Seminar: The new perspective on language study as provided by Transformational Grammar

Speaker: Snezhana Boyanova (Veliko Turnovo University, Bulgaria)
Date: 9 June 2015
Location: MC131
Time: 3.15pm

boyanovaAbstract: Chomsky offered a different perspective to the study of the language – studying the process of production rather than the ready product. He was looking for language universals that could be applied to any language. Language is viewed as a genetic predisposition, a genetic chip that enables a child to acquire a language. It is an instinct that we are born with. The acquisition of language cannot be explained through imitation. Every sentence that we produce is unique – it is a unique combination of words, and meanings, and connotations, and context, situation, audience, speaker, etc. No two sentences are identical in this context. So imitation is too simplistic as an explanation of language acquisition. Language production is a creative process. Creativity and linguistic intuition are the two basic skills underlying language production.

All children go through a babbling stage before they acquire the language they are exposed to. And all children babble in the same way – they produce all the sounds of the world before narrowing them down to the sounds of the language that they are exposed to.

Children are born with the language foundations and language patterns and, when they are exposed to their mother’s language, they simply fill in the specific characteristics and idiosyncrasies of this specific language.

Linguistic competence is a key issue in transformational grammar. In some situations we are faced with two types of competence – standard and non-standard. Language is a dynamic phenomenon and in its development non-standard language can at one point become standard.

Two levels are postulated for every sentence – surface structure and deep structure. We work with the product of language – ready made sentences, which represent the surface structure, and derive their deep structure which reveals the linguistic competence that underlies the production of the sentence. Sometimes one surface structure can be corresponded by two deep structures, which accounts for ambiguity. But typically one surface structure corresponds to one deep structure.