I say “with help from” because really, this is just me studying for a linguistics test by shamelessly replacing the sentences in my textbook (Language Its Structure and Use by Edward Finnegan, sixth edition) with ones that refer to events on Firefly. Because I study best by applying the concepts to things I give a damn about. (I enjoy linguistics, but I don’t care about the runner from Butte winning a prize at the fair.) Also, I think it’s somewhat humorous to use Firefly, which is so grammatically… whimsical, let’s say, to discuss grammatical concepts.
This is not every concept, obviously, but here are some selections from chapters five and six of that textbook.
- Noun phrases are phrases that involve nouns, that could be substituted by other nouns like “it,” “they,” “he,” or “she.” They can be as involved as you want.
Ex. the captain with tight pants.
- Verb phrases are phrases that involve verbs, that could be substituted by other verb phrases.
Ex. punched the douchenozzle.
- A sentence’s subject “is defined as the NP that is immediately dominated by S.”
A sentence’s predicate modifies the subject.
A direct object “is defined as an NP that is immediately dominated by the VP.”
Ex. the gun.
An indirect object is, well, that.
Ex. a lackey.
An oblique “is the term for NPs that are not subject, object, or indirect object; in English, an oblique is realized as the object of a preposition.”
Ex. a rifle.
River (sub.) shot (predicate) the gun (direct object) at a lackey (indirect object) who held a rifle.
- Recursion is “the ability of a sentence to incorporate another sentence that in turn could incorporate still another one, and so on.” Use of complementizers.
Ex. The fluffy dress was in the window.
Mal bought Kaylee the fluffy dress.
Mal bought Kaylee the fluffy dress that was in the window.
- Structural ambiguity is when “the linear string [of words] has two possible internal organizations – and therefore two readings or interpretations.”
Ex. Jayne sexed [a whore at Nandi's.]
Jayne sexed [a whore] [at Nandi's.]
Jayne sexed one of the whores in Nandi’s employ in the first sentence; Jayne sexed a whore inside Nandi’s building in the second. (In this case, they’re both true, but they technically mean different things.)
- Surface structures are “constituent structures within the linear string of words in a sentence.” Underlying structures are then how we account for implicit knowledge.
Ex. Mal kissed Saffron, but Wash didn’t.
We can assume in this case that didn’t means didn’t kiss Saffron, but that’s the underlying structure. We assume it, and that’s proof of our grammatical competence.
- Yes/no questions “can be answered with a reply of yes or no” and apply to some sentences.
Ex. Shepherd Book had Alliance ties.
Did Shepherd Book have Alliance ties?
- Information questions can also be applied and can be answered with a WH-word.
Ex. Inara is entertaining a lady client.
Inara is entertaining who?
- Referential meaning is a type of linguistic meaning.
Ex. Simon Tam, Simon’s medical kit.
The referential meaning of Simon Tam is the person who goes by that name. The phrase Simon’s medical kit refers to the medical supply bag belonging to Simon. This can be said to be the referential meaning of the linguistic expression Simon’s medical kit, and the medical kit that is identified is its referent. This is only an efficient tool for recognizing things sometimes.
- Hyponymy: compression coil, catalyzer, and enhanced graviton accelerator core are all hyponyms of engine parts.
- Meronymy (part/whole): Londinium, Sihnon, Ariel, and Osiris are all part of the whole that is Core planets.
- Synonymy: sexing someone (or getting sexed), being with someone, and rutting are all ways of describing having sexual relations, but differ in social and affective meaning.
- Antonymy: Independent/Alliance are here antonyms, as are immoral/moral. The latter is a gradable pair, because the words have superlative and comparative forms; petty thieving is more immoral than earning money honestly, but more moral than essentially killing an entire planet; the former is nongradable. One cannot be the other.
- Converseness: if Wash is the husband of Zoe, then Zoe is the wife of Wash. Wife is the converse of husband.
- Polysemy: the word shiny can have several related meanings, including bright, glossy, lustrous, silken (all standard English) and good, favorable (‘Verse slang), and the word companion can have several related meanings, including friend, associate, helper (all standard English) and fancy, refined sex worker [somewhat like a geisha] (‘Verse slang).
- Metaphors: I am a leaf on the wind.
- Personal: I will not be servicing any of your crew.
- Spatial: He tried to sell Mal this ship, but Mal was interested in that one.
- Temporal: Goin’ on a year now, I ain’t had nothin’ ‘twixt my nethers weren’t run on batteries.
- Agent: The operative killed Mr. Universe.
- Patient: Mr. Universe was killed.
- Instrument: Mr. Universe was killed with a sword.
- Cause: The cloud shielded the Reavers from view.
- Experiencer: Mal heard Mr. Universe’s transmission.
- Benefactive: River killed the Reavers for her injured crew.
- Recipient: The ‘Verse saw Dr. Caron’s transmission on the cortex.
- Locative: Mr. Universe’s moon was the location of a bloody battle.
- Temporal: Mr. Universe was killed before the crew arrived.
…yes. Best as I can gather from my book, that’s that.
–your fangirl heroine.