb of inert cognition, emotion.
It can’t not be used dynamically.
 ‘the new house’ is the phenomenon i.e. the thing that is being

3. The child is homeless.

 ‘the child’ is the carrier because it carries the characterization or
 ‘is’ is a relational process. The main function is to link the S and the C.
They share the same area of reference. The case of Copular verbs.
 ‘homeless’ is the attribute.

4. The girl laughed.

 ‘the girl’ is called the behaver i.e. the one that behaves like the process.
 ‘laughed’ is the behavioral process. It indicates a behavior (sneeze,
cough, smile, etc.). Intransitive verbs. They are similar to material
process yet their intention is different.

5. The visitor said ‘hello’ (to me).

 ‘the visitor’ is the ‘sayer’.
 ‘said’ is a verbal process (say, tell, claim, announce, declare, promise)
 ‘hello’ is the verbiage.
 ‘to me’ is the target.

6. There is a woman over there.

 ‘there’ has no role. It’s just a grammatical S like ‘prop it’.
 ‘is’ is an existential process because its meaning is that somebody exists.
 ‘a woman’ is the existent (the entity that exists). The notional S.

Mnemonic technique for Halliday’s processes: M.M.V.E.R.B.

Quirk’s approach on semantic roles of elements.

Typical roles:

1. S: Agent, the doer.

2. DO: Affected, the one that is affected by the action.
3. IO: Recipient, the one indirectly affected by the action.
4. C: Attribute which in turn can be characterizing C and Identifying C
These shoes look expensive. (SVC) – characterizing C
The girl over there is my sister. (SVC) – identifying C

S roles:

1. Agent. It is the doer of the action with dynamic transitive verbs.

2. External causer. It expresses the unwitting (general inanimate) cause of an


3. Instrument. The entity (generally inanimate) which an agent uses to perform

an action or instigate a process.

4. Affected. With intransitive verbs. The S undergoes the situation indicated by

the verb.

5. Characterized. With copular verbs followed by characterizing C. The attribute

is characterizing the S

6. Identified. With copular verbs followed by identifying C. The S is identified by

the attribute.

7. Experiencer. The S of a V of cognition/perception (sensor for Halliday). It

experiences these phenomena in the real world.

8. Recipient. The S of a V related to the idea of possessing or having something

e.g. have, own, possess.

9. Positioner. The S of intransitive stance V e.g. sit, lie, stand; or transitive V

related to stance Vs e.g. carry, hold, wear.

10. Locative. It designates the place of the action.

Los Angeles is foggy It is foggy in Los Angeles.

11. Temporal. It designates the time of the event.
Yesterday was a holiday.

12. Eventive. Typical with deverbal nouns (nouns derived from a verb).
The Norman invasion took place in 1066. (The Normans invaded…)

13. Prop It. It has no semantic content. No participant is required. Used for:
- Time
- Distance
- Weather conditions

DO roles:

1. Affected. Entity directly involved by the event. It can be animate or inanimate.

He sold his digital watched.

2. Locative. It occurs with swim, climb, jump, walk, reach, cross.

I climbed a tree.

3. Resultant (effected). It exists only because of the action.

Baird invented television.

4. Cognate. Phonologically or morphologically related to the V.

I sing a song. She lives a good life.

5. Eventive. A NP that is deverbal. With Vs that have a general meaning.

I’m having dinner. I took a shower.

6. Instrumental. The entity used to perform an action.

We used a computer to…

7. Stimulus. It appears with experiencer Ss. Verbs of cognition/perception

I heard a noise.

IO roles:

1. Recipient. She gave me the book

2. Affected. With eventive O’s

I gave the baby a bath.
‘the baby’ is the affected IO
‘a bath’ is the eventive DO

Cs, Co Roles:

Attributes Characterizing

Syntax related to the macrofunctions of language

A. Ideational Function:
The previous semantic roles are related to the ideational macrofunction of
language because their meanings have to do with how the clause elements
represent an experience in the world.

B. Textual Function: the way in which information is presented in a syntactic

structure. The clause is seen as a message. It is related to the information
structure of the sentence i.e. given/old vs new information due to a processing
constraint: listeners pay attention to the second part of a sentence.
In emergencies we don’t apply these principles.

The Thematic Relations of the Clause:

This is not the same as thematic roles! These relations are called thematic
because they have to do with the Theme i.e. the first constituent in the
sentence. A Rheme is everything that follows the theme.
1. Thematic principle: it states that the theme should come first and the
rheme should follow. Theme and rheme are also known as Topic and
There are marked and unmarked utterances for this purpose.
Unmarked: it is normative, common. It follows the usual pattern.
Marked: it presents some sort of alteration.

1. a). Gas explosion kills thousands.

b). Thousands killed by gas explosion.
Both are headlines, so everything is new and in focus.
In ‘a’, the theme is ‘the gas explosion’
In ‘b’, ‘thousands’ is the theme.

2. a). The rain came down. (unmarked sentence)

b). Down came the rain. (marked sentence by means of fronting).
The syntactic structure has been altered.
Note: theme and rheme don’t necessarily correspond with S and P.

As for your dry-cleaning, I’ll bring it tomorrow.
theme________ _____rheme_____

3. The principle of end-weight: It states that the weightiest part of

information is placed at the end. The P is usually heavier. In English,
sentences are right-branching (balanced to the right). Extraposed S are used
when the S is heavier than the P.

C. Interpersonal function:

A linguistic interaction where two or more people are involved. Here the
clause is considered as an exchange. There are two different types.

1. Demands for / offers of goods and services.

2. Demands for / offers of linguistic information.

In 1 there is an actual exchange. In 2 there is an exchange of information.

The ones from 1 are those we first learn to fulfill our basic needs. Thus
language is seen as a social phenomenon because it serves as a means to
get to an end. In 2, language is used for the sake of communicating ideas;
therefore, language is an end itself.
These sentences can take any forms:

Direct speech acts vs. Indirect speech acts.

- Declarative: function as a statement. (direct speech act).
- Interrogative: function of a question
- Imperative: function as a command.

Their distinction is not clear-cut because commands can be in the form of

questions as indirect speech acts.
Halliday calls it ‘Mood’ for its politeness and tentativeness. Mood can be given
by intonation and lexical items too (please, etc.) or changing the syntactic

D. Poetic function:

This is the function related to the use of language to gain pleasure through
the manipulation of it.
‘see the point’ meaning ‘understand’. ‘See’ is a verb of perception yet
conversion is within the area of syntax just like fronting and ellipsis.