Branching (linguistics)

Branching (linguistics)

In linguistics, branching is the general tendency towards a given order of words within sentences and smaller grammatical units within sentences (such as subordinate propositions, prepositional phrases, etc.). Such ordering and nesting of phrases can be represented as a tree where branches can be divided into other minor branches, which may also branch in turn.

Languages typically construct phrases with a head (or nucleus) and zero or more dependents (modifiers). For example, in English a noun phrase can be constructed as follows:

*"noun" (e.g. "people")
*"article + noun" (e.g., "the man")
*"numeral + noun" (e.g., "ten geographers")
*"article + adjective + noun" (e.g., "the beautiful trees")
*"noun phrase" + 's + "noun" (e.g., "the woman's eyes")
*"article + noun + relative clause" (e.g., "the house that the crane demolished")

In a noun phrase, the head is the main noun, and the dependents are the article, the adjective, the numeral, the genitive ("-'s") noun and the relative clause.

There are also verb phrases, prepositional phrases, etc. In every case, the constituents are placed in a given order, which is more or less fixed according to the language in question. Also in some cases, the dependents can in turn be the heads of inner phrases (as in "the black cat's paws", "an awfully messy room", etc.).

Branching is typically ordered. In English, an article can usually only be added to a bare noun by placing it before the noun. An adjective can usually only be added to an article-noun phrase between the article and the noun, whereas a relative clause can only be added after the noun. The direct object of a sentence is usually found after the verb, while the subject comes before the verb.

The rules exemplified above constitute the branching tendency of the language, which can be predominantly left-branching or right-branching.

Left-branching languages, such as Turkish, Japanese, Tamil, and Basque tend to place dependents before heads. Adjectives precede nouns, direct objects come before verbs, and there are postpositions. In less formal terminology, this ordering is called head-last.

An example from Basque:

* [1] Hillary Clinton [2] izan da, [3] inkestek [4] aurreikusten zutenaren [5] kontra, [6] New Hampshireko (AEB) [7] primarioetan [8] boto-emaile [9] demokrata [10] gehien [11] bereganatu duen [12] hautagaia. []

* [1] Hillary Clinton [2] was [12] the candidate who [11] got [10] the most [9] Democratic [8] voters [7] in the primaries [6] of New Hampshire (USA), [5] contrary [4] to what was forecast in the [3] polls.

Right-branching languages, such as Spanish, Arabic and Khmer, tend to place dependents after heads. Adjectives follow nouns, direct objects follow verbs, and adpositions are prepositional. This is also known as head-first order.

For most languages, the main branching tendency is just a tendency and it often shows exceptions. Spanish, for example, while overwhelmingly right-branching, puts numerals before nouns and, in certain cases, objects before verbs. Languages like English and German, though regarded as right-branching because verbs precede direct objects and there are prepositions, place adjectives and numerals before their nouns. Japanese and most other languages of northeastern Asia and the Indian subcontinent, on the other hand, are practically a model for rigidly left-branching languages. The Mon-Khmer and Austronesian languages of southeast Asia and many African languages come close to rigidly right-branching, with numerals as well as adjectives following their nouns and degree words like "very", "too", "extremely", "quite" following the adjectives they modify.

ee also

* Adjunct (grammar)
* Specifier
* Complement (linguistics)
* X-bar theory
* Word order


* Haspelmath, Martin; Dryer, Matthew S.; Gil, David and Comrie, Bernard (eds.) "The World Atlas of Language Structures"; pp . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-19-925591-1
* Comrie, Bernard; "Language universals and linguistic typology : syntax and morphology" (2nd edition): published 1989 by Basil Blackwell, Oxford, England. ISBN 0631129715

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