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Master of Syntax: English Sentence Structure

Posted in English Language by Brady on 12 Apr 2017

Learning a language involves thinking in a different way, not just learning to memorize vocabulary and grammar rules. It really requires you to unlearn what you have learned, to go back to the beginning, and to learn new patterns, new ways of thought. Some languages like to put all of the information at the beginning, some like to put it all at the end, and some just mix it all together. Knowledge is power, and it’s important for you to know exactly how the speakers of English think, how they organize the world into these three letters S, V, and O.

TRANSCRIPT: "My name’s Brady and I’m a teacher here at SOLEX in Chicago. And I’m here with my friend, the Master of Syntax, and talk about syntax, we will. Every language in the world has a certain order of words -a certain way that you think when you speak. And English’s is SVO. Other languages in the world go SOV or VSO. What does this mean? Well, it’s one of the hardest things about learning language. For me at least, when I study other languages.

S refers to Subject, V verb, and O object. What makes this so hard for learning other languages is that Subject-Verb- Object is the way that we just think in English. It’s the way that we produce our thoughts. It’s the way that we organize the world. SVO is as natural as breathing to a native English speaker. But to somebody else, a speaker of Korean, a speaker of Japanese, a speaker of Indian languages, the natural language order is SOV. And in fact, the majority of the world uses the SOV structure. So it’s only strange from a certain point of view.

Consider a simple sentence like “I eat pizza.” You have your subject, the person doing the action, you have the action itself, and then you have the object, the thing or person receiving the action. Now, changing this to an SOV language might not seem so hard, and it isn’t: I pizza eat. Not too bad. But this can become much more complicated and make things difficult for an English speaker learning a different language.

So, if you’re learning English coming from another language and your native language has an SOV or an OSV structure, it may be very difficult for you to learn to think in SVO.

I lived in South Korea for 6 years. When I was learning Korean, the basics were easy like this, but it quickly got more difficult. Let’s take an example here like the “I eat pizza” sentence, which of course, in Korean, would be “I pizza eat…” Let’s make it longer and more complicated. Let’s say “I eat a large pizza with extra cheese.” We still have our subject, our verb, and our object, but notice all the extra information. This can make it difficult because Korean likes to take its verbs and put them at the very end of the sentence. So, all of this extra information here must go somewhere in the middle. This can create a lot of problems for me, the SVO speaker. What you have in Korean ends up being something like this: "I an extra-cheese- having large pizza eat."

This makes it very difficult to translate your thoughts into a foreign language. Let’s make it even more complicated. Let’s try something like “I eat the large pizza with extra cheese that was in the oven for 20 minutes.” Something this long is fairly common in English, in Korean, in whatever language you’re trying to speak, but it can be extremely difficult. So, how would that sound in Korean? This sentence would become “I the 20-minute- during-oven- existing, extra-cheese- having large pizza eat.”

Now you might be thinking, what does this have to do with learning English? Well, the thing is, if you speak a VSO or an SVO language, this is how English sounds to you. And so, language teachers don’t often fully realize that as well. Until you actually learn another language, it’s hard to teach another language. So my advice to you regarding syntax—our advice to you—is to be patient, to understand that learning a language involves thinking in a different way, not just learning to memorize vocabulary and grammar rules. It really requires you to unlearn what you have learned, to go back to the beginning, and to learn new patterns, new ways of thought. Some languages like to put all of the information at the beginning, some like to put it all at the end, and some just mix it all together. Knowledge is power, and it’s important for you to know exactly how the speakers of English think, how they organize the world into these three letters S, V, and O. So be patient, work hard, and in time, with practice, it will come to you. Good luck, and may the force be with you."