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Wetenschapsfilosofie Engels W5 Cheat Sheet by

Wetenschapsfilosofie Engels

Struct­uralism to Genera­tivism

• Genera­tivism as succeeded by struct­uralism (de Saussure);
• Struct­uralism w/ emphasis on segmen­tation and classi­fic­ation; catalo­guing elements, their relations and distri­but­ions;
• Struct­ura­lism's main contri­bution: method­olo­gical (according to Chomsky); the idea of language as a formal system;
• Struct­uralism makes it possible to address the problems posed by UG (SR p5).

Noam Chomsky (1928-)

• creator of the theory of generative grammar, one of the most signif­icant contri­butions to the field of lingui­stics in the 20th century;
• genuine insights in lingui­stics imply an unders­tanding of aspects of mental processing and human nature

Mental­istic Approach of Genera­tivism

Genera­tivism forms a return to Kant:
simila­rities: emphasis on mental structures which experience (learning a language) can order (‘setting the parame­ters’), but which cannot be derived from experience (they are geneti­cally determ­ined);
differ­ence: for Chomsky, these structures are not just transc­end­ental, found only through philos­ophical reflec­tion, but can form the object of empirical (cognitive psycho­log­ical) research.

A Universal Grammar (UG)

➝ the ability to learn grammar is hard-wired
➝ provides insight into the use and acquis­ition of language
➝ not just descri­ptive but also explan­atory
➝ distin­ction between deep structure and surface structure

Chomsky advocates a return to the idea of a universal grammar; the kind of grammar that flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries;
“concerned with general features of language structure rather than with particular idiosy­ncr­acies”

The decline of universal grammar

Tradition of universal grammar came to an end in the 19th century:
➝ dismissed as too metaph­ysical;
too ambitious: “the problems posed were beyond the scope of the technique and unders­tanding then available”
the problem of rule-g­overned creativity: how is it that from an early age onwards, children can create sentences they have never heard?
➝ ousted by IE compar­ative lingui­stics

Generative grammar

Object of research: syntax only (auton­omous component) (SR p21);
Only this part of the grammar is suscep­tible to rules: “The fundam­ental aim in the linguistic analysis of a language L is to separate the gramma­tical sequences which are sentences of L from the ungram­matical sequences which are not sentences of L and to study the gramma­tical sequences. The grammar of L will thus be a device that generates all of the gramma­tical sequences of L and none of the ungram­matical ones.” (SR p18)


Gramma­tic­alness cannot be determined by:
- a corpus of utterances (perfo­rmance)
- meaning (seman­tics):
- frequency of use

the rules of grammar as formulated in the language of mathem­atics and logic;
economy: by specifying a finite number of rules the grammar can generate an infinite number of sentences (recurs­ivity);
accounts for creativity in language
S ➝ NP + VP
VP ➝ V + NP
NP ➝ D + N
D ➝ the
N ➝ boy, dog
V ➝ chased
The boy chased the dog
The dog chased the boy

Chomsky's Evaluation

• Linguistic theory must provide the means to evaluate possible grammars
Possible grammars: devices that generate the gramma­tical sentences of a language
• Such a grammar must be descri­ptively adequate in the sense that it is able to disamb­iguate ambiguous sentences, i.e., sentences with an identical surface structure (signal, form), but with different semantic interp­ret­ations (deep struct­ures)

Competence vs Perfor­mance vs Saussure

Perfor­mance: what speakers do (= de Saussure’s parole);
Compet­ence: an individual native speaker’s implicit knowledge of the language (≠ de Saussure’s langue)

➝ Both de Saussure and Chomsky regard language as a system and ignore individual speech acts;
➝ Chomsky’s competence is a psycho­logical phenom­enon, imprinted in the mind, not a shared generality but a genetic endowment in each indivi­dual; its basis is universal grammar;
➝ de Saussure’s langue is a socio-­psy­cho­logical phenomenon shared among a community of speakers and is language specific.

• "The only legitimate object of linguistic research is the competence of the ideal native speake­r" (Chomsky)

Innateness vs UG

• “a universal grammar – a general theory of linguistic structure that determines the form of grammar – is primarily of interest for the inform­ation it provides concerning innate intell­ectual structure”
• language acquis­ition and use are made possible by a particular component in the human mind: the language faculty, consisting of a Universal Grammar;
• languages scarcely differ at the level of deep structure – which reflects the basic properties of thought and conception – but that they may vary widely at the much less intere­sting level of surface structure
➝ the rapid language acquis­ition of children
➝ the poverty of the stimulus;
➝ creative language use of native speakers;
➝ competent critical period (sensitive period)
➝ gave rise to the nature vs nurture debate

Genera­tivism: a new paradigm (Kuhn)

field: syntax as an autonomous component
emphasis: evaluation instead of discovery
tool: gramma­tic­ality judgments (i.e., informal elicit­ation) of data

Principles & Parame­ters:
Princi­ples: abstract rules of grammar, common to all languages
Parame­ters: markers or switches that are turned on or off for particular languages and determine variab­ility
Government & Binding Theory:
Govern­ment: an abstract syntactic relation mainly concerned w/ the assignment of case > all languages have abstract case though they may not have morpho­logical case
Binding: an abstract syntactic relation mainly concerned with the referents of pronouns, anaphors (refle­xives) and refere­ntial expres­sions


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