An Examination of the State of the English Sentence in Conformity to Societal Standard
Information communication technology continues to play an ever increasing role in information dissemination. In this regard, this study seeks to examine the state of the English sentence as regards conformity to standard in a society where emphasis is concentrated on performance alone as against a merger with linguistic competence. The idea of strict recourse to syntactic rules on sentence constructions mainly advocated by traditional grammarians is gradually waning as language users arbitrarily perceive and use language as a framework with rules that can be easily breached. To this end, the study will unravel the current status of the sentence in a society where linguistic capability is affected and shaped by technological influences.
Poutsman (35) states that ‘the sentence is mostly regarded as the highest unit in the hierarchy of levels in syntax’. It is the basic unit of language that expresses a complete thought by conforming to the rules of syntax. It basically implies a set of linguistic units consisting of one or more words that are grammatically linked. This linkage is made possible by the rule of concord. Wikipedia defines the sentence as ‘a set of words that in principle expresses a complete thought; thus it may be a phrase but it conveys enough meaning to imply a clause even if it not explicit’ (npn). According to Andersen, a sentence is a complete set of words that conveys meaning either as command, statement, exclamation or question’ (1). Typically, a sentence contains a subject and a predicate. The subject is the aspect of the sentence that performs the action. Quirk asserts that the subject is the part of the sentence that changes its position as we go from statement to question (11).
Example: He gave the girl an apple. (Statement)
Had he given the girl an apple? (Question)
And the predicate is the part of a sentence that includes the verb and the verb phrase.
Example: He gave the girl an apple. (Predication)
The building block of the sentence is the clause. The clause is the smallest grammatical unit next to the sentence and having a finite verb. A sentence is composed of one or more clauses which could either be a main clause or an independent clause. A main clause also known as an independent clause is a clause that expresses a complete thought and can stand on its own.
Example: I saw the dog last night. (Main clause)
The subordinate or dependent clause expresses an incomplete thought and cannot stand on its own. Rather it is usually joined with a main clause.
Example: before it began to rain. (Subordinate clause)
The subordinate clause can be spotted if the preceding subordinating conjunction is identified. Few examples of the subordinating conjunctions are: after, when, before, although, though, because and since.
Example: I usually buy popcorn when I go shopping.
Poutsman classifies the sentence into three broad groups which are: structure, function and form. In terms of structure the sentence can be categorized into four basic types (simple, complex, compound, and compound-complex). According to Huddlestone (30) opines that the classification of sentence according to structure is ‘hinged on the relationship between the main clause(s) and the subordinate clause(s)’. Consequently, the various sentence types in terms of structure shall be discussed.
Simple Sentence: It is the most basic type of sentence structure containing a single independent clause that expresses a single thought. It is used to make or declare a statement or give concise instructions or directions. A simple sentence is also used to display a simple list or ask a question.
Examples: The proof corroborates the evidence. (Statement)
She bought the car last week. (statement)
The evidence comes from journals, dailies and news reports. (listing)
I bought a shoe, a cap and belt. (listing)
What is the preoccupation of the writer in the story (question)
Give her the pots. (instruction)
Compound Sentence: This sentence type contains or has two or more independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction. The coordinating conjunctions are ‘but’, ‘for’, ‘or’, ‘yet’ and ‘and’. The compound sentence is sometimes referred to as the multiple sentence.
Examples: Tina loves to read and to write.
He is a kind person but he has intense personal issues.
Complex Sentence: This contains one main clause and one or more dependent clauses linked by subordinating conjunctions. The complex sentence is used to compare and contrast ideas and to convey cause-effect or chain of events.
Examples: The researchers restructured their hypothesis because they could not come to a conclusion.
Although he comes from a humble background, he is the best student.
Compound-Complex Sentence: This is a combination of the compound and complex sentence types. It has one or more main clauses and one or more independent clauses. It is used to combine similar ideas, compare or contrast ideas or to elaborate on a claim or extend reasoning.
