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Universidad de Guadalajara

Maestra en Enseanza del Ingls como Lengua Extranjera

Module II: Linguistic Description For Foreign Language

Reflection 3.2 Constituents

Tutors Name: Dra. Mara Luisa Arias Moreno

Name: Humberto Marino Ramrez


March 3rd, 2014

Reflection 3.2
Reflection 3.2
As you have read, part of every language users knowledge of his/her language is the knowledge
of how constituents are put together and categorized in that language. This special sort of
knowledge can be represented as a set of rules called Phrase Structure Rules (PS
Rules). What important properties do you think make phrase structure rules useful for
describing the syntactic competence of language users?

English Syntax Andrew Radford pag38

Modern course in English Syntax pag22

Theory of Language Syntax page61

Noam Chomsky Syntactic Structures page26

I think the first important property of Phrase Structure Rules (PS Rules) is the hierarchy
that it has: as William OGrady mentioned, words in sentences are not accommodated
without order like beads in a necklace, but rather there is a specific organization that has
to be followed. Usually phrases join other phrases to make more complex sentences, for
instance a noun phrase (NP) has a noun (e.g. house) as a head or more important word
in the phrase, but when joined with a specifier (e.g. in) the noun has to go to the right part
of the sentence and the specifier to the left because specifiers typically mark a phrase
boundary, that is, they have to go first to start a phrase. This is just a small example of the
organization and hierarchy that PS rules bring to the sentences.

Obviously if a student follows the appropriate hierarchy of the words he will be said to have
syntactic competency. In the previous example if he wrote Mark is the house in instead of
Mark is in the house he would be making a terrible mistake because hes not following
the correct syntactic order of words to make another person understand him/her correctly.
In has more hierarchy than the house, therefore must go first.

Another important property in Phrase Structure Rules is selection property. For example:

They ought to help you (= ought + TP to help you)

They ought help you (= ought + VP help you)

They should help you (= should + VP help you)

They should to help you (= should + TP to help you)
Ought is a kind of word which selects (takes) a TP (infinitival tense phrase) as its
complement. The TP in this case is the word to. On the contrary should is the kind of
word which selects an infinitival VP (verbal phrase) as its complement, which in this case
is help you. Its totally wrong to say I should to help you or say I ought help you
because the PS rules of the English grammar say its incorrect.

This selection property is really important because the English learners need to know what
kind of words should go after certain word. For example at the moment I am teaching to
my secondary students that after words like love, enjoy, hate and like they can either
place a noun (e.g.I like pets, I hate milk) or a verb in the gerund form, which is also a noun
(e.g. I enjoy swimming, I love running ). I will emphasize the selection property of the
phrase structure rules so that they remember that they have to follow the syntactic rules in
order to write a correct sentence and make themselves understood properly. I will give
them many exercises like these ones so that they can practice more.

The Verbal Phrase trying to help you will now be analyzed to give an example of PS
rules property of recursion. This VP has the word trying as its head and its complement is
the TP/infinitival tense phrase to help you; but to help you is also a Verbal Phrase,
having help as head. An interesting property of syntactic structures is recursion, which is
the property of allowing a given structure to contain more than one instance of a given
category (in this case, more than one verb phrase VP one that has help as a head and
the other headed by the verb trying).

At the moment I am teaching reported speech to my 5th elementary students where it

happens this phenomenon of recursion. Phrases like Mr. Marvin said that he wanted to
go outside are being studied. Mr. Marvin is the NP (noun phrase) and said that he
wanted to go outside is the VP, but this last phrase can also be broken into smaller parts
where he is the NP and wanted to go outside is the new VP. In my next English class
with these students I am going to explain breaking up the sentences into smaller parts
where theres a subject and a predicate and this predicate has a new subject and a new
predicate. Students should be aware of this so that they can know the rules to make more
and more complex sentences.

Another helpful property is constituency. In order for students to know whether they have
grouped phrases in the right way they should be able to identify constituents also known
as syntactic units. In order to do this a phrase must pass the 3 basic constituency tests:
substitution, movement and coordination tests. When a word or phrase can be replaced by
an element such as they, it or do so theres no doubt that we are talking about a
constituent. For example The guys next door and open the window are constituents
because they can be replaced with they and do so respectively.

A certain phrase passes the movement test if it can be moved as a single unit to a different
position within the sentence. Consider the sentence My children are very happy at this
school. The phrase at this school is a constituent because it can be moved to the
beginning of the sentence: At this school my children are very happy. The coordination
test says that a group of words is a constituent if it can be joined to another group of words
by a conjunction such as and, or and but. For example the phrase had so much fun is
a constituent because it can be grouped with other phrase with conjunctions: My friends
had so much fun and really enjoyed the party. In my teaching practice I will definitely
show my students how to identify constituents and give them exercises where they can
practice more this topic.

In this text I have analyzed the different properties of Phrase Structure Rules: hierarchy,
selection, recursion and constituency. The property of hierarchy says that words have
more precedence than others while arranging them, e.g. in has more precedence that the
house, therefore it has to be written first and not the other way around. The property of
selection says that theres a specific kind of words that must go after certain words: e.g.
after the verb love goes a noun or a noun phrase for instance I love playing soccer.
Recursion involves a certain structure that is repeated within another structure, for
example: a noun phrase within a noun phrase. And finally constituency allows a speaker to
be able to group certain words provided they comply with certain constituency rules. All of
these properties allow a speaker of English to have more understanding of correct syntax
in the language and so make himself / herself better understood, therefore I will give my
students exercises where they can practice this kind of syntactic arrangement.

Chomsky, N. (2002). Syntactic Structures. New York: De Gruyter.

O'Grady, W. (2001). Contemporary Linguistics. US: Bedford: St. Martin's.

Radford, A. (2004). English Syntax. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wekker Herman, H. L. (1996). A Modern Course in English Syntax. New York: Routledge.