Syntax is the set of relations between lexemes and groups of lexemes. These relations maybe syntagmatic (contextually linear) or paradigmatic (substitutionary, e.g. the use of a pronoun to refer to a noun).
Since the types of relations between lexemes outnumbered that of syntactic construction, there are lots of ambiguity in syntax. But such kind of resulting obscurities in grammar is a psychological necessary.
Major Syntactic Structures
All languages have syntagmatic and paradigmatic structures. There are three types of syntactic structures: propositional, axial and restrictive/specificational.
From the perspective of basic semantic relations, the prepositional structures are of two major types: 1) participational, e.g. John ran (agent + activity), 2) equational, e.g. John is a doctor (the entity John belongs to a class of doctors). The axial structures – relation-axis constructions are 1) spatial, e.g. in the house, 2) temporal, e.g. during lunch, 3) consequential, e.g. he laughed because he was amused by a joke. 4) coordinating, e.g. Tom and Jerry. The restrictive structures are those attributive constructions, e.g. three old men.
Processes of truncation, intrusion and extraposition
They are three processes which make it difficult to analyze the syntactic structure of a language.
Truncation is the dropping of certain elements in particular types of contexts. The ellipsis are of two types:1) one in which the context provides clear evidence, 2) one in which the context indicates no sign of missing elements and often creates more impact, e.g. If you do that, I’ll…It can be found easily in gnomic expressions, e.g. first come first served, and anomalous constructions. In conversation there maybe extreme truncation. in some languages like Chinese, truncation maybe a standard feature of some types of expressions in certain contexts.
Intrusion is a process to insert phrases and even sentences into a sentence structure so as to clarify or add more data. In conversation, one speaker may intrude into the statement of someone else. Exclamatives, e.g. oh God, and Damn it, within in a sentence are also intrusions.
Extraposition is the major feature of “topic-comment” structures, in which one or more elements in a sentence may be put in a first position as the topic of the following comment, e.g. John, I know him.
Formal features marking syntactic units
The formal features marking the relations between and the borders of syntactic units are order, agreement and intonation.
Order is important to mark layers of syntactic relations because sometimes syntagmatically related words must be in some order and the closely related words or groups of words tend to be juxtaposed.
Agreement is a process to mark relations by employing forms having the same syntactic categories, e.g. he come (sharing the categories of third person and singularity)
Intonation is an important feature of syntactic marking. The kinds of “pause pitches” within a sentence are crucial to mark relations between words and group of words.