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Introduction: The Chomskian Perspective on Language Study.

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1 Introduction: The Chomskian Perspective on Language Study

2 What does a grammar mean? (Berk 1999) Prescriptive Grammars In the old time, the term grammar refers to set of prescriptive rules, i.e. rules that dictate which forms and structures are “correct” and which are not. “Correctness” was associated with the forms and structures of classical Latin. But, unfortunately, English and Latin are only remotely related and the two languages are very different structurally.

3 Descriptive Grammars In the 19 th and 20 th centuries, Western scholars began to study languages that were hitherto unfamiliar to Europeans and most North Americans. Description, not prescription, became the goal of those who were seeking to write grammars for those previously unrecorded languages. Because of this, linguists revolutionalized the study of English as well. By the 1930s, a strong tradition of descriptive linguists stood in opposition to the traditional prescriptive approach.

4 Chomsky’s revolution (Berk 1999) In 1957, Noam Chomsky published Syntactic Structures, a book that launched another revolution in the study of grammar. Chomsky called his approach generative grammar and his goal was to provide the structural descriptions necessary to generate all the grammatical sentences and only the grammatical sentences in a given language. Chomsky’s approach went well beyond description; he hoped to formalize the system of unconscious rules that we all exploit in speaking our native language.

5 The ultimate goal Chomsky’s framework has is to explain how language is acquired. Chomsky’s work has had a profound impact on the study of syntax and today there are a number of formal theoretical models which owe some debt to Chomsky’s generative grammars.

6 Three Questions 1. What constitutes knowledge of language? 2. How is knowledge of language acquired? 3. How is knowledge of language put to use?

7 Formal grammar vs. Functional grammar (Berk 1999) Formal grammars were criticized as only focusing on sentences in isolation. In the late 1970s and 1980s, functional grammars were developed in order to explore rules that govern language use in a communicative context. Functional grammars often focus on discourse, i.e. chunks of language larger than the individual sentences (conversations, narratives, letters, etc.)

8 Principles and Parameters Theory This is the framework proposed in Chomsky (1981). It is also known as ‘Government and Binding Theory’ (GB-theory) because government and binding are two central notions. In order to distinguish this approach from the more recent approach in the Minimalist program, which is also based on the ‘Principles and Parameters Theory,’ (Chomsky 1995), Haegeman decides to refer to Chomsky (1981) as ‘GB-theory.’

9 Three levels of adequacy (I) Observationally adequacy A grammar reaches observationally adequacy if it forms rules and principles to distinguish those strings of words which are sentences of the language from those which are not sentences of the language in question.

10 Three levels of adequacy (II) Descriptive adequacy A descriptive adequate grammar will not only describe the linguistic data, but it will contain the general principles and processes that enable the native speaker to produce and interpret sentences in his language and decide on the acceptability of sentences. Such a grammar is an explicit formulation of the tacit language of the native speaker, his internal grammar.

11 The shift from language itself to the native speaker’s knowledge of language is the major feature of the Chomskian tradition.

12 Three levels of adequacy (II) Explanatory Adequacy A grammar reaches explanatory adequacy if it can account for the fact that the principles of the internal grammar can get to be known by the speakers, i.e. if it can account for language acquisition.

13 3a Jeeves is baking a cake. 3b John has bought a new car. 3c Dective stories, I don’t like. 3d Which stories do you like? 4a *Dective stories, I wonder if he likes. 4b *Where do you wonder if he lives.

14 5s *Where do you wonder if Emsworth has hidden Empress? 5b *Which detective do you wonder if Emsworth will invite for Sunday lunch? 5c *To Bill, I wonder if he will give any money.

15 6a Where has Emsworth hidden the Empress? 6b Which detective will Emsworth invite for Sunday lunch? 6c To Bill, he won’t give any money.

16 Knowledge of language and the acquisition of language The knowledge of language can be divided in various ways. One way is to separate out the various components of the knowledge, as this course is divided, into knowledge of sounds, words and sentences. We can also relate the acquisition of language to other areas of child development and learning, and compare how language is acquired to how other skills are acquired. The general finding is that children do NOT acquire language through imitation, reinforcement, analogy or motherese.

17 Empirical Problem of Language Acquisition Empirical Problem Imitation: Children create novel forms, e.g. "holded", which they have never heard. Reinforcement: Parents correct for truth, not grammar. Analogy: Which analogies work? Which don't? Too vague. Motherese: Other cultures don't have motherese.

18 Poverty of the Stimulus (I) A Logical Problem We do not just come across grammatical sentences. The experience, i.e. the stimulus, is finite, and we end up being able to produce and process an infinite number of sentences.

19 Poverty of the Stimulus (I) A Logical Problem We acquire knowledge about our language for which we have no overt or positive evidence in the experience. 10a I think that Miss Marple will leave. 10b I think Miss Marple will leave. 13a *Who do you think that will be questioned first? 13b Who do you think will be questioned first?

20 Universal Grammar Rather, they construct grammars of particular languages by making choices from a set of options available to them. This set of options is known as Universal Grammar. That is, they choose the fundamental elements and the rules of combination for their language. We can characterize what they learn about sounds, words and sentences by looking at what they know about the elements and rules of combination in each area.

21 Parameters and Universal Grammar UG contains a set of absolute universals, notions and principles which do not vary from one language to the next. There are language-specific properties which are not fully determined by UG but which vary cross-linguistically. For these properties a range of choices is made available by UG.

22 Some Questions with the Framework What are the principles? How many parameters are there? Can we try to get rid of some parameters? How many settings do we allow?

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