Generative grammar historical development Purpose

The importance of Generative grammar

Generative grammar

The generative grammar brings together a number of specialized theoretical frameworks in the study of languages, all based on a set of rules or principles that, in principle, are able to predict the grammatically correct combinations that may appear in a given language.

generative grammar   Or “generative-transformational grammar.” Until Noam Chomsky , linguistics was concerned with the structural analysis of language, which it considered a reality independent of the subject‘s abilities; this eagerness led him, for example, to look for rigorous methods to extract phonemes and morphemes, but not to study the uses of language or meanings. When you wanted to understand how a subject was able to acquire and develop a language, you went to psychology. The behavioral psychologists (Skinner prominently) considered that the child learns language as a result of the reinforcements that educators make in their behavior Verbal correct. When he emits badly formed sentences he is reprimanded and when he builds them well he is rewarded. Beginning in 1957 with the work “Syntactic structures”, Noam Chomsky will face this behaviorist conception, and ultimately empiricist , related to linguistic ability or competence, indicating that such explanation is insufficient because it cannot explain:

  • how, by having a finite number of morphemes and phonemes, we can potentially construct an infinite number of sentences;
  • the rapidity in the learning of a language, although the verbal stimulation of the parents or educators is poor and disorderly;
  • the existence of common structures in all languages.

The basic ideas of generative grammar, which today encompasses numerous schools of linguistic analysis, were originally formulated by the famous linguist Noam Chomsky, with the aim of developing a formal device that allowed identifying, describing, specifying and analyzing natural language sentences. in an exhaustive way as well as simple and universal.

Generative grammar assumes an approximation to the descriptive linguistic phenomenon, that is, it does not attempt, as traditional grammar did, prescribe the correct way to use the elements of language, but quite the opposite: it is proposed to describe how languages ​​of the world through the observation of them, and elaborate thanks to this observation general rules that explain this operation.

One of the main conclusions of generative grammar is the concept known as recursion. This is the following observation: language provides its speakers with a finite set of basic elements, which are linguistic units (nouns, verbs, articles, etc.), and also a finite set of rules for the use and relation of these units (the grammar rules); Well, with both tools, the speaker can make an infinite number of sentences. In fact, it is estimated that human language is the only communicative system with such capacity.

Generative grammar has also reached other conclusions. It raises, for example, the hypothesis that linguistic ability is genetic in humans, and therefore there are certain tools in your brain that allow the rapid absorption of the aforementioned units and rules. This capacity is therefore universal and identical in all the languages ​​of the world, which subsequently manifest themselves in very different ways but share the same structural basis.

Thus, generative grammar tries to answer several questions:

– What constitutes knowledge of language?
– How do you acquire such knowledge?
– How is such knowledge used?

Generative grammar basically implies an important displacement in the object of linguistic problems. It does not remain in the description of the basic elements of the language or in how these are related or in what kind of products can be generated from said relationship, but rather it investigates the mental reality that underlies the use of the linguistic elements.

Historical development of transformational grammar models

Leonard Bloomfield, an influential linguist in the American structuralist tradition, saw the ancient Indian grammarian Pāṇini as an antecedent of structuralism. [14] [15] However, in Aspects of the Theory of Syntax , Chomsky writes that “even Panini’s grammar can be interpreted as” a fragment of a generative grammar, a view he reiterated in an acceptance speech award given in India in 2001, where he stated that “The first generative grammar in the modern sense was the grammar of Panini”.

Military funding for generativist research was influential in its initial success in the 1960s.

Generative grammar has been in development since the mid-1950s and has undergone many changes in the types of rules and representations that are used to predict grammaticality. When tracing the historical development of ideas within generative grammar, it is useful to refer to the various stages in the development of theory:

Standard Theory (1956-1965)

The so-called standard theory corresponds to the original model of generative grammar established by Chomsky in 1965.

A central aspect of standard theory is the distinction between two different representations of a sentence, called deep structure and surface structure. The two representations are linked together by the transformational grammar.

