Chomsky and His Theory of Universal Grammar dissertation

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Noam Chomsky and His Theory of Universal Grammar

Noam Chomsky name is not unknown to the world. Though he is not a psychologist or a psychiatrist but his contributions in the fields of psychology and linguistics has a great impact. His theory of generative grammar has been regarded as one of the most considerable contributions to the field of theoretical linguistics (Berger, 2005).

As a Person

Noam Chomsky, a well-known politician and an exceptional linguist, was born on December 7, 1928 in the state of Philadelphia in the home of a Hebrew scholar (Berger, 2005). He got his early education in Philadelphia while he went to study linguistics, mathematics and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. There, he also achieved his PhD degree though he completed most of his PhD work at Harvard University during early 1950s. Chomsky has been associated with Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1955. He has also been teaching there as an Institute Professor since 1976 (Lechte, 1994, p. 50).

As a Politician

Chomsky is also known to have thorough, extensive and across-the-board interest in politics ("Chomsky, Noam," 2009). He was one of those blunt reviewers who strongly criticized the involvement of United States in the Vietnam War. With the publication of "The Responsibility of Intellectuals," Chomsky emerged as one of the most vociferous opponents of the war (Berger, 2005). He has also been reasonably voluble against the U.S. government during the Iraq war. Chomsky's opinions reflect point-of-views of the left-wing. This is evident in the pieces he has written about various political issues. His political writings include American Power and the New Mandarins (1969), Peace in the Middle East? (1974), Manufacturing Consent (1988) which he write with co-author E.S. Herman, Profit over People (1998), Rogue States (2000), Hegemony or Survival (2003), and Failed States (2006). In 2002, he produced a bestseller entitled "9-11" which contained Chomsky's controversial scrutiny of the World Trade Center attack. In it, he not only disapproved the violent incident happened in New York but also accused the United States government to be responsible for the disastrous event ("Chomsky, Noam," 2009). The influential disparagement shown by Chomsky regarding the U.S. foreign policy and the authenticity of U.S. power has made him a divisive figure all over America (Berger, 2005).

As a Linguist

Chomsky developed an absolute interest in historical linguistics through his father who in 1958 published a book named "Hebrew: The Eternal Language." In 1951, Chomsky had also produced his foremost piece of writing on Hebrew which entitled 'Morphophonemics of Modern Hebrew' while completing his Master's. However, this piece by Chomsky remains unpublished. Chomsky was greatly inspired with the work of phenomenal logicians like Goodman, Hintikka, Lakatos, Quine, Kripke and systematic philosophers like Austin and Wittgenstein (Lechte, 1994, p. 50).

Principally, Syntactic Structures is the most renowned famous work of Noam Chomsky in the field of linguistics. Current Issues in Linguistic Theory (1964), The Sound Pattern of English (1968), Language and Mind (1972), Studies on Semantics in Generative Grammar (1972),Knowledge of Language (1986), Language and Thought (1993), and Architecture of Language (2000) are the other note-worthy works that have been written by Chomsky regarding language ("Chomsky, Noam," 2009).

Transformational-Generative Grammar

The scientific study of language revolutionized with the development of the theory of transformational grammar by Chomsky. In 1955, Chomsky produced a doctoral dissertation in which he presented his theoretical analysis of language. After two years in 1957, he wrote "Syntactic Structures" in which he repeated this abstract analysis. He introduced the rudimentary or primitive sentence as a starting instead of using minimal sounds in the beginning. He negated the procedure of the structural linguists and argued that a composite series of rules can be useful in generating infinite syntactic combinations. ("Chomsky, Noam," 2009).


Chomsky is related with the trend of structuralism. It is a theory by which systems of relationships are restructured by using culturally interrelated signs. This theory does not favor the idea of studying one-off, bits and pieces in themselves. Linguistics has been particularly using this method extensively since the beginning of the 20th century. The idea of structuralism is said to be originated by Ferdinand de Saussure and Roman Jakobson ("Structuralism," 2009). Structuralism has been described in linguistics as "an approach that analyses and describes the structure of language, as distinguished from its comparative and historical aspects" (Matthews, 2001, p. 2).

