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The History Of The Syntax And Semantics English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 1299 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Words get combined into more complicated constructions, are called phrases. Then, phrases get combined to make sentences. The proper ordering of words in sentences is called syntax. All human language have a structure. We call this structure grammar. “I went shopping today and bought a new coat” is a clear sentence. Its grammar is correct. But “I shopping today go coat new have bought” sounds wrong and is hard to understand. That’s because its grammar is incorrect.

Semantics on the other hand, is the study of how meaning in language is created by the use and the interrelationships of words, phrases and sentences. Therefore, syntax and semantics have crucial role in acquiring and learning language.


According to an American linguist, Bloomfield, the best known definition of a word is a minimum free form that is the smallest form that can occur by itself. Words by themselves, or words strung together in a random way are of relatively little use, for those who have visited s foreign country armed only with a dictionary and no knowledge of the language. We should look at how words combined into longer utterances and know the meaning for understanding or for easier acquisition of language.

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There are two basic principles of sentence organization: linear order and hierarchical structure. Linear order is the most obvious principle wherein the words in a sentence must occur in a particular sequence if the sentence is to convey desired meaning. Although linear order is an important principle of sentence organization, sentences are just more than of ordered sequence or words; they have internal hierarchical structure as well. That is, the individual words in a sentenced organized into natural, semantically coherent groupings which are themselves organized into larger groupings, the largest grouping of all being the sentence itself.

One aspect of our syntactic competence is our understanding of the similarities and differences in the behavior of the words in our language. Though all human languages have numerous words, each word in a given language in not entirely different in its behavior from all the other words in that language. Instead, a large number of words often exhibit the same properties, which suggests that a language’s enormous inventory of words can be grouped into a relatively small number of word classes based on their morphological and syntactic properties. These word classes are called lexical categories because the lexicon is the list of all words in a language. Verbs, adjectives and adverbs are part of the lexical Categories. We also have the closed lexical categories that are sometimes known as function words. The members of closed classes, unlike the lexical categories, have little meaning outside their grammatical purpose and are used to relate phrases of various types to other phrases. These classes are called “closed” because the addition of new member to a closed category rarely occurs. Determiners, auxiliary verbs, prepositions, conjunctions and pronouns fall under closed lexical categories.

Another kind of syntactic category is the phrasal category. Phrasal category is a set of constituents that behave the same, or share the same functions and distribution. Verb phrase, adjective phrase, adverbial phrase, prepositional phrase and sentences can be grouped as phrasal categories. The linguistic procedure which divides sentences into their component parts or constituents in known as constituent analysis. The successive layers of constituents which make up a sentence can be shown most clearly on a tree diagram. Its advantage is that each join or node on the tree can be labeled, so that the whole construction becomes clearer. An alternative way of expressing the information found on a tree diagram is by means of rewrite rules. A rewrite rule is a replacement rule, in which the symbol to the left of an arrow is replaced by an expanded form written to the right of the arrow. Its advantage is that they are perfectly explicit. They do not leave anything to the imagination. By following them, you could produce a perfect English sentence even if you did not know any English, since the rules are applied mechanically, step by step, one symbol at a time.

It’s good to consider language in syntactic form, however words, phrases and sentences mean something. A linguist who is studying meaning tries to understand why certain words and constructions can be combined together in semantically acceptable way while others cannot. There are sentences that are well-formed syntactically but they are contradictory. To fully understand what meaning is, here are the things that should be clear: 1. Meaning is provided by a community of native speakers, not by some special authority like a dictionary or a grammar book. 2. The meaning of expression is not just a definition composed of more words in the same language, since ultimately the meaning of some words would have to be known in order to understand the definitions. 3. The meaning of an expression is not just a mental image, since mental images seem to vary from person to person more than meaning does, since mental images tend to be only typical or ideal examples of the things they symbolize, and since not all words have corresponding mental images. 4. The meaning of a word involves more than just the actual thing the word refers to, since not all expressions have real-world referents, and substituting expressions with identical referents for each other in a sentence can change the meaning as a whole. 5. Knowing the meaning of a sentence involves knowing the conditions under which it would be true, so explaining the meaning of a sentence can be done in part by explaining the truth conditions. 6. Knowing the meaning of an utterance also involves knowing how to use it, so conditions on language use also form an important aspect of meaning.

Meaning is a complex phenomenon involving relationships between a language and the minds of its speakers, between a language and the world, and between a language and the practical uses which it is put.


Syntax studies the organization of words into phrases and phrases into sentences. There are patterns and regularities that can be discovered in larger units of constructions and its constituents. If syntax considers language from structural perspective with relatively little concern from meaning, semantics shows great concern on meaning. According to Roman Jakobson, “Language without meaning is meaningless”. Since meaning is a part of language, semantics is a part of linguistics.

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Syntax and semantics are interrelated with each other. It is hard to decipher the meaning if the utterances or the language spoken are not well organized; unless you’ll work more on sign language for you to be understood. Or you’ll have with you dictionary and understand in verbatim which is more difficult and you might not get the exact meaning. In reading, where comprehension is very significant, as educator, we should teach our students reading comprehension strategies. Moreover, we should also guide them so that they would know the proper use of those strategies on reading comprehension.

It is very clear that semantics deals with the study of meaning, changes in meaning, and principles that govern the relationships between sentences or words and their meanings. Thus, to understand language we need to get the meaning of words and morphemes that compose them. We also must know how meanings of words combine into phrases and sentence meanings. Finally, we must consider context when determining meaning.


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