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Eckhard Bick


PORTUGUESE SYNTAX



10. Utterance function

So far, we have defined function relative to a constituent's head, with clause level constituents "functionalized" by the clause's main verb. Subclauses are themselves constituents and can be assigned a function tag by the same principles. But what about clauses, groups or words that are not constituents, because they themselves constitute the highest level of analysis?

The top node in a syntactic tree, the sentence, derives its function from context and human interpretation, i.e. from outside the realm of syntax proper. The string of words making up the sentence becomes an utterance (UTT) , which will be our dummy function tag for the syntactic top node.

To a certain degree, key words (interrogatives), mode (subjunctive, imperative) and punctuation (., ? or !) can give a more specific indication of top level function. Thus, with regard to the 4 functions to be distinguished here, full stops indicate statements (STA), question marks indicate questions (QUE), and exclamation marks indicate exclamations (EXC) or commands (COM):

  1. Não ajuda. - (STA:fcl)
  2. Quem te ajudou? - (QUE:fcl)
  3. Puxa! - (EXC:v-fin)
  4. Cala a boca! - (COM:fcl)
However, this is not a safe rule. Consider:
  1. Ela é a maior fofoqueira da cidade, sabe? - STA (QUE?)
  2. Pode entrar. - COM (STA?)
  3. Pensei, se não fosse inoportuno, em você me acompanhar ... - QUE (STA?)
  4. Ah, mas que coisa linda, quem imaginava! - EXC (QUE?)
In (a), a statement and a "tag"-question have been fused, with the tag - sabe? - taking over in terms of punctuation, in spite of the over-all statement function. In (b), a command is camouflaged - for reasons of politeness - as a statement. In (c), the question content of the utterance is only implied - again for pragmatic reasons (politeness) -, by the subjunctive conditional subclause, and therefore, the surface mark of question punctuation is missing. In (d), though supported by an exclamation mark, the exclamation reading is not global, since two interrogatives (que and quem are present, one of them subject of the utterance's only predicator.

In short, assigning utterance function is possible only from a global, contextualized, semantic-pragmatic perspective, not syntactically from within the sentence window.

symbol category examples
UTT STA
QUE
COM
EXC
utterance
enunciado
ytring
Não faz nada. [statement]
Já vais embora? [question]
Espera! [command]
Pobre de mim! [exclamation]
STA statement
enunciado declarativo
udsagn
A terra é redonda.
Gosta muito de elefantes.
Sua vez.
Às sete.
Obrigado.
QUE question
enunciado interrogativo
spørgsmål
Quem quer uma cerveja?
Já ligou para o ministério?
Quando?
COM command
enunciado imperativo
ordre
Pára com isso!
Venha pra cá!
Fora!
EXC exclamation
enunciado exclamativo
udråb
Deus!
Que beleza!
Quanta gente!

 


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