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Generative Grammar | TESL Issues

Generative Grammar

Generative Grammar

According to ‘generative grammar’ proposed by Chomsky, a language is not a system of rules, but a set of specifications for parameters in an invariant system of principles of Universal Grammar (UG).

It is believed that humans are able to produce sequences which they have never encountered before. A generative grammar is a system of many hundreds of rules of several different types, organized in accordance with certain fixed principles of ordering and applicability and containing a certain fixed substructure, which, along with the general principles of organisation, is common to all languages.

In this Chomskyan approach, there is a rigorous reliance on principles rather than rules.

In Generative Grammar, the term ‘generative’ means that the description is rigorous and explicit. In other words, when we speak of the linguist’s grammar as a “generative grammar” we mean only that it is sufficiently explicit to determine how sentences of the language are in fact characterized by the grammar. Therefore, the term ‘generative’ here does not mean ‘productive’, but ‘explicit and formal’. In this response, the justification of ‘rewrite rule’ systems was that they formalized grammar into a rigorous enclosed set of definitions. In other words, according to ‘generative grammar’, grammar should be stated explicitly based on scientific and rigorous status as a generative theory to be tested by concrete evidence about language.

Chomsky argues that knowledge of syntax determines the order of a sentence by generating its structure, i.e. its ‘secret skeleton’.


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