|
|
Syntagmatic Relations

Before we discuss what syntagmatic relation is, let's first have a look at semiotics, saussure, and syntagms.

Mockup Schule

Explore our app and discover over 50 million learning materials for free.

Syntagmatic Relations

Illustration

Lerne mit deinen Freunden und bleibe auf dem richtigen Kurs mit deinen persönlichen Lernstatistiken

Jetzt kostenlos anmelden

Nie wieder prokastinieren mit unseren Lernerinnerungen.

Jetzt kostenlos anmelden
Illustration

Before we discuss what syntagmatic relation is, let's first have a look at semiotics, saussure, and syntagms.

Semiotics, saussure, and syntagms

The term 'syntagmatic' is closely related to the field of semiotics. Semiotics is the study of how meanings are produced by signs.

Road signs are a good example. You can understand the meaning of the signs even though there aren't any words to explain what they mean. Look at the two road signs below. You know that the left one means 'no u-turns' and the right one means 'slippery road'.

Syntagmatic Relations, The No u-turns sign, StudySmarterFig. 1 - No u-turns.Syntagmatic Relations, slippery road sign, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Slippery road.

Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) argued that:

  • Words in a sentence are meaningfully related to each other. Saussure called this relationship syntagmatic, and the combinations of two or more words that create the chain of words he called syntagms.

When a single word or element of the chain is altered, the overall meaning is also changed. This chain concept is the basis of syntagmatic relations.

What is a syntagmatic relation?

Syntagmatic relation defines the relationship between words that co-occur in the same sentence. It focuses on two main parts: how the position and the word order affect the meaning of a sentence. Let's look at an example:

Syntagmatic relations

Paul is roasting a chicken

The syntagmatic relation in this sentence explains:

  • The word position and order: Paul + is roasting + a chicken
  • The relationship between words gives a particular meaning to the sentence:
    • It is a chicken that Paul is roasting, not something else.
    • It is Paul who is roasting a chicken, not someone else.

Thus, the syntagmatic relation refers to a word's ability to combine with other words, and the syntagmatic dimension (syntagm) always refers to the horizontal axis or linear aspect of a sentence.

The syntagmatic relation can also explain why specific words are often paired together (collocations), such as have + a party in 'We had a party on Saturday'. If you hear someone say, 'We made a party on Saturday', you'll probably cringe because make + a party doesn't sound right.

The opposite of syntagmatic relation is paradigmatic relation. Paradigmatic relation refers to the relationship between words that can be substituted within the same word class (on the vertical axis).

Study tip: Syntagmatic relation is about word order and position. The meaning of syntagmatic is similar to syntax (the arrangement of words and phrases in a sentence).

Syntagmatic relations examples

Some examples of syntagmatic relations are shown in the table below:

Syntagmatic relations
Subject verb Object
DeterminerAdjective NounNoun
Thebeautifulwomanbuyssome brioche
handsomemansoldsome cake
tallboyis eating

a hotdog

From these sentences, the syntagmatic relations are all the relationships between words within the same sentence. That means there is a syntagmatic relation in:

  • The beautiful woman + buys + some brioche (sentence level).
  • The + beautiful + woman (phrase level).
  • The handsome man + sold + some cake; and the + handsome + man.
  • The tall boy + is eating + a hotdog; and the + tall + boy.

Additionally, in all three sentences above, each grammatical function (ie, subject, verb, and object) is at the same level. But in some cases, if you change the order of the sentence structure, it can change the meaning completely. For example:

  1. The tall boy is eating a hotdog.
  2. A hotdog is eating the tall boy.

The two sentences use the same words (syntagms) but differ in order (syntagmatic relationship), which changes the meaning of the sentence.

Types of syntagmatic relations

Because syntagmatic relations have to do with the relationship between words, the syntagms can result in collocations and idioms.

Collocations

Collocations are word combinations that frequently occur together.

1. There are three interesting facts about collocations:

  • There isn't a specific rule for the way words go together (why A is commonly paired with B). It is based on what the speakers of a language commonly combine, and eventually, what sounds natural. That's why when you read, 'a handsome girl' instead of 'a pretty girl' it feels odd.

2. Word substitution is possible

  • Sticking with the example of handsome girl, technically, it isn't wrong to say handsome girl because handsome means 'good-looking' (Oxford Learner's Dictionary) which is gender-neutral. Therefore, you can say handsome girl, but it just doesn't sound natural.

3. The collocation's meaning can be traced back to the meaning of each component

  • For instance, catch a cold means 'getting a cold' and office hours means 'the hour someone dedicates to work'. The definition of each component forms the meaning of a collocation.

Here are some examples of collocations:

Verb + noun: do homework, take a risk, catch a cold.

Noun + noun: office hours, interest group, kitchen cabinet.

