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Transformational Grammar by: Noam Chomsky

1. 1. Panpacific University North Philippines Institute of Graduate Studies Master of

Arts in Education major in Language Teaching Professor: Dr. Ma.Martha Manette A.
Madrid Transformational Grammar Prepared by: Miss Shiela May N. Claro
2. 2. Transformational grammar • a device for generating sentences in a language. • It
generates only the well-formed or grammatically correct sentences of a language
since it is meant to create the rules and principles which are in the mind or brain of a
native speaker
3. 3. • Noam Chomsky believed that grammar has recursive rules allowing one to
generate grammatically correct sentences over and over. • Our brain has a mechanism
which can create language by following the language principles and grammar.
4. 4. • Transformational Process of the Syntactic Structures according to Chomsky‟s
Transformational Grammar can be best summarized by adding, deleting, moving, and
substituting of words. These changes take place through specific rules, which are
called Transformational Rules.
5. 5. Generally, any sentence structure contains a noun phrase (NP) and a verb phrase
6. 6. • In the sentence: “Vicki laughed.” „Vicki‟ is a NP and „laughed‟ is a VP. The
sentence could change to: “The woman laughed.” „The woman‟ is the NP and
„laughed‟ is the VP. You can extend the sentence to: “Vicki who lives near me
laughed.” “Vicki who lives near me” is the NP; “laughed” is the VP. Expanding the
sentence, “Vicki who lives near me laughed loudly” The NP consists of “Vicki who
lives near me” and the VP is “laughed loudly.”
7. 7. Deep and Surface structure • Deep structures are the input to the semantic
component, which describes their meaning. • Surface structures are the input to the
phonological component, which describes their sound. • In short, deep structure
determines meaning, surface structure determines sound.
8. 8. The helical line connecting deep structure to surface structure represents the
transformational cycle introduced in Chomsky ( 1965) .
9. 9. • This model has three essential characteristics. • First , the meaning, or semantic
interpretation , of a sentence is determined from its deep structure . • Second , the
pronunciation , or phonetic interpretation , of a sentence is determined from its
surface structure . • And third , the role of transformations is seen as converting the
semantically relevant level of linguistic description into the phonetically relevant level
10. 10. Innate linguistic knowledge Empiricists Rationalists mind as a tabula rasa
containing no knowledge prior to experience and placing no constraints on the forms
of possible knowledge, except that they must be derived from experience by such
mechanisms as the association of ideas or the habitual connection of stimulus and
response (all knowledge comes from human beings have knowledge that is not
derived from experience but is prior to all experience and determines the form of the
knowledge that can be gained from experience (knowledge is implanted innately
experience and prior to experience)
11. 11. Chomsky‟s view • The information that the child is presented with—when other
people address him or when he hears them talk to each other—is limited in amount,
fragmentary, and imperfect. There seems to be no way the child could learn the
language just by generalizing from his inadequate experiences, from the utterances he
hears. Furthermore, the child acquires the language at a very early age, before his
general intellectual faculties are developed.
12. 12. • Indeed, the ability to learn a language is only marginally dependent on
intelligence and motivation—stupid children and intelligent children, motivated and
unmotivated children, all learn to speak their native tongue. If a child does not acquire
his first language by puberty, it is difficult, and perhaps impossible, for him to learn
one after that time. Formal teaching of the first language is unnecessary: the child
may have to go to school to learn to read and write but he does not have to go to
school to learn how to talk.
13. 13. • The child has a universal grammar, so to speak, programmed into his brain as
part of his genetic inheritance. In the most ambitious versions of this theory, Chomsky
speaks of the child as being born "with a perfect knowledge of universal grammar,
that is, with a fixed schematism that he uses,…in acquiring language." A child can
learn any human language on the basis of very imperfect information. That being the
case, he must have the forms that are common to all human languages as part of his
innate mental equipment.
14. 14. • One traditional argument against the existence of an innate language learning
faculty is that human languages are so diverse. The differences between Chinese,
Nootka, Hungarian, and English, for example, are so great as to destroy the possibility
of any universal grammar, and hence languages could only be learned by a general
intelligence, not by any innate language learning device. Chomsky has attempted to
turn this argument on its head: In spite of surface differences, all human languages
have very similar underlying structures; they all have phrase structure rules and
transformational rules. They all contain sentences, and these sentences are composed
of subject noun phrases and predicate verb phrases, etc.
15. 15. Grammatical theories • In the 1960s, Chomsky introduced two central ideas
relevant to the construction and evaluation of grammatical theories.
16. 16. First: Distinction between COMPETENCE and PERFORMANCE
17. 17. Linguistic Performance • Chomsky noted the obvious fact that people, when
speaking in the real world, often make linguistic errors (e.g., starting a sentence and
then abandoning it midway through). He argued that these errors in linguistic
performance were irrelevant to the study of linguistic competence
18. 18. Linguistic Competence • the knowledge that allows people to construct and
understand grammatical sentences
19. 19. Grammaticality • -correctness in terms of grammar . • It is possible for a sentence
to be both grammatical and meaningless. Colorless green ideas sleep
20. 20. Grammaticality • Meaningful but ungrammatical (non)sentences • Man the bit
sandwich the. • The meaning of which is fairly clear, but no native speaker would
accept as well formed.
21. 21. Minimalism • "Minimalist Program" aims at the further development of ideas
involving economy of derivation and economy of representation
22. 22. Economy of derivation • a principle stating that movements (i.e., transformations)
only occur in order to match interpretable features with uninterpretable features.
23. 23. Economy of derivation • the plural inflection on regular English nouns, e.g.,dogs.
The word dogs can only be used to refer to several dogs, not a single dog, and so this
inflection contributes to meaning, making it interpretable. English verbs are inflected
according to the number of their subject (e.g., "Dogs bite" vs "A dog bites"), but in
most sentences this inflection just duplicates the information about number that the
subject noun already has, and it is therefore uninterpretable.
24. 24. Economy of representation • the principle that grammatical structures must exist
for a purpose, i.e., the structure of a sentence should be no larger or more complex
than required to satisfy constraints on grammaticality.
25. 25. "I-Language" and "ELanguage" I-Language (Internal language) E-Language
(External language) the linguistic knowledge that is in the mind of the speaker
observable linguistic output (sentences, songs, texts etc.) Every fluent individual in a
language community has an ILanguage. As such, every individual can produce a
potentially infinite E-Language. E-Language is thus epiphenomenal; it is the result of
What is generative-transformational grammar?

