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Identifying the noun phrase

 
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nickpellatt



Joined: 08 Dec 2006
Posts: 1522

PostPosted: Sat May 23, 2009 10:54 pm    Post subject: Identifying the noun phrase Reply with quote

Im posting this in the vain hope that someone can shed some light on this part of my current grammar course that is causing me no end of grief. Embarassed

My course is covering descriptive and functional grammar, rather than the subject + verb etc type stuff. Is anyone able to make some simple pointers about identifying noun phrases and head words...especially long noun phrases.

For example
"A new national body designed to reduce the number of animals that die in scientific experiments today".

That (apparently) is a fairly long noun phrase. "body" is the head noun, what comes after is postmodification. The head noun has been postmodified by a prepositional phrase but that prepositional phrase is still part of the noun phrase.

Can anyone explain that to me in simple terms? Why is 'number of animals' not a noun phrase, likewise with 'scientific experiments'. I dont understand any of this, and cant even explain why really ... so I guess if anyone can shed any light on this topic I would be over the moon!
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 13 Mar 2005
Posts: 2596
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Sun May 24, 2009 1:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Nick. 'The number of animals...' and 'scientific experiments' are indeed still noun phrases (contain nouns/noun phrases), but assigning just those basic part of speech labels (or 'categories') doesn't tell us much about how the words are coalescing into larger units that have a grammatical (and meaningful!) function*; you are basically being asked to think/parse**/go up a level or two from the bottom-most level, from the sentence as simply written out in separate words, to it having slashes or brackets or boxes (or whatever mode of analysis takes your fancy) added/superimposed - or, in using a tree diagram say (which is a popular way to show structural relationships, and has its uses***), from the individual base "twigs" up towards the points where "branches" join (nodes) - all in order (so it is argued/hoped) to give you more of a bird's eye view, understanding and appreciation of meaning-structure (which is what grammar is, and as a subject about, ultimately).**** There is a shuttling between parts and wholes, and wholes and parts, resulting in an eventual "hovering" more or less between the two poles (i.e. in an understanding of how the language as a whole, or rather, whole language, works). Being a native speaker can make it difficult to appreciate the need for the overlaying of metalanguage and analytical apparatus, but there it is nontheless as a required and seemingly necessary component of more advanced English language courses! (You have to do what you can to understand it, but don't need to make it your or another's master or even slave once you have completed the course - you will then be free to use it only as and when you see fit, when you perceive a real need for it (which may not be that often, to be honest!), and there are plenty of other ways, complementary or not, to study, organize, understand and teach language. But like I say, you do need to make at least a token effort to understand this stuff, and it will assist you in becoming a more knowledgeable teacher even if it doesn't make much difference to your own practices).

Anyway, everything that comes before 'today' (i.e. 'A new national body designed to reduce the number of animals that die in scientific experiments') is functioning as subject of... (the rest of the sentence that I found on Google: '...announced 500,000 worth of grants to "replace, refine and reduce" vivisection.' http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2004/sep/27/highereducation.uk ).

Something on parsing:
http://forums.eslcafe.com/teacher/viewtopic.php?t=4248

You can of course find more by Googling words like parse, parsing, tree diagram(s) etc; there's some stuff on Wikipedia for a start. More farty terms would be 'constituent structure' etc.

A nice clear book on basic parsing (and English grammar generally) is Leech et al's English Grammar for Today. Unfortunately no GBS preview is available, but this is the latest edition, FWIW:
http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=gxMlGwAACAAJ

Once you can parse more confidently, it is easier to identify the heads of the various phrases. ("Bonus" - something on main verbs/the heads of verb phrases, and parsing generally: http://forums.eslcafe.com/teacher/viewtopic.php?p=39303#39303 ). But most authors don't seem to concentrate on notions like head that much; it is probably something that they feel can be left to more intuitive processes in general treatments of grammar (as opposed to more theoretical discussions of syntax, say).

