The Transformational-Generative Paradigm and Modern Linguistic Theory


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Shortly thereafter the book created a putative " revolution " in the discipline. Syntactic Structures was the fourth book in the Janua Linguarum series. It was the series's bestselling book. It was reprinted 13 times until In Syntactic Structures , Chomsky tries to construct a "formalized theory of linguistic structure". He places emphasis on "rigorous formulations" and "precisely constructed models". He then talks about the goals of syntactic study. For Chomsky, a linguist's goal is to build a grammar of a language. He defines grammar as a device which produces all the sentences of the language under study.

Secondly, a linguist must find the abstract concepts beneath grammars to develop a general method. This method would help select the best possible device or grammar for any language given its corpus. Finally, a linguistic theory must give a satisfactory description of all the levels of language analysis. Examples of these levels include sounds , words and sentence structures. The second chapter is titled "The Independence of Grammar". In it, Chomsky states that a language is "a set A linguist should separate the "grammatical sequences" or sentences of a language from the "ungrammatical sequences".


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It is also "recall[ed] much more quickly" and "learn[ed] much more easily". Chomsky then analyzes further about the basis of "grammaticality. First, a grammatical sentence need not be included in a corpus.


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  5. Secondly, it need not be meaningful. Finally, it does not have to be statistically probable. Chomsky shows all three points using a nonsensical sentence " Colorless green ideas sleep furiously. But it is not included in any known corpus at the time and is neither meaningful nor statistically probable. Chomsky concludes that "grammar is autonomous and independent of meaning. British linguist Marcus Tomalin stated that a version of "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously" was suggested decades earlier by Rudolf Carnap.

    In the third chapter titled "An Elementary Linguistic Theory", Chomsky tries to determine what sort of device or model gives an adequate account of a given set of "grammatical" sentences. He then considers finite state grammar , a communication theoretic model [note 36] which treats language as a Markov process. As a solution, he introduces transformational generative grammar TGG , "a more powerful model Chomsky's transformational grammar has three parts: phrase structure rules , transformational rules and morphophonemic rules.

    These yield a string of morphemes.


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    A transformational rule "operates on a given string Obligatory transformations applied on the "terminal strings" of the grammar produce the "kernel of the language". To produce passive, negative, interrogative or complex sentences, one or more optional transformation rules must be applied in a particular order to the kernel sentences. At the final stage of the grammar, morphophonemic rules convert a string of words into a string of phonemes. In Syntactic Structures , the term "transformation" was borrowed from the works of Zellig Harris.

    Harris was Chomsky's initial mentor. Harris used the term "transformation" to describe equivalence relations between sentences of a language. By contrast, Chomsky's used the term to describe a formal rule applied to underlying structures of sentences. Chomsky also borrowed the term "generative" from a previous work of mathematician Emil Post. When he says a finite set of rules "generate" i. In the sixth chapter titled "On the Goals of Linguistic Theory", Chomsky writes that his "fundamental concern" is "the problem of justification of grammars".

    The Transformational-Generative Paradigm And Modern Linguistic Theory

    He compares a finite corpus of utterances of a particular language to " observations ". He likens grammatical rules to " laws " which are stated in terms of "hypothetical constructs" such as phonemes , phrases , etc. To choose the best possible grammar for a given corpus of a given language, Chomsky shows his preference for the "evaluation procedure" which uses the aforementioned criteria.

    He rejects the "discovery procedure" [note 39] employed in structural linguistics and supposed to automatically and mechanically produce the correct grammar of a language from a corpus [note 40]. He also dismisses the "decision procedure" supposed to automatically choose the best grammar for a language from a set of competing grammars.

    In the seventh chapter titled "Some Transformations in English", Chomsky strictly applies his just-proposed transformation-based approach on some aspects of English. He treats at length the formation of English negative passive sentences, yes-no and wh- interrogative sentences, etc. He claims in the end that transformational analysis can describe "a wide variety of In the eighth chapter titled "The explanatory power of linguistic theory", Chomsky writes a linguistic theory cannot content itself by just generating valid grammatical sentences.

    It also has to account for other structural phenomena at different levels of linguistic representation. At a certain linguistic level, there can be two items which can be understood having different meanings but they are structurally indistinguishable within that level.

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    The relevant ambiguity can be resolved by establishing a higher level of linguistic analysis. At this higher level, the two items can be clearly shown having two different structural interpretations. In this way, constructional homonymities at the phonemic level can be resolved by establishing the level of morphology, and so forth. One of the motivation of establishing a distinct, higher level of linguistic analysis is, then, to explain the structural ambiguity due to the constructional homonymities at a lower level.

