Syntactic ambiguity of (complex) nominal groups in technical English

Keywords: Syntactic ambiguity, (Complex) nominal group, Technical English.

Abstract

Complex nominal groups are common in technical English (i.e. English for Specific Purposes, ESP) as they allow lexical items to be tightly packed into a clause. This leads to increased lexical density and syntactic ambiguity.

In this paper we analyze (complex) nominal groups in technical English, assuming that it is not only the context and extralinguistic knowledge (i.e. shared technical background that the ESP teacher does not necessarily possess) that help solve the syntactic ambiguity, but that the structure of the nominal group, or more precisely the position of modifiers within the group can help disambiguate the meaning. Thus, modifiers standing farthest from the head have the least specifying potential and are followed by those which restrict the meaning of the entire nominal group. In the example steam reciprocating engine (vs.*reciprocating steam engine) the participle reciprocating has a more specific meaning and is thus closer to the head of the nominal group.

The results show how the type of modification (linear or non-linear) can help disambiguate complex nominal groups. The main contribution of the paper is to help the ESP teacher, who is not a specialist in the field of (marine) engineering, process, understand and successfully teach complex nominal groups.

References

Allerton, D. J. (1979). Essentials of grammatical theory. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Biber, D., Stig J., Leech, G., Conrad S. & Finegan, E. (1999). Longman grammar of spoken and written English. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

Bloor, T. & Bloor, M. (2004). The Functional Analysis of English, 2nd ed. London: Edward Arnold.

Bollinger, D. (1967). Adjectives in English: Attribution and predication. Lingua, 18, 1–34.

Borucinsky, M. (2015). Modifikacija u imenskim skupinama u engleskome i hrvatskome jeziku. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb, Croatia.

Chomsky, N. (1965). Aspects of the theory of syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Fawcett, R. P. (2010). A Theory of Syntax for Systemic Functional Linguistics. Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 206. Amsterdam & Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Fawcett, R. P. (2017). What is a system? What is a function? Routledge Handbook of Systemic Functional linguistics. doi: 10.4324/9781315413891.ch3

Fletcher, W. H. (2011). Corpus Analysis of the World Wide Web. In C. A. Chapelle (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics. Wiley-Blackwell. Retrieved October 10, 2018 from http://www.encyclopediaofappliedlinguistics.com

Gleason, H. A. (1961). An introduction to descriptive linguistics, rev. ed. London: Holt Rinehart and Winson.

Halliday, M. A. K. & Matthiessen, C. M. I. M. (1999). Construing Experience through Meaning: A Language-Based Approach to Cognition. London & New York, NY: Cassel.

Halliday, M. A. K. & Matthiessen, C. M. I. M. (2004). An Introduction to Functional Grammar, 3rd ed. London: Edward Arnold.

Halliday, M. A. K. (1956). Grammatical categories in modern Chinese. Transactions of the Philological Society, 177–224.

Halliday, M. A. K. (1978). Language as Social Semiotic: The Social Interpretation of Language and Meaning. London: Edward Arnold.

Halliday, M. A. K. (1985). An Introduction to Functional Grammar, 1st ed. London: Edward Arnold.

Halliday, M. A. K. (1993). Some grammatical problems in scientific English. In M. A. K. Halliday & J. R. Martin (Eds.), Writing Science (pp. 69–85). London: The Falmer Press.

Halliday, M. A. K. (1994). An Introduction to Functional Grammar, 2nd ed. London: Edward Arnold.

Hudson, R. A. (1973). English complex sentences: An introduction to systemic grammar. London: North Holland Publishing Co.

