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Transformational-generative grammar

Originally expounded by Noam Chomsky, his students, and colleagues, transformational-generative grammar (TGG) is an attempt to define the grammatical rules underlying all of the surface expression of language. Some of these rules are quite simple, such as the Head Initial/Final rules:

Most languages tend to prefer one or the other structure, although there are often exceptions; Japanese prefers Head Final structures, whereas English prefers Head Initial structures. About half of all languages choose each, with slightly more choosing the Japanese ordering.

Other rules are more complex, such as the so-called "Wh-Question Formation Rule" for English, which can be summarized as:

1. Begin with a simple declarative, with a missing item:
    • He gave X a book.
2. Insert the appropriate Wh-word for the expected lexical category of the answer:
    • He gave to whom a book.
3. Change the form of the verb to the appropriate "did X" construction:
    • He did give to whom a book.
4. Use Subject-Auxiliary Inversion to form an interrogative:
    • Did he give to whom a book?
5. Move the Wh-word element to the front of the sentence:
    • To whom did he give a book?

While Chomsky and others have abandoned much of traditional TGG (the mechanisms described in the example above have been out of date since the late 1960s), it continues to have useful applications in syntactic analysis, the study of children's language acquisition, and the study of Universal Grammar.

See also: linguistics, grammar, syntax, semantics

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