Noam Chomsky is a linguist and philosopher from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has been one of the twentieth century's most important writers in linguistic theory. His research into the creative aspect of human language has spawned theories that dissect and exposit a comprehensive portrait of the system which produces natural language. His generative grammar theory involves the combination of the previous linguistic traditions of behavioral and structural linguistics. This essay will explore the work and theories of Chomsky, and there will be a discussion of how Chomsky fits in the history of both linguistics and philosophy.
Although many of Chomsky's ideas are revolutionary, they are rooted in some ancient ideas that have developed through the complex history of the study of language. A large portion of this history begins with Panini, an ancient Sanskrit grammarian who worked with a generative system similar to Chomsky's.
[...] Perhaps both of these cases are an instance of something other than what Chomsky is referring to when he terms something a ‘language.' Perhaps these are systems of communication which are adequate for this community, but are not exactly what Chomsky defines as a ‘language.' Despite the debates which continue over Chomsky today, his theories remain highly influential and useful in understanding a how language works and is used. Although Chomsky argues against it, his concepts of linguistic structures are often applied to other cognitive systems, such as music. [...]
[...] His theory uses these components as evidence of the universal qualities of human language, and his use of a generative cycle of language also reinforces his perception of it as an innate faculty. The next category that provides a good picture of Chomsky's influence is the scope of his phonological theory. Chomsky repeats this process of formal analysis on the “word-level” of linguistic theory with his work on the phonological rules of the English, The Sound Pattern of English. This book takes a similar process of diagramming each part of how language is generated, and it reveals similar characteristics of a recursive nature within English phonological structure. [...]
[...] Because there is a separation between the ideas of a set system of rules for a grammar and Chomsky's notion of a generative environment, this creates conflict on both the definition and nature of language. Also, if language is an innate faculty, then each person theoretically has some say in this definition of what language is. Wittgenstein sums up this generative idea with some of his writings in Philosophical Investigations: from one day to the next you promise: “Tomorrow I will come and see are you saying the same thing every day, or every day something different?” (Wittgenstein, 31). [...]
[...] Through an understanding of the methodology of Chomsky, we can reflect on how these characteristics are present in other systems of both natural and formalized languages. This analysis will also help to understand how and if Chomsky's theories fall short and are inconsistent, and how he has transformed his own ideas of linguistic philosophy over the years. In 1957, Chomsky's Syntactic Structures lays the groundwork for his generative theory of language. Because of its sheer volume and intensely formulaic methodology, this work remains one of the most important road maps of theoretical linguistics. [...]
[...] These rules are able to explain both the generative and abstract nature of the writers' perceptions of phonology. Chomsky and Halle's theory of phonology outlines 43 different items which pertain to particular stress- countour rules. A Good example is the “Vowel Shift Rule” which is written as: This rule “applies to nonback vowels that are nonround and to back vowels that are round” (Chomsky and Halle, 203). The writers term this rule as a “synchronic residue of the Great Vowel Shift of Early Modern English” (Chomsky and Halle, 184). [...]
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