One thing to be aware of is that Chomskyan-flavoured analyses (which is more or less most modern grammar when it is at all theoretical) favour trees that exhibit binary branching (into two), but that the likes of Leech et al (which is the sort of grammar/analysis that probably most ELT professionals would favour) sees nothing wrong in having multiple branching leading down to more separated category branches, and ultimately, the individual words (so like I say, the Leech et al provides a pretty clear introduction to parsing by means of drawing tree sentence diagrams). You can get a good overview of all this and more from Jim Martin's paper***** on grammatical structure in Coffin et al's Applying English Grammar (which was and might still be one of the texts for E303), and perhaps from the following too (jump to its seventh paragraph):
http://www.linguistlist.org/issues/13/13-1853.html

Not everybody however is convinced of the value of 'Immediate Constituent Analysis' and the like - it can all start to resemble a dead dissection rather than elucidating any living process (but then, we can surely gain some appreciation of anatomy at least, if not physiology, from dissection!). One guy who strung basic parts of speech together (more or less labelled as such) linearly rather than "hierachically", and did so quite happily and pretty convincingly, was the late David Brazil:
http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ADDF6jzEZMAC&printsec=frontcover#PPA17,M1

[You might recall that I've mentioned his book before, on that link (which you called 'bloody complicated discussion' LOL) that I posted on your 'Stressful' thread. But it's really worth considering reading Brazil eventually, if dry "unspoken" grammar and its dissection all the time isn't ultimately for you (and who is it 100% for, in actual fact!). A further "bonus" - a little bit more about where Brazil is coming from: http://forums.eslcafe.com/job/viewtopic.php?p=332181#332181 ].

Lastly, chapter 6 in Sampson's Empirical Linguistics is quite interesting and might make you feel better about the potential difficulties of providing standardized grammatical analyses:
http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=zVm3tWDf-34C&printsec=frontcover#PRA1-PA74,M1

Anyway, hope this helps somewhat in gaining an appreciation, however slight, of the methods and purposes of parsing/clause analysis/whatever you would prefer to call "it", Nick! (The main body of this post shouldn't be too hard going, at least).

It would certainly help if books, courses and tutors assumed less than they often do; that is, it's not that people are unintelligent, but rather, it just may not be made explicitly clear exactly why they are being asked to do certain things (so despite the length of this post, I am not a complete grammar freak either! It took me a while myself to work out some of "what's what", and I think I too might've struggled a bit on any course that went into formalities for the apparent sake of it). All you can do (and should, what with being a language professional etc) is try to maintain a positive interest and analyse the odd interesting sentence or two every now and then (and reading and occassionally answering queries such as this, on forums such as this, is in fact one of the best ways of doing so!).

One thing you really don't have any excuse for though Nick is keeping saying stuff like this:
Quote:
My course is covering descriptive and functional grammar, rather than the subject + verb etc type stuff.

Functional descriptions (not necessarily just SFG, BTW) still make use of basic, essential terms/concepts such as subject and verb, so why are you implicitly opposed to them so? Don't go the ETAQ route (again, see the relevant link on your 'Stressful' thread), for gawd's sake! Plus, you are clearly having to grapple with at least 'subject' and 'verb' in your present course, going by your query above! Ultimately, what does a phrase like 'subject + verb etc type stuff' mean? It may make you feel better/able to blow off some obvious steam about having to study a bit of grammar, but it seems like pointless hand-waving to me and is puzzling if not slightly irritating. So please stop it (it makes you sound like you not only don't know enough about, but also don't even care about what you're studying)!

One final thing: isn't there more than a prepositional phrase postmodifying 'A new national body'.****
Quote:
"A new national body designed to reduce the number of animals that die in scientific experiments today".

That (apparently) is a fairly long noun phrase. "body" is the head noun, what comes after is postmodification. The head noun has been postmodified by a prepositional phrase but that prepositional phrase is still part of the noun phrase.



*Category and function are terms from Huddleston and Pullum's A Student's Introduction to English Grammar - see the section headed 'Two theoretical distinctions' here: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=qlxDqB4ldx4C&printsec=frontcover#PPA14,M1 ; another term for category is 'class', or indeed 'form' (but the latter is I feel too general a term, and doesn't have the "set"-like connotation of 'category' or 'class' - a connotation which I feel is comparatively useful). With 'category/class' we are basically talking about sets of words that exhibit similar grammatical behaviour...but it is only when the words are placed in sentences/contexts that we can assign proper function (for example, that one noun is the subject as opposed to object).

**"Parse: 1 Describe (a word in context) grammatically, stating its inflection, relation to the rest of the sentence, etc.
2 Resolve (a sentence) into its component parts and describe them grammatically.
Parsing is unfashionable as a classroom exercise, but analysing clause and sentence structure is the basis of grammar and much linguistics."
(From Chalker & Weiner's Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar).