Introduced in 1957 by Noam Chomsky, his idea of generative-transformational grammar

revolutionized the field. Although his current linguistic theories are quite different, we can't talk
about linguistics today without looking at Chomsky's generative-transformational
grammar. Chomsky's theory offers math-based rules that we can use to visually illustrate how
speakers of English -- and all languages -- put sentences together.

Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, MIT (1928 - )

Beginning in 1957, Chomsky introduced two central ideas relevant to grammatical theories. The
first was the distinction between competence and performance, which we've already looked at in
module 1. Central to his theory was explanation of knowledge that underlies the human ability to
speak and understand. One of the most important of his ideas is that most of this knowledge is
innate, with the result that a baby is born wired to acquire language and needs only actually learn
the idiosyncratic features of the language's he or she is exposed to. Perhaps more significantly, he
made concrete and technically sophisticated proposals about the structure of language.

The second idea related directly to the evaluation of theories of grammar. Generative
transformational grammar tries to explain language creativity: how we are able to utter and
interpret sentences we have not heard before. Creativity is made possible by the generative nature
of transformational grammar. In order to create and understand newly generated sentences, we
must depend on our language competence. Our competence derives from our knowledge of
grammar: grammar shapes each of our utterances, setting the boundaries for what is acceptable
and ensuring that we will be understood. We compose and structure each of our utterances
based on our knowledge of what is acceptable according to the grammatical systems.

What are phrase structure rules?

In generative-transformational grammar theory, phrase structure rules illustrate mathematically

our knowledge of how the basic units of a sentence are assembled.
The theory of phrase structure rules states that there is a limited number of rules that are carefully

1. there is a limited number of rules which serve to reflect the linguistic competence and
knowledge of a native speaker
2. these rules are arranged in an order: rule 1 must preceded rule 2, which must precede rule
3, etc.
3. the rules can be illustrated in phrase structure trees
4. these rules can be equated mathematically in phrase structure rules.

