Syntax is an area of linguistics that studies how words combine to create phrases and sentences. In this resource post, I provide a ton of links to learn more about syntax and an overview of how to approach them.*
The main activity that people associate with syntax is drawing syntax trees representing the structure of sentences. The links below describe why we use trees, what they represent, and how to draw them.
- Fun videos of what verbs, prepositions, etc are, from Schoolhouse Rock
- Pdfs: introduction to phrase structure rules and trees, more on PS rules, trees, and exercises, why trees and structural ambiguity, grammar vs universal grammar.
- Slides: why generative grammar, identifying parts of speech,
- Websites: what is syntax?, syntax as related to music, several posts introducing syntax (reverse chrono order), webcourse on syntax.
- Exercises: identifying parts of speech and phrases (auto-graded), working with sentences (no answers), basic tree-drawing (with unfortunately-formatted answers), drawing trees with ambiguity, rewrite rules in context-free grammar (java interface), ambiguity and constituency (with solutions).
- You can also just try to draw a tree for whatever sentence you can think of.
- Identifying noun phrases versus subordinate clauses
Once you have some familiarity with basic trees, there’s also movement, a process which explains the difference between, for example, “I will read the book” and “what will I read?”
- Slides: Questions and movement, transformations, movement and pro-drop
- Site: about movement and exercises, wikipedia: wh-movement
Drawing syntax trees is easiest on paper, but there are a variety of tools that are used to make electronic syntax trees.
- Online syntax tree drawers: syntree and phpSyntaxTree
- Drawing syntax trees in LaTeX
- Practising making syntax trees using string
- Syntax flashcards
- Upper-level syntax syllabus with online textbook and other readings
- Another upper-level syntax course outline with slides
- Syllabus and readings for syntax for computational linguists
- Historical syntax book chapter
- Pretty technical paper on the syntax of birdsong
- More difficult syntax problems
Fun with Syntax
- What is Yoda’s syntax in other languages?
- Syntax explained using the 1000 most common English words
- LingLlama: syntacticians and TP
- Verbing weirds language
- Poem with many prepositions
*Notes: Some of the links overlap in content, especially chapters and slides. This is deliberate, so if you don’t like how something is explained in one place, try somewhere else. Content is taken from a variety of sources, which may use slightly different theories or simplifications: don’t panic. Reading the first few links will cover about as much material as the syntax section of an intro linguistics course; reading everything would be closer to an upper-year undergrad syntax course, so don’t feel like you have to work your way through absolutely everything. If you have questions about what you’re reading, you will probably get a faster response posting in #linguistics where multiple people can see you and reply than messaging me directly.
This post is part of a series on resources for teaching yourself linguistics. Update: semantics, corpus, experimental, descriptive grammar, philosophy of language/linguistic anthropology. Previously: morphology, phonetics/phonology and my original protolinguist post. Any comments/feedback very much appreciated, especially if you are trying to learn more about linguistics or if you have more (fun or serious) syntax links to add. Posts will be tagged #linguistics and #protolinguist, and I’ll be checking both.