Sumerian history

From phrase to sentence

Homosapient language – the advent of the sentence.

A phrase is largely possible thanks to a new property of a word that appeared in Neandertal language – nodes. A node is the ability of a word to combine with other words in a predefined manner to code a new object. In English, the situation with nodes is weird (read this), but there are some examples: in the word ‘my’, not only its meaning is built in (it means “I”, the narrator), but also the intrinsic ability to combine with some other word and “privatize” the object that it means. Words with nodes not only can, but strongly demand a word by their side: if a node is unused, then the phrase sounds incomplete. My what? Has to be something that is mine…

*In English, few words have their own nodes. Nodes are mostly imposed by the sentence and its structure, as well as prepositions. But in other languages (check most European languages), nouns, adjectives, verbs etc carry their own nodes.

So what happened then? People developed their languages, learned to build very complex phrases. Such as:

– the process of acquiring wild game for food (an object is the entire scene; can be replaced with a single word ‘hunt’)
– a pink shroud in front of a guy’s eyes along with the increased pulse caused by the approach of a hot female (the object is a complex combo of internal experiences; still, a SINGLE object, can be replaced with a single word – ‘attraction’)
– playing chess and cards at the same time while sitting on my floor at 3 0’clock (a complex scene)

What to notice? First: in all of those phrases not only words can be subordinate to others, but entire subphrases. In the last phrase, “chess and cards” is a phrase by itself, but it’s subordinate to “playing”. Second: words are not just chaotically combined, but in a complex chain.

The friendship of the grey wolf
The friendship of whom? The wolf of what kind? Grey
(All words are combined, but notice that “grey” does not respond to “the friendship” directly)

The power of word subordination has grown, expanded. More and more complex phrases became possible. Before they reached the apogee – the supreme form of word grouping, such that it cannot be governed by any other word or phrase. That’s what we call a sentence. Examples:

Blue porcupine was walking across the street of Mordor under acid rain.
I so much like the feeling of the victory at the World Cup.

Sentence subordination

Keep in mind that each sentence is still ONE object that can be replaced with a single word. Another question is that there is no idiot who would invent words for such specific sentences (although the porcupine one is super-useless – I would’ve invented a word for this one definitely!).

Compound sentences

A compound sentence is the occurrence when two sentences share a common subobject. None of them is governed by the other – they exist parallel. Look:

I love someone whom he hates.

Compound sentence

Compound sentence phenomenon is very similar to the occurrence of endophora, or context reference. Look:

I love my friend’s red scarf. Three weeks ago there was a sale on the market. That’s when he got that scarf so cheap.

“That’s when”, “he” and “that” are endophoric referents, i.e., they are referring to the information mentioned in the previous sentence. Unabridged, the last sentence will be like this:

During the sale on the market my friend got his red scarf so cheap.

When referents are used, however, the sentence cannot be fully understood without the previous two. Thus, it is sort-of dependent on the context. Without context, it still paints the image in reader’s brain, but not the one intended. Referents will be filled in with the reader’s own experience: he/she would imagine some random man buying some scarf. Sentences with referents can be substituted with compound sentences. E.g.:

Cane came to me. He was drunk.  =>   Cane, who was drunk, came to me.

Some time soon, there’ll be a separate article about endophora. But for now, that’s enough.

Q: So, can a sentence be subordinate or not?
The example of true sentence subordination are perhaps academic text templates, such as:

There are both advantages and disadvantages in such approach.
On one hand, …
On the other hand, …
To sum up, …

Now the entire text means a single complete object and cannot be meaningful if some sentences are cut out – the structure will be broken. The first sentence introduces the structure, the nodes that must be filled. Whenever we say “on one hand”, “on the other hand” is expected. Similar to when we say a preposition, there must be a word that it relates to.
In academic texts and essays, sentences are slaves to the structure.

What’s the moral? Well, perhaps that in natural languages, everything’s not that simple. Even the neatest model might have exceptions – there’s always room for delicacies for thought.


Further reads

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