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Posts Tagged ‘syntax’

Linguistics - Universal Grammar

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

All humans are born with the ability and drive to learn language. Before we can even walk we start talking. From birth we are listening with intent, ready to learn our native tongue. Evolution has seen to it that we have an aptitude for language learning, but just how much of our abilities are we born with and how much to we acquire as we go along?

When we learn languages, we use the knowledge and skills acquired from the language we already know to understand this new language. That is, we take the rules of language, such as the use of verbs and adjective, sentence structure and syntax, and apply them to the new language. While these rules will always change and vary between languages there are some structures between languages that remain the same. This is known as universal grammar. Items than can be considered a part of universal grammar include tense, aspect and mood.

There are some rules that when applied to one language can be applied to practically any language. For instance, if a language has a name for the color red, it will have a word for the color purple. These rules do not always apply to every single language, which makes the theory of universal grammar difficult for linguists to prove. Universal Grammar forms part of the nature vs. nurture that has had scientists guessing for generations. Are we born destined to grow into a certain person with certain abilities, or do we acquire these characteristics along the way?

Within the field of linguistics there are two theories as to how we learn language as children. The theory of universal grammar was proposed by linguist Noam Chomsky. He believed that a set part of our brain was dedicated to language, and that this part of the brain had a set group of rules which we applied to language. It cannot be changed or altered, we do not learn it we are born with it. These structures appear in every language around the world. The alternative theory is that we are born with no pre-existing knowledge of language, rather it is something that we acquire.

Linguistics - Syntax

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

All languages do have rules which are called grammar. These rules are necessary to enable those who are learning the language to be able to continue to grow their vocabulary and speak in long sentences throughout their lifetime.

If rules did not exist in language acquisition, the student would find it a huge effort to learn a new language because then they would have to learn each sentence separately. The rules define how sentences should be constructed and what is right from what is the wrong way to put a sentence together. Using those rules helps the student to know how and when to use certain words, verbs, nouns and phrases in a sentence.

With those rules in place, the student will feel more confident in combining words into sentences and can create myriads of sentences on their own while administering these rules of language. The person who has knowledge of the syntax will see the sentence as more meaningful to them. Syntax is very important in constructing sentences and once the rules are learned, it comes quite naturally to the speaker.

In terms of language acquisition, Syntax is the study pertaining to the sentence construction rules and principles in a native language. It goes to the reference of the rules governing the structure of sentences in any language. There are some generic rules that apply to all languages as it relates to its syntax.

The rules include things such as how words are put together, how the word ending changes as it relates to the context of the sentence and how the parts of speech are connected.

In language acquisition, syntax in sentences is exemplified by a few methods below:

“The girl caught the ball”

Here is how you would describe the syntax rule of any sentence (noun or subject is followed by verb and then verb is followed by object or noun): In the above sentence, the subject is the girl and that is followed by the verb caught and then another noun which is the ball.


It does not matter how complex the sentence is because words can be embedded into the existing sentence to make the rules of syntax still work and still meaningful.

Linguistics - Generative Grammar 2

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Generative grammar is a branch of theoretical linguistics developed by Noam Chomsky in the late 1950s. The main idea behind generative grammar is that language is developed according to innate, universal rules which are inborn endowments, not man-made ideas devised at an intellectual level. This explains why children absorb language, including grammar, in a short period of time, with little effort. The principles which enable people to communicate, Chomsky found, are deeply embedded within the brain and are so predictable, they can be quantified mathematically.

According to generative grammar, some linguistic constructs resonate within humans as being grammatically correct while others, in their essence, are ungrammatical. The four major categories in which universal linguistic similarities have been found are phonology (the study of sounds used in a language), morphology (the study of the formation of words), syntax (the study of sentence structure), and semantics (the study of the meaning of words). As it turns out, the linguistic constructs in various languages are, in fact, simply different ways of accomplishing the same things.

Generative grammar is not counterintuitive, given the fact that we all are part of the “family of man”. All the different flavors of humankind have basic linguistic traits in common which are more deeply embedded than the mores and folkways that separate us.

As a study of the underlying principles of human languages, generative grammar consists largely of empirically gathered observations of reality. These principles have been studied since Chomsky first researched them in the 1950s. While the theory has undergone many modifications over the years, its basic premises are widely accepted by the linguistic world as true.

For the language student, this is good news. On the surface, it might seem that some languages bear absolutely no similarity to one another. What do the languages of a !Kung bushman of the Kalahari Desert, a Tibetan Sherpa, a Midwestern American farmer, and a Chinese businesswoman have in common? Not much, we might be tempted to think. However, if these four people were sequestered in a room together, sooner or later, they would find ways to communicate. Furthermore, if they studied each others’ languages, they would ultimately find common ground amongst those languages, despite the obvious differences.

Thus, although the knowledge of generative grammar will not help the language student learn a language in any practical way, it could be a great encouragement to the student who feels like a stranger in a strange land. We people are all, in fact, brothers and sisters, and the fount of our speech rises up from a common wellspring.

Linguistics - Generative Grammar

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Generative grammar is the method of how to effectively study syntax. In any language, this sets the rules of how grammatical sentences are formed using predictable combined words.

The mind has a controlling Language Acquisition device that knows how to engage the rules of generative grammar unconsciously.

Noam Chomsky, in the late 1950s initiated this method of learning any language. According to Chomsky, his theory, Minimalist Program, an offset to other previous versions, suggest that there is an instinctive universal grammar in all of us.

In addition, generative grammar may be more than just a communication aspect of language acquisition, but more of learning from the environment around us. This is what sets it apart from cognitive grammar.

The previous versions of generative grammar, which includes transformational grammar, distinguishes sentences as either being grammatically correct or not. The rules of engagement for a generative sentence concludes that it is either right or it’s not. It does not give place to much error.

The hierarchy of words

Chomsky constructs a hierarchy that explains the difference between what we consider regular grammar and formal grammar. According to him, regular grammar is not a model to the representation of human language because all language should allow for the embedding of a string of words within a string.

An example of this would be the phrase, “The man ate.” We do not know what the man ate, so this is a regular form of grammar. To expand the string from a regular grammar to formal grammar, you would complete the sentence to make it more descriptive by adding, “The man ate his dinner.”

For someone who intuitively knows their own language, generative grammar enables them to understand the scope of the sentence knowing that the man ate something and expressly knowing that it is some type of “food” would be the word or phrase that comes after the sentence, “The man ate.”

At the conception of generative grammar, it created a set of rules that helps an individual who know their natural language to express grammatical words correctly. Chomsky seemed to reject that claim by saying that language acquisition is not a suggestion of the process involved to making it real, but rather an intuitive mindset.


The rules of generative grammar continue to change as different types of methods emerge, but one thing remains the same, which is the mind’s ability to generate its own rules of learning a language.