Branches of Linguistics‎ > ‎Syntax‎ > ‎

Where Is Syntax Studied?


Well...take your pick of any of these land masses here:




Historically, it has been studied all over, starting with Pāṇini, a Sanskrit grammarian who wrote one of the first analyses of syntax over 5000km from the native locale of grammaire générale and a good two millennia prior at that. Now, anywhere with a university which has a Linguistics department is guaranteed to be full of students immersed in syntax.

Once we get down to it, it makes more sense for us to refer to syntax within the context of a particular language (for example, in the first semester at the University of Sheffield, we looked at the syntax of English specifically as part of its structure as a whole). Syntax, by this nature, is studied all over the world. In fact, it is such a core part of the way in which language works, it’s also studied as part of many other disciplines of linguistics and indeed in other areas too, such as politics, literature and psychology.

These might be familiar to you:

One example of this is those studying “Spanglish”; the mixing of Spanish and English in bilingual speakers where there is a large population of both. This is an example of “code blending” and whilst there are no universally set rules, each speaker employs her own syntactic constraints, which is what makes the phenomenon so fascinating. This is studied where it occurs, such as in the south of the United States, around the borders, New York and Panama to name a few.



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The University of Cambridge has been carrying out some very interesting research which could have a vast impact on the legal system. When a witness does not speak the language in which the case is being conducted, a translator is necessary. However, the nuance which we all give in our sentence structures can be, to be clichéd (and bad for a few acting careers), lost in translation. They are looking into how these seemingly inconsequential things actually can make a difference and how, using syntax, this can be navigated.

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Politics were mentioned earlier. Anyone recognise the phrase "mistakes were made"? Not to name any names, but it is an absolute staple of sly political rhetoric. We can tell if someone says this that they are not willing to accept or indeed allocate any responsibility, but how? Well, if we pick it apart, we find that it is in the passive voice and so no agent is made clear.  This sort of thing is being analysed in every newspaper's office around the world. Could this conversation analysis happen without an understanding of syntax? Nah.


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Isn't it wonderful how even in this day and age, some things are still unknown to and poorly understood by us? This was the case of the Pirahã language when Daniel Everett went to live and study with the people who speak it in the Amazon basin in the late '70s. His (admittedly controversial) findings about recursion in sentences have challenged Chomsky's widely accepted theory of Universal Grammar (which is kind of a big deal). 

Where to next?
Now why don't you take a look at who does syntax to find out about more about key researchers in this field.

References

Picture Credits
  • Animated Globe: http://bestanimations.com
  • Spanglish Billboard: http://www.aboutlanguageschools.com/images
  • Cartoon: http://cdn2.sbnation.com/