By Kamil Wiśniewski, Aug 20th, 2007

Generative grammar is a notion that was developed in 1950s by Noam Chomsky. Although numerous scholars disagreed with Chomsky’s claims he gained many supporters and the idea was both developed and challenged at the same time. His works have exerted considerable influence on psycholinguistics, cognitive linguistics, applied linguistics as well as language methodology, and with time ‘generative grammar’ received broader meaning than it initially had.

Based partially on mathematical equations generative grammar is a set of rules that provide a framework for all the grammatically possible sentences in a language, excluding those which would be considered ungrammatical. A classical generative grammar consists of four elements:

  • A limited number of nonterminal signs;
  • A beginning sign which is contained in the limited number of nonterminal signs;
  • A limited number of terminal signs;
  • A finite set of rules which enable rewriting nonterminal signs as strings of terminal signs.

The rules could be applied in a free way and the only requirement is that the final result must be a grammatically correct sentence. What is more, generative grammar is recursive, which means that any output of application of rules can be the input for subsequent application of the same rule. That should enable generating sentences as the daughter ofthe father of the brother of his cousin.

Chomsky considered language to be a species-specific property which is a part of the human mind. Chomsky studied the ­Internal-language, a mental faculty for language. He also wanted to account for the linguistic competence of native speakers and the linguistic knowledge of language present in language users’ minds. As he argued:

  • People know which sentences are grammatically well formed in their native language
  • They have this knowledge also of previously unheard sentences
  • So they must rely on mentally represented rules and not only on memory
  • Generative grammars might be regarded as models of mentally represented rules
  • The ability to acquire such sets of rules is most probably uniquely human.

Moreover, Chomsky argued that people posses a kind of Language Faculty which is a part of human natural biological qualities. The innate linguistic knowledge that enables practically any child to learn any of about 6000 existing languages (at a given point in time) is sometimes known as the Universal Grammar. This theory is often supported by the arguments that creole languages are created in a natural way and their users invent their own linguistic systems. What is more, it appears that creole languages share certain features even despite the distances that not allows for contact of two different creoles.

References:

  • Brown K. (Editor) 2005. Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics – 2nd Edition. Oxford: Elsevier.
  • Wilson R. A. (Editor) 1999. The MIT encyclopedia of cognitive sciences. London: The MIT Press.

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