Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Natural Syntax: The English Indefinite Article

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Natural Syntax: The English Indefinite Article

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The framework of this paper is Natural Syntax initiated by the author in the tradition of (morphological) naturalness as established by Wolfgang U. Dressler and ([dagger]) Willi Mayerthaler.

Natural Syntax is a developing deductive theory. The naturalness judgements are couched in naturalness scales, which follow from the basic parameters (or "axioms") listed at the beginning of the paper. The predictions of the theory are calculated in what are known as deductions, the chief components of each being a pair of naturalness scales and the rules governing the alignment of corresponding naturalness values.

Natural Syntax is here exemplified with selected language data bearing on the use of the English indefinite article.

Some recent work related to Natural Syntax: Oresnik 2007a-e; 2008a-c; 2009a, b; 2009 (with Varja Cvetko-Oresnik). (Only work published in English is mentioned).

Keywords: naturalness, syntax, indefiniteness, indefinite article

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Natural Syntax is a (developing) deductive linguistic theory that determines the presuppositions on the background of which a (morpho)syntactic state of affairs can be made predictable, and thus synchronically explained. The two basic kinds of presuppositions are what are known as naturalness scales and rules of alignment among corresponding values of any two scales. Every (morpho)syntactic state of affairs is represented by two comparable variants. Natural Syntax contains no generative component.

The basic format of our naturalness scales is >nat (A, B), in which A is more natural than B. Two expanded scales are allowed, viz. >nat (A + B, B) and >nat (A, A + B); they are valid if the corresponding scale of the format >nat (A, B) is valid. Exemplification below.

I proceed to list the criteria with which Natural Syntax substantiates naturalness scales:

(a) The speaker/hearer parameter.

In the scale >nat (A, B), value A is natural for the speaker (and unnatural for the hearer); value B is unnatural for the speaker (and natural for the hearer). The basic naturalness scale is >nat (favourable for the speaker, favourable for the hearer). This view of naturalness is commonplace in linguistics (Havers 1931: 171), under the names of tendency to economize (utilized first of all by the speaker) and tendency to be accurate (mainly in the hearer's interest).

I follow Mayerthaler (1981: 13 ff). in assuming that the speaker is the centre of communication, and therefore most properties of the speaker are natural; for instance, being the first person and/or the subject and/or +human and/or +masculine (!) and/or +singular and/or +definite and/or +referential, and so on.

What is favourable for the hearer may be less natural for the speaker. This is a pivotal point in Natural Syntax and will be maintained until some good counterexample nullifies it. By way of illustration, it can be pointed out that producing a longish noun phrase may be ,,tiresome" for the speaker (= less natural for him), but may ease the hearer's decoding process considerably (= be more natural for the hearer).

(b) The principle of least effort (Havers 1931: 171).

What conforms better to this principle is more natural for the speaker. What is cognitively simple (for the speaker) is easy to produce, easy to retrieve from memory, and so on.

(c) Degree of integration into the construction.

What is better integrated into its construction is more natural for the speaker. As a rule of thumb, what is located at the margin of a construction is less natural than what is placed inside a construction.

(d) Frequency.

What is more frequent tokenwise is more natural for the speaker. What is cognitively simpler (for the speaker) is used more. (However, the reverse does not obtain: what is natural for the speaker is not necessarily more frequent). …

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