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The Study of Word Order of a Specific Utterance  Syntactic knowledge is a rule-based system, which accounts for ambiguity or multiple meanings in sentences. It also accounts for sentence and phrase structure (Fromkin, Rodman & Hyams, 2003). When comparing English with Portuguese, word order in English (sentence or phrase) is far more predictable than Portuguese. Câmara (1972) explains that in Portuguese:

  • Word order is more flexible than in some other languages, and
  • that the last member of an utterance has the greatest information content.

Câmara (1972) uses the following examples to illustrate how one expression may have different meanings and emphasis simply by changing the word order.

Examples of Varied Meaning Through Change of Word Order
Version one: Eu saio às três horas. (The time when I leave is three o’clock).
Version two: Às três horas eu saio. (What I do at three o’clock is leave).
Version three: Às três horas saio eu. (The person who leaves at three o’clock is me).

This same principle is applicable to the relative placement of adjectives and nouns within noun phrases. According to the same author, an adjective may be either placed before (pre-posed) or after (post-posed) the noun it modifies, but the latter is the most common pattern, while in English, it is consistently pre-posed (“the big house” not “house big”).

Thus, text predictability of such syntactic characteristics of the Portuguese language needs to be considered by educators when evaluating syntax-influenced miscues from speakers of Portuguese.

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