Unit 5: Function Labels: 5.6 Slots and Filters

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A useful way to look at clause structure is in terms of slots and fillers. We can envisage a clause as a string of empty slots waiting to be filled by appropriate phrases:


[
S

(     )
P

(     )
O

(     )
C

(     )
A

(     )

]

Some slots can have more than one type of filler. In (1) above, for example, the A slot was filled by a PP, while in (3) it was filled by AvP.

5.6.1. Subject and object

The S and O slots are generally filled by NP's. The simplest kind of clause contains only S and P.


6a.

Cl [
S

NP
H
(He)
pn
P

VP
H
(hiccoughed)
V

]

Such a clause might also contain an A:


6b.

Cl [
S

NP
H
(He)
pn
P

VP
H
(hiccoughed)
V
A

AvP
H
(loudly)
Av

]

or, more dramatically, with marked fronting,


6c.

Cl [
A

AvP
H
(loudly)
Av
S

NP
H
(He)
pn
P

VP
H
(hiccoughed)
V

]

5.6.1.1. Transitive and Intransitive

The verb to hiccup (or hiccough) does not normally take O. It is therefore classified as an INTRANSITIVE (intr) verb. The verb to kick, on the other hand, normally has O, as in (7) below. It is a TRANSITIVE (tr) verb.


7.

Cl [
S

NP
H
(She)
pn
P

VP
H
(kicked)
V
O

NP
M
(the
d
H
referee)
N

]

The word TRANSITIVE comes from Latin. It contains three morphemes:

TRANS
prefix

IT
root

IVE
suffix

The root is from the Latin word ire meaning "to go". The prefix TRANS- means "across, beyond" and occurs in many English words, e.g. TRANSport, TRANSaction. -IVE is a common adjective suffix. (See 4.3.1.) IN-TRANS-IT-IVE contains an extra morpheme, the negative prefix IN-. A transitive verb could thus be described as one where the meaning "goes across" from S to O via P.

This etymology indicates the semantic role of S and O. S is typically the AGENT in the clause, i.e. it refers to the person, thing etc which performs the action denoted by the P. O is typically the PATIENT , i.e. the person, thing etc affected by the action.

Many English verbs can occur in both transitive and intransitive patterns.


8a.

Cl [
S

NP
H
(He)
pn
P

VP
H
(spoke)
V
A

PP
M
(in
pr
H
Turkish)
N

]

INTRANSITIVE V

8b.

Cl [
S

NP
H
(She)
pn
P

VP
H
(speaks)
V
O

NP
M
(fluent
Aj
H
Swahili)
N

]

TRANSITIVE V

Some verbs are REFLEXIVE verbs, where S and O have the same referent:


9.

Cl [
S

NP
H
(I)
pn
P

VP
M
(could
a
M
have
a
H
kicked)
V
O

NP
H
(myself)
pn

]

REFLEXIVE V

Myself is a REFLEXIVE PRONOUN. Verb categories such as transitive, intransitive and reflexive are often given in dictionaries.

Think about the labels for this sentence:

8c. [ (She) (loves) (comic books) ]

5.6.1.2. Indirect object

Some clauses have no O, many have one; a few have two. When this happens, we must distinguish between the two as the DIRECT OBJECT (Od) and the INDIRECT OBJECT (Oi).


10a.

Cl [
S

NP
H
(He)
pn
P

VP
H
(told)
V
O

NP
M
(a
d
H
story)
N

]

10b.

Cl [
S

NP
H
(He)
pn
P

VP
H
(told)
V
Oi

NP
H
(me)
pn
Od

NP
M
(a
d
H
story)
N

]

It is a rule of English word order that Oi precedes Od. In order to distinguish Od and Oi, we can also apply a TRANSFORMATION test, where we TRANSFORM the clause into an alternative but equally acceptable structure with the same meaning. Oi can be transformed into a PP introduced by the prepositions to or for. Compare:

S

NP

(She)
P

VP

(baked)
Oi

NP

(me)
Od

NP

(a

cake)
S

NP

(She)
P

VP

(baked)
O

NP

(a

cake)
A

PP

(for

me)

If you know a language which uses case, you might like to note that Od would be in the accusative case while Oi is usually in the dative case.