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Prof. Farrell Educ 4290

 In the 1920s the main linguistics interest was on the study of phonology and morphology,
 In the 1920s the main linguistics interest was on the study of phonology and morphology,
  • In the 1920s the main linguistics interest was on the

study of phonology and morphology, nothing else was

important.

  • There were two reasons for this:

o 1915, as a linguist you were really more like an anthropologist. Viewing language as an independent growth, rooted partly in it’s

speakers culture and partly in chance.

Edwar Sapir (1884-1939) & Franz Boas (1858-1942) where ardent

proponents of the validity of all human cultures, rejecting everything

concerning “development”.

o This was a time when psychologists were under the influence of the behaviorism theory.

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In the 1940’s, Noam Chomsky starting with his work as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania he began

developing a theory under which all languages have a basic syntactic configuration that we are mentally
developing a theory under which all languages have a basic
syntactic configuration that we are mentally hardwired to
learn and use.
He started to look differently at what syntax was.
He started to look differently at what syntax was.

Instead of looking at syntax as a matter of each language and tied up to local cultures.

He thought that language’s word order patterns/ syntax had

certain things in common, that suggested to Chomsky that

there is some kind of mental hardwiring that is innate to human beings.
there is some kind of mental hardwiring that is innate to
human beings.
 According to Chomsky, “that which allows us (human beings) to generate sentences and which determines
  • According to Chomsky, “that which allows us (human

beings) to generate sentences and which determines what the word order is in different languages is not cultural.

  • His theory was and is that, there is something actually imprinted in our brains , in our DNA that codes us humans the ability to use and process the syntax of language.

 According to Chomsky, “that which allows us (human beings) to generate sentences and which determines
  • Basically to Chomsky all the different syntax in the world languages, us humans, must have been born with a universal syntax encoded in the neurons of our brains.

  • To support his theory he published in 1957 his book S ntactic Structures

 The book , Syntactic Structures, started a revolution of all sorts in the study of
The book , Syntactic Structures, started a revolution of
all sorts in the study of linguistics. Within 10 years, this
new approach to syntax became the dominant one in
linguistics, and it is taught universally today.
Chomsky and people his age came along and turn the
whole linguistics field upside down.
For Chomsky and his followers syntax was something
totally separate from phonology , morphology, and
particularly semantics.
Before Chomsky the general idea among linguistics was that, expressing meaning and syntax were more or
Before Chomsky the general idea among linguistics was that, expressing meaning and syntax were more or

Before Chomsky the general idea among linguistics was

Before Chomsky the general idea among linguistics was that, expressing meaning and syntax were more or

that, expressing meaning and syntax were more or less the same process.

However, Chomsky pointed out there for the first time that there was a difference between semantics
However, Chomsky pointed out there for the first time that
there was a difference between semantics (the study of
meaning) and syntax (word order) than has often been
done.

To demonstrate his point he used two examples:

1. You can say, “The dog bit the man” and The man was bitten by the dog”. Both sentences have the same meaning, but different syntax.

Before Chomsky the general idea among linguistics was that, expressing meaning and syntax were more or

2. He also said that, a sentence can be syntactically well-formed and semantically meaningless, such as the sentence:

 Therefore, Chomsky’s theory proposed, that there is something , which we called syntax , which
 Therefore, Chomsky’s theory proposed, that there is something , which we called syntax , which
 Therefore, Chomsky’s theory proposed, that there is something , which we called syntax , which
  • Therefore, Chomsky’s theory proposed, that there is something , which we called syntax, which is worthy of study and which is going on in our brains on a different level or different module fromwhere meaning (semantics) is taking place.

 Chomsky’s basic idea was that the process of generating grammatical sentences is innate, and called
Chomsky’s basic idea was that the process of
generating grammatical sentences is innate, and
called it universal grammar, and any human being has
it.
For example:
A Russian is born with some innate ability to
understand Russian, but that all human beings are
born with the ability , because children of any country
learn the language that they are raised with, and they

do it quicky.

 One of Chomsky’s crucial insights was that children do not make all the mistakes that
 One of Chomsky’s crucial insights was that children do not make all the mistakes that
  • One of Chomsky’s crucial insights was that children do not make all the mistakes that we would expect them

to.

 One of Chomsky’s crucial insights was that children do not make all the mistakes that
 One of Chomsky’s crucial insights was that children do not make all the mistakes that

For example, to make a sentence into a question, in English we change the order of the subject and the auxiliary, such as: The man is Tall. Is the man tall?

1.
1.
2. Also, to make the sentence, The man who is tall is sad into a question,
2.
Also, to make the sentence, The man who is tall is sad into
a question, we say, Is the man who is tall sad? (switch the
order of the subject and the auxiliary).
3.
Is appears twice in the sentence, but we do not put the first
is up front and say , Is the man who tall is sad?
4.
This is because who is tall is nested within the sentence as
a kind of sub-sentence, and we extract the second is.

 No one teaches children such a thing-- and yet children do not start out trying
 No one teaches children such a thing-- and yet children do not start out trying

No one teaches children such a thing--and yet children do not start out trying sentences like, Is the man who tall is sad?

Chomsky argues then, that this is because we are born with an innate mental configuration to learn and produce language with this kind of nested structure. This hierarchical structure is the way that language built.

This means that when a child hears a sentence for the first time like, Is the man sad? , he/she knows, on a certain levelliterally be genetically programmed to readily understand, although not being able to put it in so many words-that there are possible sentences within sentences.

 No one teaches children such a thing-- and yet children do not start out trying
 Chomskyan syntax has worked out a formal representation of how sentences are represented in the
 Chomskyan syntax has worked out a formal representation of how sentences are represented in the
  • Chomskyan syntax has worked out a formal representation of how sentences are represented in the brain in structure-dependent fashion.

  • This representation is in the form of “trees’’ , in which words occur at the ends of the “branches”.

  • Example:

S (sentence)

 Chomskyan syntax has worked out a formal representation of how sentences are represented in the

N (noun)

V(verb)

Bill

walked away

The important thing is not just that this is a way of diagramming

 Chomskyan syntax has worked out a formal representation of how sentences are represented in the

the sentence. The idea is that this kind of structure is something

 The Chomskyan revolution was to study syntax as something autonomous from, in particular, meaning and
The Chomskyan revolution was to study syntax as
something autonomous from, in particular, meaning and
semantics;
And to propose, that there is an innate capacity for
learning, processing, and producing syntax of a
particular kind that is universal to our species.
In sum, his idea is that we are born with a sensitivity
to an innate kind of structure, with a propensity to
express language with this particular kind of
structure.
Chomsky called, Universal Grammar.