Examples: I try to eat healthy foods but because fast food is so convenient, I cannot maintain a healthy diet.
Since mobile phones distract students and lecturers, they should not be used during lectures and encourage the faculty to forbid their use.
Based on function, the sentence can be divided into four types. These functions are: declarative, imperative, interrogative and exclamatory.
Declarative Sentence: Also referred to as a statement, it states an idea or presents information. It is not used to give a command or request nor is it used to ask a question.
Example: Football is the best sport.
She is a troublesome lady.
Imperative Sentence: This is used to make request, give an order or to command someone to perform a task. The imperative sentence barely states the subject which is often assumed to be ‘you’.
Example: Do not talk while eating.
Please close the door behind you.
Interrogative Sentence: This is often referred to as a question. Interrogative sentences are direct questions used to seek information, confirmation or denial of a statement. It typically begins with ‘Wh’ words such as ‘what’. ‘who’, ‘when’, ‘why’ and ‘how’. However, the structure can change to allow a verb at the initial position.
Example: Who can prepare this cuisine?
Did you put off the television before leaving the house?
Exclamatory Sentence: This is used to express shock, surprise or strong feeling and is often spoken with the same strong emotion or intensity. Verbless constructions are common features of exclamatory sentences and they usually end with an exclamation mark.
Example: what a nice game!!!
I love football!!!
Lastly, according to Onochie (21) ‘the sentence can be classified into three types according to form which are the periodic, loose and balance sentences’.
Periodic Sentence: This is a form of sentence that starts with the subordinate clause or the less important part of the information and ends with main clause.
Example: When he arrived from his overseas study, he quickly erected a bungalow in his hometown.
Loose sentence: This is the opposite of the periodic sentence. For loose sentences, the main clause begins the sentence which is then followed by the dependent clause which provides additional information.
Example: The principal investigated the case before it got to the education board.
Balance sentence: This is a sentence in which the second clause is considered a repetition of the first clause. In other words, the sentence has parallel structures of approximately the same length and importance.
Examples: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. (A Tale of Two Cities)
He came, he saw, he conquered.
This is a framework for the description of the structure of a language founded and based on the Aristotelian orientation toward the nature of language as exemplified in the work of the ancient Greeks and Romans. While contemporary grammar models seek to explain the nature of language knowledge and ability, traditional grammar seeks to describe how a particular language should be used, thus making it a prescriptive approach to language.
According to LaPalombara, a traditional grammarian, a sentence is ‘a group of words containing a subject plus a predicate and expressing a complete thought’ (76). The subject is the thing being talked about and usually occurs at the beginning of the sentence while the predicate comprises the rest or all other parts of the sentence. Traditional grammar also holds that the sentence is a group of words starting with a capital letter and ending with a full stop. Traditional grammar stresses that sentences must be properly punctuated and every sentence must end with a full stop. This grammar model also posits that adjuncts cannot begin the sentence. However, the trend has changed as a result of new trends in grammar which allow for sentences to begin with adjuncts. In this regard, Quirk et al admits the mobile nature of adjuncts in sentence constructions by identifying four positions which are the initial position, medial position (M1, M2) and the final position (208).
For this study, conformity to the presupposition of traditional grammar on sentence constructions will be the focus using data sourced from the internet. It is undeniable that advancements in information technology have made the world a global village, thus making communication faster and better. However, these advancements have negatively impacted on the linguistic and communicative competence of individuals resulting in frequent breaches of grammatical theories (old & new). In this regard, the analysis of the data shall focus on two specifics: mechanical and grammatical accuracy and concord.
Data Presentation (1): Culled from Facebook
“Buhari signs currency swap with china, what this means is that you don’t need to convert Naira to dollars before converting the dollars to yuan for tradings in china, you can just convert Naira straight to yuan and do your imports from china, this means trading at cheaper rate, hence prices of commodities will have to reduce. I expect prices of techno phones and other imports from china to beat down soon, this will reduce the over-dependence on dollars which current exchange rate is high. It is noteworthy to note that 1 yuan= 30 Naira.”