    On the other hand, each linguistic level also captures some structural similarities within the level that are not explained in lower levels. Chomsky uses this argument as well to motivate the establishment of distinct levels of linguistic analysis.

    The Transformational-Generative Paradigm And Modern Linguistic Theory

    Chomsky then shows that a grammar which analyzes sentences up to the phrase structure level contains many constructional homonymities at the phrase structure level where the resulting ambiguities need to be explained at a higher level. He further claims that any phrase structure grammar which cannot explain these ambiguities as successfully as transformational grammar does must be considered "inadequate". In the ninth chapter titled "Syntax and Semantics", Chomsky reminds that his analysis so far has been "completely formal and non-semantic.

    He concludes that the correspondence between meaning and grammatical form is "imperfect", "inexact" and "vague. He shows that in order to build a theory of phonemic distinction based on meaning would entail "complex", "exhaustive" and "laborious investigation" of an "immense", "vast corpus ". Randy Allen Harris, a specialist of the rhetoric of science , writes that Syntactic Structures "appeals calmly and insistently to a new conception" of linguistic science. He finds the book "lucid, convincing, syntactically daring, the calm voice of reason Chomsky not only makes a logical appeal i. It combined simple phrase structure rules with a simple transformational rule.

    This treatment was based entirely on formal simplicity. Keith Brown, "the elegance and insightfulness of this account was instantly recognized, and this was an important factor in ensuring the initial success of the transformational way of looking at syntax.

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    Raymond Oenbring, a doctorate in the rhetoric of science, thinks that Chomsky "overstates the novelty" of transformational rules. He "seems to take all the credit for them" even though a version of them had already been introduced by Zellig Harris in a previous work. He writes that Chomsky himself was "cautious" to "display deference" to prevailing linguistic research. His enthusiastic followers such as Lees were, by contrast, much more "confrontational". They sought to drive a "rhetorical wedge" between Chomsky's work and that of post-Bloomfieldians i.

    American linguists in the s et s , arguing that the latter does not qualify as linguistic "science". In an early review of the book, American structural linguist Charles F. Voegelin wrote that Syntactic Structures posed a fundamental challenge to the established way of doing linguistic research. He stated that it had the potential to accomplish "a Copernican revolution " within linguistics.

    American linguist Paul Postal commented in that most of the "syntactic conceptions prevalent in the United States" were "versions of the theory of phrase structure grammars in the sense of Chomsky". Robins wrote in that the publication of Chomsky's Syntactic Structures was "probably the most radical and important change in direction in descriptive linguistics and in linguistic theory that has taken place in recent years". Another historian of linguistics Frederick Newmeyer considers Syntactic Structures "revolutionary" for two reasons.

    Firstly, it showed that a formal yet non- empiricist theory of language was possible. Chomsky demonstrated this possibility in a practical sense by formally treating a fragment of English grammar. Secondly, it put syntax at the center of the theory of language. Syntax was recognized as the focal point of language production, in which a finite set of rules can produce an infinite number of sentences.

    Subsequently, morphology i. American linguist Norbert Hornstein wrote that before Syntactic Structures , linguistic research was overly preoccupied with creating hierarchies and categories of all observable language data. Log In Sign Up. Essay on Chomsky's contribution to modern linguistics. As one of the most influential thinkers of our age, the extent to which he has revolutionized the domain of linguistics has made of him the most cited writer in the humanities nowadays.

    He has also inaugurated change in other disciplines and fields including political theory, philosophy, cognitive psychology and even mathematics. Chomsky is well-aware of his own contribution, position, influence and difference. Difficult and challenging as an endeavor, it adumbrates the Chomskyan tradition and highlights major aspects of his intellectual and linguistic position within the ongoing stream of human thought, linguistics in particular.

    Thus, this essay firstly presents a short coverage of the historical context in which Chomsky has lived, influenced and been influenced by. The historical background highlights the political, economic and intellectual situation in the second half of the twentieth century up until now. To further narrow the scope of this essay, a sketch is provided on Behaviorism as the linguistic paradigm that preceded Chomsky.

    The Transformational-Generative Paradigm and Modern Linguistic Theory The Transformational-Generative Paradigm and Modern Linguistic Theory
    The Transformational-Generative Paradigm and Modern Linguistic Theory The Transformational-Generative Paradigm and Modern Linguistic Theory
    The Transformational-Generative Paradigm and Modern Linguistic Theory The Transformational-Generative Paradigm and Modern Linguistic Theory
    The Transformational-Generative Paradigm and Modern Linguistic Theory The Transformational-Generative Paradigm and Modern Linguistic Theory
    The Transformational-Generative Paradigm and Modern Linguistic Theory The Transformational-Generative Paradigm and Modern Linguistic Theory

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