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21 Sep

IC Analysis and Phrase Structure Grammar

IC Analysis (Immediate Constituent Analysis)

IC Analysis is a structuralist tool for syntactic analysis. It was introduced by Bloomfield and formulated by Wells & Harris. In IC Analysis, each utterance is divided into smallest meaningful units. An utterance is cut into two natural divisions and this process of binary segmentation continues. It continues until we reach the smallest meaningful units. The units at the last level are called Ultimate Constituents.

At each stage of division the two constituents are called the Immediate constituents of that particular construction (phrase/ sentence).The construction ‘The boys shouted loudly’ can be divided into two ICs: ‘The boys’ and ‘shouted loudly’. Each of these can be further divided. IC cuts are usually binary ie each construction is divided into two constituents at a time. But there are exceptions. For e.g. the construction ‘foot pound second system’ is divided into multiple ICs.

IC analysis helps to discover how units are hierarchically layered in sentences. IC Analysis can be represented by tree diagram, box diagram, bracketing etc

There are no hard and fast rules for determining ICs of a construction. The native speaker’s intuition tells him where the cut should be.

Advantages of IC Analysis

  1. Layers of relationships in a sentence can be graphically displayed by analysing it into its units.
  2. IC Analysis can account for certain types of ambiguities.

For eg the phrase ‘ the pen on the table that belongs to me’. The ambiguity can be resolved through IC Analysis

Limitations of IC Analysis

1. IC Analysis cannot account for constructional homonymy eg the phrase ‘hunting dogs’.

Ambigity may be lexical, constructional or derivational

  1. Lexical ambiguity arises from the same word having more than one meaning eg the word ‘bank’.
  2. Constructional ambiguity is due to difference in layering eg the phrase ‘old men and women’.
  3. Derivational ambiguity arises from the same constituents functioning differently eg the phrase ‘the love of God’.

2. The problem of discontinuous ICs: A construction often cannot be cut into two continuous ICs because elements that belong together are separated in the sequence. This phenomenon is known as discontinuity eg the construction ‘Is he coming?’

3. The  problem of embedding: IC Analysis cannot account for sentences involving embedding eg the construction The boy who won the prize is my cousin

4. The problem of conjoining: IC Analysis cannot handle conjoining eg the construction ‘I will go and meet him’.

Phrase Structure Grammar (PSG)

Phrase Structure Grammar (PS Grammar) was introduced by Noam Chomsky in his book Syntactic Structures (1957). PS Grammar contains a set of rules called PS rules or rewrite rules. A rewrite rule is a replacement rule.

eg S------>    NP + VP

It means S is to be rewritten as NP plus VP ie a sentence consists of a noun phrase and a verb phrase. S is the initial symbol and NP and VP are nodes that can be further rewritten.

NP------>       Det + N

ie NP can be rewritten as a determiner plus a noun.

VP ------>     Aux +V+NP + Prep ph

ie VP can be rewritten as an auxiliary plus a verb plus a noun phrase plus a prepositional phrase.

Rewrite rules represent how morphemes are organized into words, words into phrases and phrases into sentences.

The representation of the structure of a sentence is called its Phrase Marker or P Marker. The usual form of a P Marker is a tree with labelled nodes. 

Every node in a tree where there is a branch is called a branching node and one without any branch is called a non-branching node. A node that can be further rewritten is a non terminal node. A node that cannot be further rewritten is a terminal node.

Limitations of PSG

  1. PS Grammar cannot describe inter-sentence relationships eg between active and passive sentences
  2. PS Grammar cannot account for structural ambiguity eg the phrase ‘old men and women’


Compiled by

Neethu Tessa

Assumption College Changanacherry 

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