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Introduction to English Syntax


Rolf Kreyer and Joybrato Mukherjee

This book provides an overview of basic syntactic categories, analytical methods and theoretical frameworks that are needed for a comprehensive and systematic description and analysis of the syntax of English as it is spoken and written today. It is therefore useful for students of the English language but also for teachers who are looking for an overview of traditional syntactic analysis. In addition, the book explores various related aspects, such as syntactic variation, the relation between syntax and semantics, and psycholinguistic approaches to syntax. One focus throughout is to introduce the reader to the ‘art’ or science of syntactic argumentation. Almost all of the examples that are found in this book are drawn from language corpora – each syntactic concept, therefore, is exemplified by authentic language data.


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9 Syntactic Variation


Although it is useful for linguistic studies to treat languages as completely ho- mogeneous systems, it is obvious that this is not the case: any language allows for variation in many different respects or along many different dimensions. One of these, for instance, is the region a speaker comes from: a person from the south of England, for instance, will talk differently from someone from the North. Another of these dimensions is the social group one belongs to. Sociolin- guistic studies report on a large number of differences between people speaking so-called lower- and upper-class English. A third dimension of variation is that which is due to the medium in which language is realised, i.e. spoken as op- posed to written language: in the previous chapter we saw that spoken and writ- ten English show considerable differences with regard to the exploitation of the structural potential common to both modes, but also with regard to constructions that occur in one but not in the other. Yet another dimension concerns what is called the 'field of discourse', i.e. the subject matter with which a piece of lan- guage is concerned. For instance, the present book is about linguistics, more specifically, about syntax. Because of that there are many lexical units that you are unlikely to find, say, in a sports commentary, such as linguistics, syntax or constituency. A useful distinction regarding variation is that between variation according to the user and variation according to the use of language. The first two...

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