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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 Spanish, word order in English (sentence or phrase) is far more predictable than in Spanish. Kayser (1995) explains that in Spanish:

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

The following example illustrates how one expression may have different meanings and emphasis simply by changing the word order.

Spanish English
Version one: La niña caminó hacia la oficina. The girl walked to the office.
Version two: Caminó la niña hacia la oficina. Walked the girl to the office.
Version three: Hacia la oficina la niña caminó. To the office the girl walked.

This same principle is applicable to the relative placement of adjectives and nouns within noun phrases. According to Câmara (1972), an adjective may be either pre-posed or post-posed to the noun it modifies, but in Spanish, the latter is the most common pattern. In English, adjectives are consistently pre-posed (“big house,” not “house big”).

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

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