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Chomsky’s OT eesrel Grammar Vy. J. Cook and Mark Newson v Pees 1 The Nature of Universal Grammar The idea of Universal Grammar (UG) put forward by Noam Chomsky has been a crucial driving force in linguistics. Whether linguists agree with it or not, they have defined themselves by their reactions to it, not only in terms of general concepts of language and language acquisition, but also in how they carry out linguistic description. From the 1960s to the 1980s, UG became a flash-point for disciplines outside linguistics such as psychology, computer parsing of language and first language acquisition, even if these areas have tended to lose contact in recent years. The aim of this book is to convey why Chomsky’s theories of lan- guage still continue to be stimulating and adventurous and why they have important consequences for all those working with language. This book is intended as an introduction to Chomsky’s UG Theory for those who want a broad overview with sufficient detail to see how its main concepts work rather than for those who are specialist students of syntax, for whom technical introductions such as Adger (2003) and Hornstein et al. (2005) are more appropriate. Nor does it cover Chomsky’s political views, still as much a thom in the side of the US establishment as ever, for example Chomsky (2004a). While the book pays attention to the current theory, called the Minimalist Program, it concentrates on providing a background to the overall concepts of Chomsky’s theory, which have unfolded over six decades. Where possible, concepts are illustrated through Chomsky’s own words. The distinctive feature of the book is the combination of Chomsky’s general ideas of language and language acquisi- tion with the details of syntax. This opening chapter sets the scene by discussing some of the general issues of Chomsky’s work on the notion of UG, Following this, chapter 2 discusses central concepts of the framework and how these relate to Chomsky’s views on language acquisition. The next two chapters provide an introduction to the syntax of Government/Binding Theory in terms of structure and of movement respectively. Chapter 5 looks at Chomskyan approaches to first language acqui- sition, chapter 6 at second language acquisition. Then chapters 7 and 8 outline the current Minimalist Program, again separating structure and movement. ‘Two conventions followed in this book need briefly stating. As ustial in lin- guistics books, an asterisk indicates an ungrammatical sentence. Example sentences, phrases and structures are numbered for ease of reference, i.e.: 2. 1 The Nature of Universal Grammar (1). *That John left early seemed. While much of the discussion is based upon English for convenience, the UG Theory gains its power by being applied to many languages. Indeed the past twenty years have seen a proliferation in the languages studied, which will be drawn on when possible. It should perhaps be pointed out that the sentences used in this book are examples of particular syntactic issues rather than necessarily being based on complete recent analyses of the languages in question. 1.1 The early development of Universal Grammar Theory The approach adopted in this book is to look at the general ideas of the Chomskyan theory of UG without reference to their historical origins. Nevertheless some allu- sions have to be made to the different versions that have been employed over the years and the history of the theory needs to be briefly sketched, partly so that the reader is not confused by picking up a book with other terminology. Development has taken place at two levels. On one level are the general concepts about language and language acquisition on which the theory is based. ‘The origins of such ideas as competence and performance or the innateness of language can be traced back to the late fifties or mid-sixties. These have grown. continuously over the years rather than being superseded or abandoned. On this level the UG Theory is recognizable in any of its incarnations and the broad out- lines have remained substantially the same despite numerous additions. On another level come ideas about the description of syntax, which fall into definite historical phases. Different periods in the Chomskyan description of syntax have tended to become known by the names of particular books. Each was characterized by certain concepts, which were often rejected by the next period; hence the statements of one period are often difficult to translate into those of the next. Unlike the continuity of the general ideas, there are shifts in the concepts of syntax, leading to a series of apparent discontinuities and changes of direction. The original model, Syntactic Structures, took its name from the title of Chomsky’s 1957 book, which established the notion of ‘generative grammar itself, with its emphasis on explicit ‘generative’, formal description through ‘rewrite rules’ such as S -+ NP VP, as described below. It made a separation between phrase structure rules that generated the basic structures, called ‘kernel sentences’, and transformations which altered these in various ways by turning them into pas- sive or negative sentences etc.; hence its popular name was ‘transformational gen- erative grammar’ or ‘TGG’. Its most memorable product was the sentence: (2) Colourless green ideas sleep furiously. intended to demonstrate that sentences could be grammatical but meaningless and hence that syntax is independent of semantics. This sentence became so widely known that attempts were made to create poems that included it naturally (after all, Andrew Marvell wrote of ‘a green thought in a green shade’). 1 The Nature of Universal Grammar 3 This theory was superseded by the model first known as the Aspects Model after Chomsky’s 1965 book Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, later as the Standard Theory. This was distinguished by the introduction of the competence/per- formance distinction between language knowledge and language use and by its recognition of ‘deep’ and ‘surface’ structure in the sentence. Two classic test sentences were: (3) John is cager to please. which implies that John pleases other people, and: (4) John is easy to please. which implies that other people please John, This difference is captured by Claiming that the two sentences have the same surface structure but differ in deep structure, where Joh may act as the subject or object of the verb please. Again, sentence (4) was so widely known it featured in graffiti on London street walls in the 1970s and was used as a book title (Mehta, 1971). During the 1970s the Standard Theory evolved into the Extended Standard Theory (EST), which refined the types of rules that were employed. This in turn changed more radically into the Government/Binding (GB) Model (after Lectures on Government and Binding, Chomsky, 1981a), which substantially underpins this book. The GB Model claimed that human languages consisted of principles that were the same for any grammar and parameters that allowed grammars to vary in limited ways, to be illustrated in the next chapter. It also refined deep and sur- face structure into the more technical notions of ‘D-structure’ and ‘S-structure’, to be discussed below. The GB version of UG was presented most readably in Knowledge of Language (Chomsky, 1986a). Though ‘Government and Binding Theory’ was the common label for this model, Chomsky himself found it mis- leading because it gave undue prominence to two of its many elements: ‘these modules of language stand alongside many others... Determination of the nature of these and other systems is a common project, not specific to this particular con- ception of the nature of language and its use’ (Chomsky, 1995a, pp. 29-30). Hence the label of Principles and Parameters (P&P) Theory has come to be seen as closer to its essence, and can still be applied to the contemporary model. Since the late eighties a further major model of syntax has been undergoing development, a model called the Minimalist Program (MP), again reflected in the title of Chomsky’ first publication in this framework (Chomsky, 1993) and his later book (Chomsky, 1995a). So far this has had three phases. In the first phase, up till about 1996, the MP concentrated on the general features of the model, sim- plifying knowledge of language to invariant principles common to all languages, and, by attaching parameters to the vocabulary, making everything that people have to acquire in order to know a particular language part of the lexicon. From about 1996 the second phase embarked on a programme of radically rethinking syntax, eliminating much of the apparatus of GB Theory in favour of a minimal set of operations and ideas and exploring whether the central ‘computational sys- tem’ of language interfaces ‘perfectly’ with phonology and cognition. Since 2000