Extended Standard Theory (1965-1973)

The so-called extended pattern theory was formulated in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The features are:

  • syntactic constraints
  • generalized sentence structures (X bar theory)

Revised Extended Standard Theory (1973-1976)

The so-called revised extended standard theory was formulated between 1973 and 1976. It contains

  • restrictions on the X-bar theory (Jackendoff (1977)).
  • assumption of the position of the complementer.
  • move α

Relational grammar (ca. 1975-1990)

An alternative model of syntax based on the idea that notions such as subject, direct object and indirect object play a major role in grammar.

Theory of government and binding / principles and parameters (1981-1990)

Lectures on Government and Binding (1981) and Chomsky’s Barriers (1986).

Minimalist program (1990-present)

The minimalist program is a line of investigation that raises the hypothesis that the human language faculty is optimal, containing only what is necessary to meet the physical and communicative needs of humans, and seeks to identify the necessary properties of such a system. It was proposed by Chomsky in 1993. [18]

Context free grammars

Generative grammars can be described and compared using the Chomsky hierarchy (proposed by Chomsky in the 1950s). This establishes a series of types of formal grammars with increasing expressive power. Among the simplest types are regular grammars (type 3); Chomsky claims that they are not suitable as models for human language, because they allow the central fit of strings within strings, in all natural human languages.At a higher level of complexity are context-free grammars (type 2). The derivation of a sentence by such a grammar can be described as a derivation tree. Linguists working with generative grammar often see these trees as a primary object of study. According to this view, a sentence is not just a series of words. Instead, adjacent words are combined into constituents , which can then be combined with other words or constituents to create a hierarchical tree structure.

The derivation of a simple tree structure for the phrase “the dog ate the bone” proceeds as follows. The determiner the and the noun dog combine to create the noun phrase o dog. A second noun phrase o osso is created with the determiner the and the noun osso . The verb ate combines with the second noun phraseosse, to create the verb phrase ate o osse . Finally, the first noun phrasethe dog, is combined with the verb phrase, ate the bone, to complete the sentence: the dog ate the bone . The following tree diagram illustrates this derivation and the resulting structure:

Generative grammar

This tree diagram is also called a phrase marker. They can be more conveniently represented in text form (although the result is less easy to read); in this format, the sentence above would be rendered as:
S [ NP [ D The] [ N dog]] [ VP [ V ate] [ NP [ D the] [ N bone]]]]

Chomsky argued that syntagmatic structure grammars are also inadequate for describing natural languages ​​and formulated the more complex system of transformational grammar. [19]

Noam Chomsky’s role

Generally, this type of Grammar is conceived as a branch of Linguistics, inaugurated and promoted only by Noam Chomsky, however, this is not so accurate, since within the Generative Grammar at least nine theories can be counted:

  • Green banana based recipes
  • Examples of how to move from time units to smaller units
  • The boyfriend canceled the marriage and she went for a run
  • Standard theory , promulgated by Chomsky in 1965.
  • Relational grammar, developed during the first years of the seventies, thanks to the work of linguists Paul Postal and David Perlmutter.
  • Extended standard theory , reformulation of his first theory made by Chomsky towards the end of the 1970s.
  • Lexicon-functional grammar , promulgated towards the end of the 1970s, by linguists Juan o Bresnan and Ron Kaplan.
  • Generalized phrase structure grammar , also born in the 1970s, thanks to the work of linguists Gerald Gazdar and Ivan Sag , among others.
  • Principles and Parameters (P&P) theory developed equally by Nooam Chomsky, during the early years of the 1980s.
  • Rection and Ligament , also attributed to Chomsky and his group, as a result of his work in 1981.
  • Nuclear syntagmatic grammar , promulgated towards the middle of the 1980s, by linguists Ivan Sag and Carl Pollard.
  • Minimalist program , which is developed by Noam Chomsky, during the year 1993, and within the theory known as Principles and Parameters.