Firstly, the data has a plethora of wrong use of punctuation marks, in this case, the comma. Syntax rule according to traditional grammar and new grammar trends emphasize that a sentence should end with a full stop. In this regard, the author does not or fails to adhere to this grammatical rule which only muddles up the entire communication process. Also, the post is not properly indented to show it is a paragraph as it is very synonymous with frequent post on various social media platforms. A good write is to be properly indented but this rule is often breached, perhaps as a result of haste to communicate or the context which is always unofficial as it is not bound by rules.
Another error that blights the post is the failure of the writer to properly capitalize certain proper nouns like ‘yuan’, ‘china’, ‘naira’ and ‘dollars’. Since they are the points of emphasis in the write-up, they should be properly written at certain instances in order to constantly serve as the focal points.
Furthermore, the sentence constructions depict a low or average linguistic competence of the author like the wrong use of the prepositional-verb ‘beat down’ in the sentence. There are breaches of the law of concord, tense and improper linking of sentences. However, the use of the word ‘what’ to begin a construction does not violate new grammar models unlike traditional grammar which does not accept it.
Data Presentation (2): Culled from Nairaland
“I need your opinion on this, how much is really ideal to give one’s wife as monthly pocket money?.
Here is my story, i recently got married and also moved to a new 3 bedroom apartment around gbagada. I earn a pretty decent income while my wife also works in a bank which she earn 150k. Now the issue is my wife insists that I must give monthly pocket money and I said 20k, an amount I feel is more than adequate for her since she gets salary. And I also get to buy her random stuff during the month or give her money to buy anything she ask for if I feel is a reasonable demand.
I need your take on this people, considering all i have mentioned above, is 20k really too small to be giving her monthly?”
The first and last constructions are sentence fragments because they do not express a complete thought. The expression ‘…opinion on this’ does not express a full meaning since it is supposed to be a sentence. Also, the construction negates the rule of proper punctuation in writing like the use of a full stop should not appear after a question mark.
Similarly, certain words are not properly written like ‘I’ which should always be written in the block form irrespective of the position it occurs in a sentence. A proper noun like ‘gbagada’ should be properly written as ‘Gbagada’ since it is the name of a place. It is also common to find grammatical errors (concord) on social media writings like the use of ‘which’ instead of ‘where’, ‘ask’ for ‘asks’, ‘earn’ for ‘earns’ and ‘give monthly’ in the data.
The irregular use of ‘and’ to begin sentences shows the inability to properly use adjuncts. Although it is acceptable in newer grammar models, the ability to vary and use different linking words makes writing coherent. In the nutshell, the entire data is not coherent enough but only succeeds in communicating the intentions of the writer.
Although the world has become a better place to live owing to rapid advancements and breakthroughs in science and technology, the negative effects exist persist as well. For instance, social media platforms have dangerously lowered the academic and linguistic competence of many arising from their addiction to the internet. This study reveals and exposes the negative indices associated with obsession for the internet. Many now find it almost difficult to write a good composition that does not breach mechanical and grammatical accuracy, a situation that calls for urgent concern. More worrisome is the fact that many now hide under the guise of social media platforms to write badly. This has eroded the preference for excellent writing skills due to emphasis on communication alone at the expense of sound linguistic competence. This ugly reality accounts for the frequent abysmal performances of students at all levels of education, a situation that worsens yearly.
Anderson, Sarah. “Sentence Types and Functions”. San Jose University Writing Centre.11 (2001): 41-52. Print
Huddleston R, Daniel. The Sentence in Written English: A Syntactic Study of Scientific Text. London: Cambridge Press, 1971. Print
Onochie O, Ernest. Aspects of Written Composition. Abuja: Peccand International, 2000. Print
Poutsman, Harry. “A Grammar of Modern English”. Essays on The English Language. 22 (2009): 35-56. Print
Quirk, Randolph et al. A University Grammar of English. Essex: Pearson Education, 2000. Print
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