Are sentences more like a bracelet or a mobile? Syntax video #1

Are sentences more like a bracelet or a mobile? Syntax video #1


How do the words in a sentence fit together? Are they more like the line of beads in a
bracelet? Or, like the dangly groups in a mobile? The bracelet model means that each bead,
or word, only comes in contact with the beads or words next to it, whereas in a mobile,
the words are put together in sub-groups. But what about the words in a sentence? It’s pretty clear that the order is important
somehow: after all, if you scramble the words around, you don’t necessarily get a good sentence,
just like yellow, blue, green, green, red is a different bracelet pattern. But is every type of way you could reorder
the words essentially equivalent? Or are there certain re-orderings that have a bigger effect
than others? With a mobile like you’d hang over a baby’s
crib, we can have some words that combine with others first, before combining into bigger
and bigger groups. How could we figure out whether sentences
are more like a bracelet or a mobile? That is, is it just the linear order that’s important,
or are there sub-groups that are important too? Let’s look at what happens when we make questions. So here’s our same example sentence. We can
make this into a couple different questions. Here’s one question…or…here’s another
question…and here’s a third question. Let’s go back to our first question. So this…is
pretty similar to this. If linear order is what matters, maybe we can make a question
by swapping the first word and the second word in any sentence. What if we replace Ingrid with “the astronaut”?
Now, let’s swap the first and second word. Yeah, nope. So we could make a more specific rule that
says “when you have ‘will’, you make it a question by putting it at the beginning of
the sentence”. And that works pretty well so far. But when we have something more complicated,
like “who I’ll meet tomorrow”, this rule doesn’t work so well anymore. If I move the first “will” up to make a question,
we get this…which is just terrible. Whereas what I really want to do is move the
second “will” up. We could start specifying more and more conditions
in the linear bracelet order, but let’s take a break and look at structures more like this
diagram. So, maybe we can use the groups in a mobile-type
structure to help us organize the information we care about here. Let’s go back to that longer sentence. We
need to figure out a way to represent the difference between the first “will” and the
second “will” It’s not going to work to just say, “move
the second “will”, because we can also make a sentence that looks like this. Where “will” number two has become “will” number
one and vice versa. And what we really want to do is move this “will” and not this one. But this does give us a clue: in both cases,
we want to move the “will” that’s before “see” rather than the “will” that’s
before “meet”. Is it something about the verb “see”? No, because if we swap the
verbs, we still need to move this “will” and not this “will”. So what’s the difference between these two
places where we have “will”? Let’s talk about who’s doing what, so we can
group those words together in our mobile. Who’s doing the seeing? The astronaut. What’s
the action? “will see”. Who’s being seen? The martian, who I will meet tomorrow. And we can also split up that last part under
the same node. So, what does this give us? We can see a clear
difference between the “will” that’s up here, that connects to the main branch, and that’s
the one we can move. Whereas the “will” that’s down here, if we move it, that’s the one that
sounds weird. And look, now we’ve made our sentence into
a mobile! It might not win any art prizes anytime soon, but it does help us understand
something about how the words in the sentence are related to each other. And the thing that our mobile really helps
us with is if we take “who I will meet tomorrow” and move it to be by “the astronaut”. We now
see very clearly that the “will” we want to move is the one that attaches to the main
spine, and not the one that’s attached lower down. And we can REALLY see this if we add in another
clause like “who I will hug next week”. So now we have not one, not two, but three “will”s! Which one do we move? No to will one, yes
to will two, and no to will three. Or in other words, we don’t move the lower-down wills, only the will that’s attached to the main structure. What have we learned? Linear order is kind of important, because
otherwise how would you know where to move the will to, but what’s also really important
is this relationship that the words have with each other in groups, and we can’t just count
the words to figure out what these relationships are. Instead, we can ask ourselves questions like
“who’s doing the action?” and “who’s the action being done to?”, and we can write
this information down in a shape like a mobile that shows us pretty clearly which “will”
is which.

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