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The Relationship Between Grammar And Language English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 1584 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The relationship between grammar and language helps in understanding the Chomskian principle of transformational grammar. David W. Carroll views grammar as a description of “a person’s linguistic knowledge”.

Language is considered to be an infinite set of well formulated sentences and it can be deduced by grammar, like that of mathematics or logic. Hence grammars are the theories of language composed of hypotheses of the structure of some part of the language.

Chomsky suggests three criteria about the theory of language. First criterion is known as observational adequacy. It is applied in several levels of language in which grammar defines, what is and what is not ‘an acceptable sequence’ in the language. At the other level grammar should have rules that generate grammatical sentence.

The second criterion is the descriptive adequacy which indicates that grammar specifies the sequence in a language. Grammar should also explain how it relates with sentences which have the same or opposite meaning .The third criterion is the explanatory adequacy.

Chomsky views that it is theoretically possible for a number of grammars, all based on different principles to attain the other two forms of adequacy and determines that the best descriptively adequate grammar pertains to the language acquisition in children. He suggests that the child learning a language is presented with samples of the language and must determine the grammar from the samples.

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Chomsky notes that children choose one particular grammar from the incoming data consistent with a number of grammars. Hence this implies that there are certain innate language constraints enable the child to deduce the correct grammar. The final level of adequacy goes beyond the ability to explain to describe patterns in a particular language; instead, it involves the ability to explain the role of linguistic universals in language acquisition.

These theories played a significant role in the development of linguistic theories. Chomsky initially developed transformational grammar because of the descriptive inadequacy of grammar based on phrase structure rules.

In transformational grammar, the insight that sentences have more than one level of structure is captured in the distinction between deep structure and surface structure. These are both tree structures, which differ in emphasis.

Deep structure is considered as the underlying structure of the sentence that conveys the meaning of a sentence. Deep structures are the output of the phrase structure rules and lexical rules; transformations operate on these and gave rise to the surface structure.

Surface structure refers to the superficial arrangement of the constituents and reflects the order in which the words are pronounced. David Carrol refers to three arguments regarding the usefulness of the distinction by considering the following sentence as an example.

Ex: Flying planes can be dangerous.

The ambiguity in this sentence is called deep-structure as it may be paraphrased as, The act of flying planes can be dangerous or Planes that are flying can be dangerous.

This type of ambiguity comes from a single surface structure that is derived from two distinct deep structures. The second reason for the distinction is that some pairs of sentences are similar in their phrase structure but not in their underlying structure.

Ex: John is easy to please. (2)

John is eager to please. (3)

The above sentences, when paraphrased reveal their dissimilarity even though they are apparently similar. John is the object of the deep structure in (2) and the deep structure subject (3).

The next set of sentences in active and passive voice is distinct in their surface arrangement but similar in their deep structure.

Ex: Arlene played the tuba. (active)

The tuba was played by Arlene. (passive)

So the active and the passive sentences are considered as two manifestation of the same deep structure. These grammatical relationships posit a second level of structure with a new set of rules called transformational rules.

The entire deviation of a sentence is known to be a two part process in transformational grammar. In phrase structure the assumed largest syntactic unit, the sentence is progressively expanded by the application of rules into strings of smaller units, terminating with a combination of lexical items and grammatical elements.

The phrase structure is explained with labeled tree diagrams and they are said to be inadequate for a full structural exposition. Therefore phrase structure is incapable of explaining the open ended creativity of a natural language. Upon the output of the phrase structure rules transformation rules are applied. These transformational rules involve not the division of the sentences or its parts into smaller parts, but, the alteration or rearrangement of a structure in various ways.

Transformation also reflects parts of the speaker’s intuitive awareness of relations between sentences of different basic types. The associations of active and passive sentences , positive and negative sentences and statements, commands, and questions rests on native speaker’s recognition of their semantic relatedness, which is expressed by the relatedness of grammatical structure.

The phrase structure rules are said to be useful in generating the underlying tree structure which is referred to as deep structures and secondly a sequence of transformational rules is applied to deep structure and the intermediate structures, ultimately generating the surface structure of the sentence. The transformations apply to the entire strings of constituents where as phrase structure rules apply to only one constituent at a time. These transformations are done by adding, deleting or moving the constituents.

David Carroll gives a few transformations and explains how they work. One such transformation is called the particle -movement transformation. From the following two sentences know that they mean the same thing:

EX: John phoned up the woman. (4)

John phoned the woman up. (5)

Here the concern is with the placement of the particle up; in these sentences, the particle may occur either just before or just after the noun phrase.

Accordingly, we might write two different phrase structure rules for the two instances, the first might write two different phrase structure rules for the two instances, the first conforming to

(PS) VP ƒ  V + (part) +NP

And the second to

(PS) VP ƒ  V + NP + (part)

The problem with this approach is that it lacks descriptive adequacy—it does not reveal the similarity of the two sentences. In this approach, the two sentences are derived from two different phase-structure rules.

An alternative approach is to assume that the two sentences have the same deep structure and to apply the particle- movement transformation to (4). The transformational rule looks like this:

(T1) V + part + NP ƒ  V + NP + part

It can be noticed that the transformational rule simply moves the last two constituents of the verb phrase. Phrase -structure rules rewrite one constituent into a series of constituents but transformational rules begin with a series of the constituents and transform them.

Then he goes on to explain it considering the following sentences:

John phoned up the interesting woman. (6)

John phoned the interesting woman up. (7)

John phoned up the woman with the curly hair. (8)

John phoned the woman with the curly hair up. (9)

In each case the particle is shifted around the entire NP—two words in (5), three in (7), and six in (9). The particle movement is defined in terms of constituents, not words. This condition gives transformational grammar tremendous power to apply to an infinite no of NPs. Instead of stating the number of words which varies from sentence to sentence, it is stated that in terms of grammatical structure it is known as structure dependent.

One final property of transformational rules is that it may be blocked under certain circumstances. For example, the particle movement transformation does not work with pronouns:

(35) John called them up.

(36) *John called up them.

These restrictions and transformations would be specified in the description of the rule. The rule would operate under specified conditions but would be blocked when these conditions did not apply.

The earliest work shows the inadequacy of context free grammar for the analysis of natural languages. In the 1960s, transformational grammarians concentrated on the relationship between syntax and semantics. Transformational grammar explains certain aspects of language such as deep-structure ambiguity and the limitations of the phrase-structure rules.

Transformational grammar has evolved over the decades and there were many changes and alternative approaches that gave rise to other new theories on transformation. The influence of Chomsky’s revolutionary theories on linguistics and his contributions like Syntactic Structures, Aspects of the theory of syntax, stands out as the most significant development which led to the beginning of various other transformations in grammar and linguistics.


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