Johns, A. M. & Dudley – Evans, T. (1991). English for Specific Purposes: International in Scope, Specific in Purpose. TESOL Quarterly, 25, 2. doi: 10.2307/3587465

Justeson, J. S. & Katz, S. M. (1995). Technical terminology: some linguistic properties and an algorithm for identifcation in text. Natural Language Engineering, 1, 9-27. doi:10.1017/S1351324900000048

Kereković, S. (2016). Višeznačnost u jeziku struke. In S. L. Udier & K. Cergol Kovačević (Eds.), Metodologija i primjena lingvističkih istraživanja (pp 219-236). Zagreb: Filozoski fakultet.

Kilgarriff, A. (2009). Simple maths for keywords. In M. Mahlberg, V. González-Díaz & C. Smith (Eds.), Proceedings of Corpus Linguistics Conference CL2009. University of Liverpool.

Kozerenko, E. (2004). A Hybrid Model for Language Structures Disambiguation in Machine Translation. Moscow: Institute for Informatics Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Retrieved March 12, 2018 from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/c6ee/ab8af0b1af6999228649503a970f01dd4e1c.pdf

Lyons, J. (1968). An introduction to theoretical linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Martin, J. R., Matthiessen, C. M. I. M. & Painter, C. (2010). Deploying functional grammar. Beijing: The Commercial Press.

Pastor Gómez, I. (2010). Nominal Modifiers in Noun Phrase Structure: Evidence from Contemporary English. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, University Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Payne, J. & Huddleston, R. (2002). Nouns and noun phrases. In R. Huddleston & G. Pullum (Eds.), The Cambridge Grammar of the English language (pp 323-524). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Quirk, R., Greenbaum, S., Leech, G. & Svartvik, J. (1985). A comprehensive grammar of the English language. London: Longman.

Sketch Engine User Guide. Retrieved 1 April, 2019 from https://www.sketchengine.eu/user-guide/user-manual/term-extraction/

Storjohann, P. (2005). Corpus-driven vs. corpus-based approach to the study of relational patterns. In Proceedings of the Corpus Linguistics Conference 2005. Birmingham: University of Birmingham. Retrieved April 5, 2019 from https://ids-pub.bsz-

bw.de/frontdoor/deliver/index/docId/5006/file/Storjohann_Corpus_driven_vs_corpus_based_approach_to_the_study_of_relational_patterns_2005.pdf

Tognini-Bonelli, E. (2001). Corpus Linguistics at Work. Amsterdam/Philadelphia, MA: Benjamins.

Varantola, K. (1993). Modification of nouns by nouns. Bad by definition? In A. H. Jucker (Ed.), The Noun Phrase in English. Its Structure and Variability (pp 69-83). Heidelberg.

Warren, B. (2003). The role of links and/or qualia in head-modifier construction. In B. Nerlich, Z. Todd & V. Herman (Eds.), Polysemy: Patterns of Meaning in Mind and Language (pp 233-252). Amsterdam and Philadelphia, MA: John Benjamins.

Wong, W. Y., Liu, W. & Bennamoun, M. (2009). Determination of Unithood and Termhood for Term Recognition. In M. Song, & Y. B. Wu (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Text and Web Mining Technologies (Vol. 2, pp. 500-529). USA: IGI Global. doi: 10.4018/978-1-59904-990-8.ch030

Zhoulin, R. (2016). A Corpus-Based Functional Analysis of Complex Nominal Groups in Written Business Discourse: The Case of “Business”. International Journal of Computer-Assisted Language Learning and Teaching, 6/ 2, 74-90.

Zovko Dinković, I. & Borucinsky, M. (2016). On determiners in Croatian from the perspective of Systemic Functional Grammar. Jezikoslovlje, 17/1-2, 7-22.

Web sources:

Marine Insight - https://www.marineinsight.com/

Sketch engine start guide - https://www.sketchengine.eu/quick-start-guide/

Struna - http://struna.ihjj.hr/

Published
30-12-2019
How to Cite
Borucinsky, M., & Kegalj, J. (2019). Syntactic ambiguity of (complex) nominal groups in technical English. International Journal of English Studies, 19(2), 83-102. https://doi.org/10.6018/ijes.352751
Section
Articles