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Grammar and the language faculty: a generative approach

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Sara Lusini

on 31 August 2014

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Transcript of Grammar and the language faculty: a generative approach

Grammar and the Language Faculty: A Generative Approach
Issues to be discussed in this class:
The concept of grammar
Prescriptive rules vs descriptive rules
Universal Grammar
The Principles and Parameters Theory
The Innateness Theory
The relationship between language and culture
The concept of language: E-Language vs I-language
Behaviorist/structuralist approaches to linguistics and the Chomskyan revolution

Prescriptive rules vs descriptive rules
Prescriptive rules make statements about how speakers ought to use language in a way that is socially acceptable
How does grammar work?
How does Universal grammar work?
The Innateness Hypothesis
What is grammar?
Etymology: The word grammar derives from Greek grammatikē technē, which means "art of letters"

Broad definition: Grammar is a set of rules whose output consists of all the sentences that are permissible in a given language

Prescriptive rules
1. Use a subject pronoun in a conjoined subject, not an object pronoun
Example of a principle:
Example of a parameter:
Language & Culture
Linguistic variation along principles and parameters has nothing to do with culture!
But what does "permissible " mean?
Descriptive rules
1. Articles precede the nouns they refer to.
2. Verbs precede their complement.
ex. Over there is the guy whom I went to the party with.

2. Use an object pronoun as the object of a verb or a preposition, not a subject pronoun
ex. Chris and I went to the store.
Nevertheless, the following sentences are regularly produced by native speakers in informal situations:
ex. Chris and me went to the store.
ex. Over there is the guy who I went to the party
ex. *Over there is guy the who I went to
party the with.
ex. *Chris and me to the store went.
We don´t need to rely on learned rules to tell us that these sentences are not acceptable English sentences! So what kind of rules are the following?
Descriptive rules are insightful generalizations about the way speakers actually use language
The concept of Generative Grammar
Early approaches to generative grammar
Chomsky (1957) Syntactic structures - aim: specify the grammatical rules underlying the construction of sentences
Chomsky (1965) Aspects of the Theory of Syntax - aim: explain all the linguistic relationships between the sound system and the meaning of a language
The structure of grammar:
1. Syntax - to generate the internal structure of the infinite number of sentences of language
2. Phonology - to generate the sound structure of all
the sentences generated by the syntactic component
3. Semantics - to generate the meaning of the
sentences generated by the syntactic
The Principles and Parameters Theory
Evidence in favor of the Innateness Hypothesis
Purpose of Chomsky's Linguistic Theory
Some methodological considerations
What is language?
E-Language vs I-Language
Predictions of Universal Grammar
It should be possible to find striking similarities
and recurring patterns among languages that
are unrelated from a typological point of view
Investigate I-Language
Language Learning
Language Acquisition
Internal-Language as the
linguistic knowledge in the speaker's mind (competence)
External-Language is
the observable linguistic output of a speaker (performance)
Principles = Invariants of human language
Parameters = Major points of cross-linguistic
According to Chomsky, all languages can be derived from a finite set of principles and parameters - linguistic variation is never random!
All sentences have a subject.
Subjects can be either overt or covert.
English: *Goes to school.
Italian: Va a scuola.
go-2.Sg to school
Principles & Parameters
However, the P&P framework acknowledges that languages may vary in ways that are unconstrained by the Universal Grammar
Lexical variation
examples of lexical variation:
words for camel in Arabic
words for snow in Eskimo languages
Culture plays a role!
The ability to acquire language comes from a specific language-acquisition device
Language is an innate faculty!
1. First Language Acquisition
children's language development follows a predictable sequence

2. Language impairments
the production of agrammatic speakers follows regular patterns
Syntactic variation is never
I-Language can tell us something about the underlying mental processes that we carry out to produce languages, and therefore about the faculty of language in general
E-Language is not interesting because the linguistic behavior of a speaker reflects only a small part of his/her linguistic competence
and is often constrained by external
How can I-Language be investigated?
Grammatical judgements of native speakers
Recordings of spontaneous production of native speakers in informal situations
No references to standard grammars!
The concept of Generative Grammar
Descriptive rules can be thought of as the set of grammatical rules that can generate all sentences of a language
Language is not constrained by grammatical rules; rather, it is generated by them!
Universal Grammar (UG)
It should be possible to find models that can account for the mechanisms underlying any core linguistic phenomenon in any language
Chomsky's approach to the study of language

The Chomskyan Revolution
Language does not have any essential connection with communication

It is an abstract formal system produced by the innate properties of the human mind!
Opposition between scientists who believe that progress should be made by the observation of actual behavior and those who believe that behavior is only interesting in so far as it reveals something about its underlying laws and mechanisms
Chomsky is interested in underlying rules of language, not in their tangible output!
Modern Linguistics: some historical notes
18th-19th century: the golden age of Philology (von Humboldt)
Late 19th century-early 20th century: Structuralism and Behaviorism (De Saussure, Bloomfield)
Mid-50s: Generative Linguistics (Chomsky)
Main differences between structuralist-behaviorist approach and generative approach:
1. The scientific method used in linguistic description
2. The concept of language
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