Adjective + adverb: good enough, close together, crystal clear.

Verb + preposition: protect from, angry at, take advantage of.

Adverb + verb: strongly suggest, deeply sorry, highly successful.

Adjective + noun: handsome man, quick shower, fast food.

Idioms

Idioms are expressions that have a meaning other than their literal one.

Idioms are distinct from collocations:

1. The word combination is not interchangeable (fixed expressions).

  • You can't substitute the words in idioms, even with their synonyms. For instance, in 'kill two birds with one stone' the stone is substituted with rock and becomes 'kill two birds with one rock'. This version of the idiom simply doesn't exist, even though the overall meaning and construction of the sentence remains unchanged.

2. The meaning of each component is not equal to the meaning of the idiom

  • It is difficult to find the meaning of an idiom based on the definition of the words alone. For example, red herring. If you define the idiom word by word, it means 'red fish', not 'something that misleads', which is the real meaning.
  • Because of this, idioms can't be translated to or from another language because the word definition isn't equivalent to the idiom interpretation.

Here are some examples of popular idioms:

Break a leg.

Miss the boat.

Call it a day.

It's raining cats and dogs.

Kill two birds with one stone.

Syntagmatic and paradigmatic relations examples in grammar

Paradigmatic relation describes the relationship between words that can be substituted for words with the same word class (eg replacing a noun with another noun). A paradigm in this sense refers to the vertical axis of word selection. This explains why paradigmatic relation is the opposite of syntagmatic relation.

Now that we have covered the paradigmatic and syntagmatic relations, we can say that:

  • Paradigmatic relation describes a substitution relationship between words of the same word class. The substitution occurs on the vertical axis.
  • Syntagmatic relation illustrates the linear relationship / position between the words in a sentence. The syntagmatic relation occurs on the horizontal axis.

Paradigmatic

relations

Syntagmatic relations
SubjectverbObject
DeterminerAdjectiveNounNoun
Thebeautifulwomanbuyssome brioche
Theunattractiveladybuyssome bread
Thathandsomemanatesome chicken

Paradigmatic relation:

Let's take 'The beautiful woman buys some brioche'.

  • The beautiful woman can choose to buy: some bread or chicken instead of brioche.
  • Brioche, bread, and chicken are parts of a paradigm of food that the beautiful woman can buy.
  • All the items in the paradigm share some kind of function (in this example: the object of the sentence) and this paradigm represents the category they belong to (in this example: food).
  • Some words from the sentence can also be substituted vertically: 'An unattractive (antonym) lady (synonymy) buys some bread (hyponymy)'.

Syntagmatic relation:

Let's take 'That handsome man ate some chicken'.

  • The combination of 'that handsome man + ate + some chicken' forms a syntagmatic relationship.
  • If the word position is changed, it also changes the meaning of the sentence, eg 'Some chicken ate the handsome man'.
  • Furthermore, the linear relationship also occurs at phrase-level: it is 'handsome + man', not 'handsome + woman' (collocation).

Syntagmatic Relations - Key takeaways

  • Syntagmatic relation illustrates the relationship between words that co-occur in the same sentence. It occurs on the horizontal axis.
  • Syntagmatic relation explains the concept of collocations and idioms.
  • Collocations are words that frequently occur together. The word pairings in collocations are not fixed, but changing the word pairing will make the combination sound unnatural, eg handsome man vs. handsome girl.
  • Idioms are fixed expressions that possess a meaning other than their literal one. The words in idioms can't be substituted, eg miss the boat becomes miss the ship, which is not an idiom.
  • Paradigmatic relation illustrates the relationship between words that can be substituted within the same grammatical position.

Frequently Asked Questions about Syntagmatic Relations

Syntagmatic relation illustrates the relationship between words that co-occur in the same sentence. It occurs on the horizontal axis.

 The combination of each word in 'Paul is roasting a chicken' forms a syntagmatic relationship. This sentence means (1) It is a chicken that Paul is roasting, not something else, and (2) It is Paul who is roasting the chicken, not someone else.

The types of syntagmatic relations are collocations and idioms.

Paradigmatic relation is about word substitution which occurs on the vertical axis. Syntagmatic relation is about word position and a relationship between words which occurs on the horizontal axis.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

Which of the following best describes what an idiom is?

Which of the following is an example of an idiom?

Which of the following is an example of an idiom?

Next
More about Syntagmatic Relations

Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

  • Flashcards & Quizzes
  • AI Study Assistant
  • Study Planner
  • Mock-Exams
  • Smart Note-Taking
Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

Entdecke Lernmaterial in der StudySmarter-App

Google Popup

Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

  • Flashcards & Quizzes
  • AI Study Assistant
  • Study Planner
  • Mock-Exams
  • Smart Note-Taking
Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App