Contributions to Linguistics (Generative Grammar)

Chomsky's contributions hold great importance in the field of linguistics. In Syntactic Structures, Chomsky has introduced transformational grammar or transformation generative grammar. In his theory of Logical Structure of Linguistic, utterances (words series) have been taken by Chomsky to have a sentence structure which can be exemplified by formal grammar principally (Berger, 2005).

Chomsky has insisted that the descriptive accomplishments of the linguists should not be constrained "to the systematization of regularities in sets of actual utterances." According to him, no one utters the innumerable sentences that are contained in the natural languages. This is the reason why Chomsky urges the development of generative grammars. A generative grammar can be described as "a set of rules or procedures that will generate all and only the sentences in a language, spoken or unspoken, together with their structural descriptions." This type of grammar will not only demonstrate the sentences that are already present in abundance but will also help in envisaging the continuation and features of new sentences. Chomsky argues in Syntactic Structures that phrase-structure grammar is not enough for setting apart a natural language. There are just "rewrite rules" that are contained in the natural language. A method has been identified by these rewrite rules to build up an assortment of sentences. Under these rules, certain syntactic categories are replaced with other categories in a systematic way (Cowie, 1999, p. 164). In the initial phase, Chomsky has explained the methods adopted by a perfect language-user to produce and comprehend grammatical sentences (new) "without ever having encountered them in practice." Consequently, Chomsky was successful in setting out a set of transformational rules that is limited. He believes that using such a set can make a language user competent enough to generate new and creative sentences. He is a firm believer in the notion that the possibility of a language is dependent upon the competence of a user (Lechte, 1994, p. 50).

It is already discussed above that Generative grammar is an uncomplicated system of rules. Under this system, sentence transformations are constructed and defined. An ideal speaker-hearer is associated with a basic 'competence' that enables him to create potentially unbounded sentences that are regular. Chomsky has adopted three types of structures to describe generative grammar (Lechte, 1994, p. 51). Transformational rules are formulated in such a way that they change a sentence with a particular grammatical structure. For instance, "Paul drew a picture" can be converted into a sentence with a dissimilar grammatical structure. However, the meanings will be different i.e. "A picture is drawn by Paul" ("Chomsky, Noam," 2009).

The first type of structure he has introduced is 'finite state grammar'. It is only a linear type. In such type, the generation of sentences is done through taking simple choices from left to right. Every choice that leads limits the scope of the next choice. Phrase structure grammar is the second structure introduced by Chomsky. This keeps up a correspondence with the parsing and relates with the manifold meanings that may be possibly hidden in the same phrase constituents. For instance, "young boys and girls" can either mean "(young boys) and girls" or "young (boys and girls)." The third type of structure Chomsky has introduced is Transformational grammar. It is a method by which a new constituent structure is derived following "a set of rules based both on the horizontal string of the base phrase structure (represented by a phrase-marker) and on the vertical 'tree' resulting when account is taken of how this string was derived." The conversion of active to passive voice is an example of transformational grammar (Lechte, 1994, p. 50).

Chomsky also demonstrated that finite state grammar is not more powerful than phrase structure grammar and transformational grammar. He also concluded that phrase structure grammar is weaker than the transformational grammar. Thus, Chomsky introduced transformational grammar as his personal input to a theory of grammar that is commonly accepted. He was able to show that the basic rules constitutive of the ideal speaker-hearer of any language can only be derived through transformational grammar. Every grammar involves many rules that are not equivalent to the number of utterances. However, transformational grammar is different. Transformational grammar lessens sentence formation to the number of rules that are as small as possible (Lechte, 1994, p. 51).

Thus, the final product achieved by the transformational-generative grammar is a surface structure that is one and the same to an actual sentence of a language. This is done after the toting up of words and pronunciations in the structure. All languages can be differentiated seeing their surface structure though they have the same deep…[continue]

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