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5.1: Syntax Terminology

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    Syntax Terminology, from Sarah Harmon

    Video Script

    Just a quick piece about syntactic terminology. Mostly because it's going to sound very familiar compared to what we talked about in morphology.

    When we talk about syntax, we talk about lexical categories and about functional categories. When we talk about these things, we're talking about their role with respect to the overall structure of a given phrase or sentence. You'll notice that this pretty closely mirrors what we see when we talk about morphology. We talk about lexical vs functional lexicon, and open versus closed class lexicon. There is one exception: you'll notice that P (Preposition) is now a lexical category, not a functional category. That's what happens with prepositions or adpositions because it can be either before or after the noun phrase.

    The reality is prepositions/adpositions are tweeners. They are somewhat lexical syntactically because they can have a phrase; they frequently are part of the phrase, and they are the head of that phrase. That being said, morphologically they are closed class and tend to act a little more functional. We can't make new ones easily; we don't tend to have multiple versions of them; they tend to pretty much stay as is and they don't tend to be borrowed from one language to another. Just know that prepositions have a dual role.

    Everything else is fairly self-explanatory. The lexical categories all can be heads of their own phrases, so nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and prepositions. Functional categories are only going to be complements; they're going to support a lexical item in some way, shape or form; these are determiners, auxiliaries, pro forms (pronouns and others), conjunctions and complementizers.

    In the next section, we're going to talk about word order, and then after that we're going to start talking about actual structure. It is going to be important to remember that there is this big distinction between a lexical category and a functional category and we're going to see them both used in a variety of ways.

    5.1: Syntax Terminology is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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