However, although within the set of theories that can be grouped within the conception of Generative Grammar, the names of other important linguists can be distinguished, that of Noam Chomsky will always occupy the first place, since it was this American linguist of 20th century who conceived and promoted the first study models, which would be established as the original source of this linguistic current. In this way, Chomsky and his Standard Theory, emerged during 1965, are considered the origins of Generative Grammar.

Purpose of the Generative Grammar

With respect to the main motivation of this linguistic current, the different sources agree that the Generative Grammar proposes a syntactic study of the Language, aimed at an understanding of the rules by which the different syntactic combinations are produced, which will allow thereafter also predict how combinations will be made that yield grammatically correct structures , hence this current is then known as Generative, since its main interest is how syntactic structures are generated within the language.

In this way, it can then be said that Chomsky‘s main objective, as a promoter of Generative Grammar, as well as of this current in general, is to conceive a formal theory, which has the theoretical methods and elements necessary to approximate the Language, in order to examine, observe, describe and determine the sentences that can be found in a language, in order to understand its hierarchical grammatical structure, through its syntactic constituents.

Likewise, this understanding will help you make predictions about which syntactic constituents have been formed according to the correct grammatical hierarchy, and which not, without this possibility meaning that Generative Grammar pursues a prescriptive eagerness, since it does not seek to regulate the Language, but – through a descriptive vision – to understand its operation, so that – based on a set of principles and rules determined through formal study – generate an infinite number of syntactic, grammatically correct constructions . In short, understand the mechanisms through which they are generated, to continue producing them.


Noam Chomsky, the leading proponent of generative grammar, believes he has found linguistic evidence that syntactic structures are not learned but “acquired” by the child from universal grammar. This led to the establishment of the stimulus poverty argument in the 1980s. However, critics claimed that Chomsky‘s linguistic analysis was inadequate. Linguistic studies have been done to prove that children have an innate knowledge of grammar that they could not have learned. For example, a child who acquires English has been shown to know how to differentiate between the verb’s place in main clauses and the verb’s place in relative clauses. In the experiment, children were asked to transform a declarative sentence with a relative clause into an interrogative sentence. Contrary to the researchers’ expectations, the children did not move the verb from the relative clause to the initial position of the sentence, but to the initial position of the main clause, as is grammatical. Critics, however, pointed out that this was not evidence for stimulus poverty because the underlying structures that children were able to manipulate were actually highly common in children’s literature and everyday language. This led to a heated debate that resulted in the rejection of the generative grammar of prevailing psycholinguistics and applied linguistics around 2000. Subsequently, some practitioners argued that decades of research were lost due to generative grammar. , an approach that has not had a lasting impact on the field.

The sentence of the study that shows that it is not the verb of the relative clause, but the verb of the main clause that rises to the C ° head.

There is no evidence that syntactic structures are innate. While some hopes were raised with the discovery of the FOXP2 gene , there is not enough support for the idea that it is ‘the grammar gene’ or that it had much to do with the relatively recent emergence of syntactic speech.

Neuroscientific studies using ERPs have found no scientific evidence for the claim that the human mind processes grammatical objects as if they were within the verbal sentence. Instead, brain research has shown that sentence processing is based on the interplay of semantic and syntactic processing. However, since generative grammar is not a theory of neurology, but a theory of psychology, it is completely normal in the field of neurology not to find concreteness of the verb phrase in the brain. In fact, these rules don’t exist in our brains, but they shape the mind’s external behavior. This is why GG claims to be a theory of psychology and is considered cognitively real.

The generativists also claim that language is placed within its own mental module and that there is no interaction between first language processing and other types of information processing such as mathematics. This claim is not based on research or a general scientific understanding of how the brain works.

Chomsky responded to criticism by emphasizing that his theories are, in fact, counter-evidence. He, however, believes it to be a case in which the real value of the research is only understood later, as was the case with Galileo.

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