2. “It takes a big ego to
withstand the fact that
you‟re saying something
different from everyone
else.” Chomsky (qt in Smith,
3. • Introduction
• Chomsky‟ s Life
• Chomsky‟s Critique to Skinner‟s Model
• Language and Mind
• Transformational Generative Grammar
• Implications for Education
4. December 7, 1928: Chomsky was born.
From the age of two, he spent ten years in a progressive Deweyite
school in Philadelphia, where there was a congenial emphasis on
He attended the University of Pennsylvania where he met Zellig
1949: He graduated with a BA. His thesis was about Modern
Hebrew. He entered graduate school.
1951: He became one of the Society of Fellows at Harvard, from
where he moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
(MIT) in 1955.
He has been repeatedly jailed for political activism. (Smith, 2004).
He has been influenced by a large variety of thinkers,
philosophers, politicians and linguists.
Many compare him to Bertrand Russel.
5. Chomsky made a resurrection to innateness.
He has returned the mind to its position of preeminence in
the study of humankind.
The idea that a substantial part of our knowledge is
genetically determined came forward.
„„He has shown that there is really only one human
language: that the immense complexity of the
innumerable languages we hear around us must be
variations on a single theme. He has revolutionized
linguistics, and in so doing has set a cat among the
philosophical pigeons.” (Smith, 2004: 16).
Since 1957, syntax and cognition have become the pace-
maker in theoretical linguistics rather than phonology.
6. • Before the 1960s, the structuralist Model was very
dominant. It was simply descriptive of the different
levels of production, namely: phonology,
morphology, syntax and semantics.
• It did not provide any model or frame work for
understanding how the actual learning takes place.
• In the late 1950s, Skinner constructed his cognitive
learning model: behaviorism which correlates with
Stimulus → response→ reinforcement
and habit formation
• According to Skinner, children learn the language by
imitating and repeating and the mind is a blank slate
7. Although children hear only a finite
number of sentences, they are able to
produce an infinite number of possible
sentences with no previous formal
training or correction.
8. Chomskyan syntax: more complex than
people had previously thought syntax to
The grammar of a sentence can’t be
deduced from its surface form
› The schoolchildren were difficult to teach
› The schoolchildren were eager to learn
So environmental language data is
insufficient: grammar can’t be learned from
9. Constraints and principles cannot be learnt:
• Children learn their first or second language at
an early age.
• They learn, for example, single word formation
at the age one, and learn the basic grammar
around age six.
• At this age, no one has the cognitive ability to
understand the principles of grammar as a
system, but because some innate capacity, is
still capable of using it.
• Put it differently, children do not know anything
about grammar or syntax but still they can
produce grammatical sentences in most of the
10. 3. Patterns of development are universal.
When children develop their language,
they learn the various aspects of
language in a very similar order.
If children only learned what they are
taught, the order of what they learned
would vary in different environments.
e.g.: Brown Model 1973:
11. Language is CREATIVE
› We can produce and understand an infinite
range of novel grammatical sentences
› Children do not imitate a fixed repertoire of
Chomsky: creativity is not explicable if
language is learnt just from the
12. The child’s language data is degenerate
Ungrammatical utterances are frequent
and are not marked out as “wrong”
Therefore it is impossible to deduce the
grammar of a language, if your only
input data is utterances from the
13. • L.A.D is a function of the brain that is specifically for learning language. It
is an innate biological function of human beings just like learning to
• L.A.D plays two roles in Chomskyan theory:
• 1. It accounts for the striking similarities among human languages.
e.g.: the similarity in using relative clause constructions from English,
French and Arabic.
• A. English: a- the man that I saw was your brother
b- I read the book that you read.
• B. French: a- L‟homme que j‟ai vu était ton frère.
b- J‟ai lu le livre que tu as lu.
• C. Arabic : a- r-raʒulu l-ladi: ra ?eit kan axuk.
b- 9ara?to lkita:b l-ladi: 9ara?ta.
• 2. It accounts for the speed, ease and regularity with which children
learn their first language.
• If the sequence order is the same in all children, it is then quite normal to
speak about language universals.
14. Pidgin: simple language that arise in
Creole: a fully complex language
descended from a pidgin
The grammar of a Creole is created by
children as they learn it
This is evidence that this grammar comes
from some innate source
15. Human languages exhibit remarkable similarities or principles.
These patterns are called universals.
We can find these similarities on many linguistic levels:
1. Phonological universals: Consonants, for example, are
distinguished also according to the location of their
production, that is, after the various organs of the vocal tract.
With the help of this detailed information we can now refer to
every consonant by its location and manner of articulation;
[f], for example, is a voiceless, labiodentals fricative.
2. Syntactic universals: Also, most of existing languages
have verbs, nouns, adjectives and pronouns.
3. Semantic universals: One semantic universal regards our
notion of color. There exist eleven basic color terms: black,
white, red, green, blue, yellow, brown, purple, pink, orange,
16. • We may need to look at these examples
Claiming that language is which in some way show that the speakers
rule-governed system is like of language often behave as if their
claiming that language is language is rule-governed.
definable in terms of • The thought of those poor children were
grammar. really …WAS really...bothering me.
• Even though they told me to, I didn‟t sit
down and wasn‟t quit…Was quite …I
mean I didn‟t sit down and I wasn‟t quite.
Grammar is a • Ze pound are worthless = the pound is
set of rules that worthless.
have two tasks: • The speaker who is ready to correct
themselves and others gives evidence that
Separating there is a right and wrong way of saying
grammatical from things. This assumption that speakers know
ungrammatical the grammar of a language is a claim that
sentences. these grammars are psychologically real.
