1. P r e p a r e d b y : A l i H a m d a o u i
Syntax – Generative Grammar (Overview)
2. From the 1950’s onwards, the
American linguist Noham Chomsky
established a number of objectives
which have continued to direct the
course of linguistic research to the
present day. Centural to Chomsky’s
approach is the notion of a well formed
sentence. Any theory capable of
producing well formed sentences and
rejecting ill formed ones is referred to
as Generative Grammar.
So, we will look at :
Sentences ( infinite number).
The notion of competence
The components of Generative Grammar.
The simplest imaginable syntactic theory is a grammar that consists of a list of al
well formed sentences. However, such a list would be too long since there are infinitely
many sentences of English. So, the number of sentences in a language is infinite.
Two principles are responsible for this non-finite character of natural language
3. The first principle is : Creativity
The boy enjoys playing guitar.
Gramatically jugement, and this sentence is gramatically corre
do not apply to sentences we’ve heard but also to mobile atterance
This remarkable ability is refrred to as ‘Creativity’. Any native speak
is capable of understanding and producing new sentenses.
This creative character shows that languages can not be simply
Learned by imitation, rather languages are acquired by principles
Of abstraction. Perhaps some linguists argue that these principles
4. The second principle is called : Recursion
Natural languages tipically allow constructions that involve the repetitive occurrence of
elements.This phenomenon is defined as Recurion. Any attempt to describe such growi
Structures by enumerating the elements in them, faces the problem that there is no upp
Limits to such sentences. With a very simple rule system, however, the recursive chara
of natural languages can be descibed. Let’s look at these examples of recurstional
Iteration first. The first one is called :
I- Sentence or Noun Phrase coordination :
Ex : (Ali saw karim) and (Karim saw Rachid) and (….).
There is no end to this sentence and we simply apply the same rule time and again.
II- Adjectival iteration (recursion) :
Ex : The wonderful, long,
Four adjectives and even more sometimes.
5. III- Prepsotional Phrace Attachement :
The ball in the box under the table with a lamp.
So, as you see there is no end to the number of prepositional phrases that can be attache
to this construction and the rule is quiet simple.
6. Eventhough the number of sentences is infinite, not all the sentences that are used in
human conversations, find their way into a grammatical theory. Syntacticans define a specifi
Level of abstraction referred to as Competence. Do you know what that means?.
As native speakers of a language, we are able to make numorous jugements about our
language. We do not need to consult grammar book and we do not have to interview
a large group of people of native speakers, rather by virtue of knowing a language, we kn
that sentences are fine and some are not. This is refrred to as : Native competence. Cons
some of English sentences :
The table saw the woman.
S V O
This sentence is clearly grammatically correct, it has a subject, a verb, and an object, the
typical order of English. How ever, it is simantically at least questionable. Linguists put two
question marks (??) infront of such sentences to signal that they are at least semantically
7. Another example would be :
John put the
car.This sentence is clearly ungrammatical. It violates the argument structure of the verb
We know that ‘put’ requires not only an object, but also a location or an obligatory
That is where do we put the car?. Something is missing.
Finally, the sentence : Put John the garage in the car, which is totally ungrammatical
Because here we have a word order which is not in line with what we know about the
English language word order (SVO).
So, the VSO pattern in declarative sentences is not a standard word order of present
Now, we have learned how to assess the status of a sentence and in luiguistics we
* Asterisk = Ungrammatical
? = Non-meaningful
Having defined the prerequisites for the grammatical model, let us now see how such
grammar should be built?
8. There are two components which constitute the core of generative grammar and interact
With one another.
1- Phrase Structure Component :
It’s centural task is to describe all well formed sentences of a language. To achieve this g
we need a well defined rules system, so we need rules in this component that combines a
categories into successively larger units. This rules systems consist of so called :
Phrase stucture rules. The technique of analyzing sentences in such a way is referred to a
Constituent Analysis. This approach, which receives an empirical support by means of larg
number of constituant test, has a long tradition from the early systems of 1950’s to today
elaborated X-bar syntax scheme.
9. The second component is called :
2- The Lexicon :
It (lexicon) interacts with the Phrase sturcture component and contains information abou
The lexemes (words,…) of the language. This includes phonological, morphological, synta
and semantic aspects.
The whole system works as follows : The phrase structure component contains a limited
of rules with which basic sentence structure can be generated. These structures are licens
means of lexical information. In other words, the lexicon delivers the lexemes on the basis
whose information the basic sentence structures can be generated. Together, phrase struc
component and the lexicon constituts the core of any modern generative grammar.
10. Lets summarize :
Generative Grammar not only provides a description of the structure of a language, but
It seeks also to explain among other the following phenomena :
It wants to explain : Language Processing. That is how humans understand and produ
Language Acquisition. What goes on in an enfance mind when he
or she acquires his/her mother tongue.
Language Variation. Why do languages change?. What is going o
under the surface of language variation.
Well, as a result of the discussion of these phenomena, it seems plausible to claim th
Language is like an instinct. We acquire and use it sub-consciously. The core of this proc
Is what many linguists refer to as : Universal Grammar.