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What Is Syntaxis?

A. Leverkuhn
A. Leverkuhn

Syntaxis is a specific kind of linguistic term implying a tendency toward a more complex syntax. The word has also been used for certain technologies and products in the modern IT world. Syntax is the word for the exact structure of communications in a given language, particularly in reference to word order. Some use the word syntaxis to indicate uses of a language that favor an intricate syntax, although this technical term is not a common part of linguistic analysis in many cases.

As a somewhat obscure greek-based word, the word “syntaxis” is often contrasted to another word, “parataxis,” which is commonly used to indicate a simpler use of syntax. These polar opposites can describe many different types of communications. For example, parataxis could be used by analysts to characterize some forms of business communications that are concise and straightforward. By contrast, a prime example of syntaxis is Paradise Lost, the epic poem of John Milton, which features extensive syntactical complexity throughout its extremely long development.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

Some also define syntaxis as a certain kind of arrangement or ordering of units of language into coherent patterns. Here, the word syntaxis could be synonymous with detailed syntactical analysis. Some would contrast this with the word parataxis, which can also be used to reference a simple construction that does not order or arrange its pieces, but places them in simple sequence. Here, again, the example of Paradise Lost shows how writers might use language in complex ways; many academics would say that the epic poem demonstrates a kind of deliberate “ordering” of text in complex ways to create specific effects.

While syntaxis and parataxis are very useful in the study of human languages, they can also be part of the study of computer programming. One of the most popular uses of the word syntax in modern day language is in reference to the exact lines of code that computer programmers must write to make programs work properly. Because a computer, unlike the human mind, cannot generally have an intuitive perspective on input, but relies on technical calculation only, programmers must use an exact syntax for every line of code. Programmers who are analyzing the use of syntax in software development might use the word syntaxis to describe complex code writing, which presents its own challenges to developers.

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