The question that is to be raised here is:
Providing a description how do we come up to know this
each of the knowledge of language?
sentences, stating how
they should be
pronounced and what
17. • Linguistic knowledge of language lies well beyond the
level of consciousness. One way of investigating this
knowledge is to ask speakers of a language for their
judgments about sentences of their language: not directly
• Ask them, for example, about the grammaticality or
ungrammaticality of certain sentences.
• There are some difficulties in deciding on how much
reliance should be put on speakers‟ intuitions.
e.g.: a- I like Indians without reservations.
b- I have no reservations in my liking for Indians.
c- I like Indians who don‟t live on reservations
• this is to argue a certain distinction should be made
between the speaker‟s perceptual or understanding
abilities (performance) and his actual knowledge of the
18. • “competence is knowledge of language. That part of our knowledge
which is exclusively linguistic. It includes knowledge of the vocabulary, of
phonology, of syntax, and of semantics. The part of such knowledge
which is different from language to language is learnt; the part which is
universal is innate.”
• “Performance is the use of language in speaking and understanding
utterances is linguistic performance. Performance is dependent on
one‟s linguistic knowledge (competence) and in part on non-linguistic
knowledge of an encyclopedia or cultural kind, as well as on extraneous
factors as mood, tiredness and so on”
Neil, S, Dreidre, W.(1990) Modern Linguistics
• The distinction between performance and competence
(grammaticality and acceptability) is distinction between sentence and
a. Sentences are abstract objects which not tied to a particular
context, speaker or time of utterance. They are tied to a particular
b. Utterances are datable events, tied to a particular speaker,
occasions, and context.
19. • There are some utterances which could never be a
grammatical sentence, but still they are acceptable.
• John‟s being a real idiot-I suppose cela va sans dire-
• On the other hand, there some grammatical
sentences which can never be realized as fully
acceptable utterances because their semantic,
syntactic or phonological content.
1.we finally sent Edinburgh man, for for four Forfar
men to go would have seemed like favoritism.
2. If because when Mary came in John left Harry
cried, I‟d be surprised.
3. The colorless green idea sleeps calmly in my head.
20. ž Inadequacy of corpora lead Chomsky to
reconsider the theoretical approach to data
A linguistic theory explains rather than describes
Observationally adequate: It accounts for all the
observed (corpus/performance) data.
Descriptively adequate: It accounts for
observations and acceptability judgements
(competence), and generalizations .
Explanatorily adequate: It accounts for
observations, acceptability, and language
21. What is a sentence? A hierarchicaly organized
structure of words that maps sound to meaning and
What is grammar? A set of rules. It is a cognitive
structure or the part of the mind that generates and
What is syntax? The scientific study of sentence
structure. It is the psychological or cognitive
sentence structure in the mind.
Sentences consist of structured words.
22. We speak about the language in terms of phrases
Phrase structure doesn‟t account for all the
Chomsky remarks that: „„ notions of phrase
structure are quite adequate for a small part of the
language and that the rest of the language can
be derived by repeated application of a rather
simple set of transformations to the strings given by
the phrase structure grammar.” (qt in Smith, 2004).
Constituent: A sentence embedded into another
Matrix: A sentence into which another is
This grammar is both transformational and
23. H. Robins in his General Linguistics describes a
transformation as „„a method of stating how the
structures of many sentences in languages can be
generated or explained formally as the result of
specific transformations applied to certain basic
sentence structures.” (qt in Smith: 2004).
ž The kernel is the basic phrase from which
24. Deep structure: the aspect of syntactic
structure operated on by semantics for
the purpose of semantic interpretation
Surface structure: the aspect of syntactic
structure operated on by phonology for
the purpose of phonetic interpretation.
25. A grammar is to generate all and only the grammatical
sentences of a language.
The grammar must be so designed that by following its
rules and conventions we can produce all or any of the
possible sentences of the language.
To generate is to predict or specify precisely what are the
possible sentences of the language.
Thus a grammar should `generate', `specify', and
`predict' sentences such as:
He is waiting for the bus.
but not * waiting he is for the bus, or * He the bus is
There is concern with potential utterances.
26. To generate a sentence like `A man read the book’
1. S---------NP + VP
2. VP---------V + NP
3. NP---------D + N
4. V--------- read
6. N---------man, book
If we apply the rules in sequence, we generate the following strings successively:
NP + VP
NP + V + NP
Det + N + V + Det + N
Det + N + read + Det + N
A man read the book.
We can indicate optional elements by the use of brackets. Thus the string can be
rewritten as: NP---Det (adj) + N.
We can now generate such sentences as:
A tall man read the short book.
27. Any corpus has a finite number of sentences, no
matter how large, yet a language consists of an infinite
number of sentences. This infinity is a result of
`recursion„: We can apply the same linguistic device
over and over again. For example,
Those are the books that Rachid bought.
Those are the two thinkers who wrote the books that
Those are the cars that belong to the two thinkers who
wrote the books that Rachid bought.
We can contrive ad infinitum.
28. • Language acquisition and learning become
• A child learning language simply does not
have the enough evidence to enable it to
learn the relevant principles from scratch.
• Language develops with the mind.
• Nature and nurture go together.
• Mental lexicon, mental structures and and
schemata can enhance language learning.
• TPR wanes down.
29. It is difficult to summarize the vast output and
prolific career of Chomsky. . He has
revolutionized modern linguistics as well as other
disciplines including Computer Science,
psychology , philosophy , anthropology and
His students have contributed vividly to many
Chomsky‟s most recent work includes his
continued contributions to linguistics (in particular
new developments in the Minimalist Program), his
further discussion on evolution, and his extensive
work on the events of September 11, 2001 and