According to this theory, you can take a sentence and mathematically divide it into parts.

Chomsky explains that phrase structure rules are are basically "rewriting" rules. For instance, a
sentence can be rewritten as a noun phrase plus a verb phrase. In the notation of transformational
grammar, this rule is written as:

S --> NP + VP "a sentence consists of a noun phrase followed by a verb phrase"

A sentence can be further illustrated by a phrase structure tree, like this:

Starting with this base, we can begin to build rules which will allow us to generate an infinite
number of sentences.

Building a grammar

Our Goal: to build a grammar that generates all of the possible sentences of (English, German,
Swahili) and none of the impossible sentences.

Before we begin, we need to recognize that the individual words in a sentence are organized into
naturally coherent groups call constituents.

We've already looked at constituents in our activity on identifying subjects and predicates. In these
sentences, the subject and predicate are marked:

John snores.
Everyone likes the show.
A book lay on the table.
The dogs chased after the children.

Seen another way, the constituents in these sentences consist of a noun phrase (NP) and a verb
phrase (VP):

John snores
Everyone likes the show
A book lay on the table
The dogs chased after the children
The first rule we created above is S --> NP + VP "a sentence consists of a noun phrase + a verb
phrase". This rule can be illustrated in this chart:

John snores
Everyone likes the show.
A book lay on the table.
chased after the
The dogs

In the system of rules, S stands for Sentence, NP for Noun Phrase, VP for Verb Phrase, Det for
Determiner, Aux for Auxiliary (verb), N for Noun, and V for Verb stem.

Look at the noun phrases in the examples. Some consist of a single noun (John, everyone):

NP --> N "a noun phrase consists of a noun"

Others consist of an article (a, an) or a determiner (the) plus a noun:

NP --> Det + N "a noun phrase consists of a determiner plus a noun"

We're beginning to account for creativity and grammaticality judgments.

Let's look at verb phrases in the examples (pasted here again for your convenience):

John snores
Everyone likes the show.
A book lay on the table.
chased after the
The dogs


VP --> V "a verb phrase consists of a verb"

likes the snow
| | |
V Det N

VP --> V + NP "a verb phrase consists of a verb and a noun phrase"

NP --> Det + N ("the snow"), a rule we already created above

But the VP rule doesn't explain lay on the table or chased after the children. We need a new VP
rule to explain these phrases:

VP --> V + PP "a verb phrase consists of a verb and a prepositional phrase" (lay on the table)

PP--> Prep + NP "a prepositional phrase consists of a preposition and a noun phrase" (on the table)

NP --> Det + N "a noun phrase consists of a determiner and a noun" (the table)

With the rules we have so far...

S --> NP + VP

NP --> N

NP --> Det + N

VP --> V

VP --> V + NP

... we can generate sentences like...

The dog chased the cat.

| | | | |
Det N V Det N

...that we can illustrate in a phrase structure tree like...

... that are explained by these rules:

S --> NP + VP
NP --> Det + NP
NP --> N
VP --> V + NP

These phrase structure rules fulfill at least three roles:

1. they show how sentences can be broken down to illustrate their structure
2. they show a general manner of creating sentences
3. they provide a way for us to compare languages

Thus phrase structure rules were formulated in order to construct unlimited sentences with a small
number of rules.

There is much more to generative-transformational grammar than we've covered in this lesson,
including displaying complex sentences and then taking the rules a step further to form another set
of rules, called transformational rules, which enable more flexibility and to explain how
statements can be transformed into questions or negations. In addition, Noam Chomsky's theories
are not without their critics. Still, all linguists owe a debt of thanks to Chomsky for showing us how
to illustrate how languages put sentences together.

Activity Mod 4 Activity 8 Apinaye Syntax

Apply what you've learned about syntax in this activity on Apinaye, an Amazonian
language with approximately 800 native speakers. Follow these directions to complete
this activity successfully:

1. Reread all the lessons regarding syntax, especially word order typology and
phrase structure rules.
2. Download, print, and work on Mod 4 Activity 8 (.doc) on Apinaye syntax. You will
have just one chance to submit your answers in the TTS quiz tool.