Complex syntax as a window on contrastive rhetoric

Bracha Nir*, Ruth A. Berman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


The paper concerns complex syntax in the sense of text-embedded clause-combining. We consider different perspectives on why languages employ complex syntax, taking the usage-based view that "discourse drives grammar". Complex syntax is analyzed as shedding light on the nature of "contrastive rhetoric", on the assumption that linguistic typology interacts with rhetorical strategies in the construction of discourse. An innovative methodology is delineated for evaluating syntactic complexity along a hierarchy of clause-combining relations, from isotactic single clauses to paratactic symmetric and asymmetric stringing by coordination and complementation, on to hypotactic layering by adverbials and relative clauses, and endotactic nesting or embedding of one clause inside another. Detailed criteria for each of these levels of clause-combining were applied to 64 narrative texts written by graduate-level university students, native speakers of four different languages (English, French, Hebrew, and Spanish) on the shared topic of interpersonal conflict. The discourse effects of linguistic typology are analyzed in terms of the linguistic means available to these different languages for combining clauses as well as discursive strategies preferred by speaker-writers in constructing narratives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)744-765
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2010


FundersFunder number
Spencer Foundation


    • Clause packages
    • Complex syntax
    • Contrastive rhetoric
    • Linguistic typology


    Dive into the research topics of 'Complex syntax as a window on contrastive rhetoric'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this