Analysis of a Sentence
It is a useful exercise, for those interested in language, to list the various ways in which a sentence can be analyzed, in order to gain a full appreciation of how multi-faceted a sentence is. Strangely, I have never seen this done. As an example, I will choose the sentence “Miami is hot”, but any sentence will do, since the same classification scheme applies to any sentence in any language. These are to be universals of language. (1) Ethnography: what language does the sentence belong to, who speaks it, and where? The same string could occur in more than one language, and a given sentence can contain words from more than one language. (2) Lexical: what words are contained in the sentence and in what order? Are there any ambiguous words or nonsense words or misspelled words or obsolete words? (3) Phonetics: what phonemes does the sentence (or its utterance) contain? Here we look at the acoustic and articulatory properties of the sentence. These can vary from speaker to speaker and dialect to dialect. Volume and location of utterance are not relevant. (4) Syntax: what is the syntactic or grammatical structure of the sentence? Now things become more theoretical and difficult. As a first approximation, we can say that our sample sentence contains a noun, a verb, and an adjective; and it is a simple subject-predicate sentence (no sentence connectives). It is in the indicative mood. These properties do not vary from speaker to speaker; they are intrinsic to the sentence’s syntax. (5) Semantics: what does the sentence mean? How does its meaning depend on the meaning of the words that compose it? It means that Miami is hot, and it is composed of a singular term denoting the city of Miami and a predicate ascribing the property of being hot to that city. In the case of other sentences, we will identify truth-functional connectives, intensional operators, quantifiers, indexicals, and other devices. We might also speak of logical form, truth conditions, functions from objects to truth-values, propositions, possible worlds, predicate modifiers, etc. (6) Pragmatics (or linguistic use): how does the sentence relate to speakers who use the language? In what circumstances is the sentence used? What are the criteria of assertion for the sentence? What are the likely consequences of asserting it? What language game does it belong to? (7) Conceptual analysis: how are the concepts expressed by the sentence to be analyzed? Here we might claim that the name expresses a definite description picking out the city of Miami, and that the predicate ascribes a dispositional property (apt to feel hot to normal people in normal conditions). We are elucidating the concepts that the sentence expresses, spelling out their underlying content. (8) Ontology (or metaphysics): what is the ultimate nature of the entities that form the subject matter of the sentence? Should we be realists or anti-realists about them? Are they mental or physical (idealism versus materialism)? Are they substances or events? Are they Many or One? Is God essential to their existence? (9) Phenomenology: how does the sentence manifest itself in consciousness? What is the nature of the intentional acts that constitute grasping the sentence consciously? What are the relevant noemata? Is the consciousness of death (Heidegger) part of apprehending the meaning of the sentence? (10) Neurological: what are the brain processes that underlie understanding the sentence? How is its structure represented in the brain? In what ways can brain damage impair using and understanding the sentence? (11) Psycholinguistic: what is the cognitive psychology of the sentence (any sentence)? How is it produced by the speaker and processed by the hearer? What is the role of attention in speech comprehension? What causes performance errors? How is the sentence acquired by the child, and when? (12) Psychoanalytic (if any): how does the sentence bear on the neuroses, dreams, and complexes of the speaker or hearer? How does it interact with the unconscious mind, the id, the superego, repression, sexual development? (13) Literary: what are the literary aspects of the sentence (here we might switch to “To be or not to be”)? Does it contain rhymes, assonance, onomatopoeia, poetic depth? Or is it banal, cliched, derivative? (14) Etymology: what is the history of the words composing the sentence? From what language do they derive? Is their current meaning close to their original meaning? (15) Cachinnation: is the sentence funny? Is the word combination amusing? Is it in bad taste? Would you say it in front of your mother? Is it the punchline of a joke? These are all legitimate questions we can ask about a sentence (there may be others). They all involve analyzing the sentence (OED “analyze”: “examine methodically and in detail for the purposes of explanation and interpretation)”. Some are more controversial than others. The philosophically relevant kinds of analysis occur naturally on the list along with the other kinds. Sentence analysis brings in linguists, psychologists, philosophers, physiologists, psychotherapists, literary scholars, historians of language, and humorists. The sentence is a many-sided creature, not the exclusive property of any one field. No single field can claim to comprise the whole of Sentence Studies. For the philosopher, it is salutary to observe that many fields seek to analyze sentences, each for its own purposes; philosophers are just doing more of the same, but with respect to different dimensions of the phenomenon. Sentences are subject to conceptual analysis, ontological analysis, and phenomenological analysis, as much as phonetic, syntactic, and physiological analysis. Perhaps it is true to say that language is susceptible to more types of analysis than any other phenomenon of nature. Or to put it differently, it is the most interesting and complex thing in the world.
 I will leave aside the question of what a sentence is. It is certainly not sound waves in the air or marks on paper; such things could arise in any number of ways and have nothing to do with language. Sounds and marks are vehicles of sentences not sentences themselves. Are they something psychological or neurological or computational or abstract? It is hard to say. People tend to assume that sentences are clear and meanings unclear, but really sentences are unclear too. What makes a sentence what it is—a syntactic object capable of bearing meaning? Here is where the idea of a language of thought becomes attractive, because such items would have syntax built into them ab initio. The ontology of sentences is obscure (like that of propositions).
 I write this partly because there is currently a fashion for decrying conceptual analysis in philosophy. But really analysis of sentences is customary across many fields, and is not to be dispensed with. See also my “Analysis of Analysis”. It is certainly not to be equated with something pejoratively labeled “ordinary language philosophy”.
Analysis is an essential part of science.