***One use for example is in disambiguation (graphically showing the difference between different analyses/meanings):
http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=R4gl7uo7QTMC&printsec=frontcover#PPA10,M1
(~ Not of course that the vivisection sentence we are looking at is at all ambiguous!).

****Related concepts that you may be vaguely aware of but shouldn't forget are 'recursion' and 'embedding' (things that Chomsky seized upon and then proceeded to bang on about to abstraction and eventual distraction, but didn't actually invent).

*****I'll just quote a bit from Martin's paper, as it may be more helpful to you than the likes of Huddleston & Pullum alluded to above: "4.2.2 Function (relation) The other kind of labelling used by grammarians tells us what something is doing in a particular structure, not just what class it is. These labels are called function labels, and include terms like Subject, Predicator, Complement and Adjunct. These labels make it easier to talk about grammatical relations between parts of a structure." Obviously (by now) function labels can refer to wholes that are larger than the class parts that they may be composed of.


Last edited by fluffyhamster on Sat May 30, 2009 7:53 pm; edited 3 times in total
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 13 Mar 2005
Posts: 2596
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Mon May 25, 2009 3:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hmm, that's quite a long reply I just gave you, Nick! Embarassed Smile Cool A shorter, less "personally revealing"* answer to your question(s) is basically that quote from the Chalker & Weiner:
Quote:
Parse 1 Describe (a word in context) grammatically, stating its inflection, relation to the rest of the sentence, etc.

2 Resolve (a sentence) into its component parts and describe them grammatically.

Parsing is unfashionable as a classroom exercise, but analysing clause and sentence structure is the basis of grammar and much linguistics.
(My italics)


Or how about this (from the same book):
Quote:
function
1 The syntactic role that a linguistic unit takes within a 'higher' unit such as a clause or a sentence; distinguished from its FORM.

The five ELEMENTS of clause structure, namely Subject, Verb, Object, Complement, and Adverbial, are defined by virtue of their functions. Although the function of a verb is always realized by a verb phrase, there is no one-to-one correspondence between the other functional sentence elements and their possible formal realizations. Thus the function of subject (like object) is often realized by a noun phrase, but could, for example, be realized by a verb phrase (To err is human), while on a lower level such a verb phrase might function as part of a noun phrase (e.g. a tendency to err). (Similarly, a single word may sometimes function as a different part of speech from the usual one by processes of CONVERSION, partial or full).


At the entry for 'form', C & W give examples of noun phrases functioning adverbially (We had a storm last night), and adjectives functioning as heads of noun phrases (The poor are always with us).

*That is, not including my own understanding and implicit opinion of (the ultimate use(s) or not, by independent language users, of) parsing.
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 13 Mar 2005
Posts: 2596
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Tue May 26, 2009 5:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Actually, I've just been looking again at the set grammar text (the Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English) for your course, Nick, and it would appear a reasonable guide to matters such as those that you are having problems with (it is a relatively clear and not-too-demanding course in ELT-relevant grammar, as well as a halfway decent reference-type tome); certainly, it echoes and would complement what I've written above, and perhaps even read the easier for it (assuming of course that you've actually read any of the above main post matter!). The LSGSWE talks at first (pp 14-15, pg 39, etc etc) in terms of word class/part of speech versus syntactic role.

So, if you haven't already done so, I strongly suggest that you closely read everything up to and including the LSGSWE's chapter 3 especially (Introduction to phrases and clauses), then in short measure also chapters 8 (Exploring the grammar of the clause) and 9 (Complex noun phrases) at least.

The Workbook for the LSGSWE isn't absolutely essential, but it would help ensure that you make your knowledge of the grammar explicit, so maybe see if it's available to borrow.

[An aside that may seem irrelevant to you, but that might not to others, and that I personally found interesting: on pages 50-51 of the LSGSWE they introduce the notion and thus notation in trees of 'long verb phrases' alongside/incorporating 'short' ones (previously ~); LVPs basically represent the predicate half of binary subject-predicate branching. So the LSGSWE will appear that bit more "linguistically respectable" than English Grammar for Today say, to those who like tree diagrams. (Who, me?! Surprised Laughing Cool Smile )].
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