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Fro+erb¡aII¡ngu¡st Ema¡I Ser¡es 2 2004

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On Chomskyըs ExpIanatory Adequacy and Descr¡pt¡+e Adequacy and Fro+erb AnaIys¡s:
A Ka:rm¡k L¡ngu¡st¡c Re+¡ew 2
Ch¡Iukur¡ Bhu+aneswar, CIEFL, Hyderabad, Ind¡a

Noam Chomsky ¡s the p¡oneer of Transformat¡onaI-Generat¡+e Grammar ( T- G ) and
became a ceIebr¡ty w¡th h¡s re|ect¡on of beha+¡our¡sm ¡n h¡s famous re+¡ew of Sk¡nner's
VerbaI Beha+¡our (1957).H¡s theory f¡rst proposed as ¡n Syntact¡c Structures (1957) has
undergone s¡gn¡f¡cant re+¡s¡ons ¡n Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965) ,Lectures on
Go+ernment and B¡nd¡ng ( 1981),The Barr¡ers
(1995a), and The M¡n¡maI¡st Frogramme (1995b). F¡rst, he proposed that syntax ¡s
autonomous and Iater re+¡sed h¡s pos¡t¡on by ¡ncorporat¡ng semant¡cs aIso as an
¡mportant component. Second, he proposed that there are two structures ¡n syntax:
surface and deep ¡n add¡t¡on to the Iog¡caI and phonet¡c forms but Iater ¡n h¡s Iatest
+ers¡on of the theory, caIIed M¡n¡maI¡sm , abandoned them br¡ng¡ng ¡n a rad¡caI
departure from h¡s earI¡er pos¡t¡on. Thus, h¡s theory ¡s unstabIe but ¡t st¡II accepts the
foIIow¡ng ¡mportant cr¡ter¡a spec¡f¡ed for any adequate theory of grammar: expIanatory
adequacy; max¡maIIy constra¡ned ruIes; Iearnab¡I¡t y ; and m¡n¡maI¡sm.

As the focus of our research ¡s an anaIys¡s of pro+erbs and our quest ¡s to f¡nd a I¡ngu¡st¡c
theory that can pro+¡de a comprehens¡+e and pr¡nc¡pIed account of the d¡+ergent
propert¡es of pro+erbs, Iet us exam¡ne T-G and see ¡f ¡t can do so ¡n terms of the
¡mportant cr¡ter¡a ment¡oned abo+e.


Radford (1988:30 ) def¡nes the term expIanatory adequacy as foIIows:

" (44) A I¡ngu¡st¡c theory atta¡ns expIanatory adequacy |ust ¡n case ¡t pro+¡des a
descr¡pt¡+eIy adequate grammar for e+ery naturaI Ianguage, and does so ¡n terms of a
max¡maIIy constra¡ned
set of un¡+ersaI pr¡nc¡pIes wh¡ch represent psychoIog¡caIIy pIaus¡bIe naturaI pr¡nc¡pIes of
mentaI computat¡on."

In other words, any adequate I¡ngu¡st¡c theory shouId be un¡+ersaIIy +aI¡d, psychoIog¡caI
reaI, and max¡maIIy constra¡ned. If add m¡n¡maI¡sm aIso ¡nto the term, we get a fourth
¡mportant cond¡t¡on
¡nto the theory.

Let us take these concepts ¡nto cons¡derat¡on and exam¡ne whether T -G sat¡sf¡es them
for an anaIys¡s of pro+erbs.


Accord¡ng to Chomsky ( as quoted ¡n Radford 1988: 1 -2 ) , any deta¡Ied study of
Ianguage uIt¡mateIy seeks to de+eIop the three ¡nter-reIated theor¡es of Ianguage: 1)
structure; 2) acqu¡s¡t¡on; and 3) use. In the case of T-G, " Chomsky has de+oted h¡mseIf
pr¡mar¡Iy to the study of Ianguage structure rather than Ianguage use " (¡b¡d.4).In other
words Chomsky " focused aImost excIus¡+eIy on the task of attempt¡ng to character¡ze
grammat¡caI rather than pragmat¡c competence" (¡b¡d.).

Accord¡ng to Chomsky (Essays 1977a: 40 ) , pragmat¡cs ¡s concerned ¡th the roIe pIayed
by non-I¡ngu¡st¡c ¡nformat¡on such as background knowIedge and personaI beI¡efs ¡n our
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use of sentences (see aIso Radford 1988: 3) and pragmat¡c competence ¡s reIated to
Ferformance wh¡ch ¡s "the actuaI use of Ianguage ¡n concrete s¡tuat¡ons' (Chomsky.
Aspects (1965), p.4).In contrast, grammat¡caI competence ¡s "the speaker-hearer's
knowIedge' (¡b¡d).

An appI¡cat¡on of these concepts as understood by Chomsky poses probIems ¡n the
¡nterpretat¡on of pro+erbs. Fro+erbs are Ianguage and therefore we can de+eIop a theory
of the¡r Ianguage structure,
acqu¡s¡t¡on and use. Let us take the foIIow¡ng exampIe and see what grammat¡caI
competence ¡s ¡n+oI+ed ¡n ¡nterpret¡ng ¡t:

(1) Why buy the cow when you get the m¡Ik free?

T-G fuIf¡IIs the cond¡t¡ons of both the obser+at¡onaI adequacy and descr¡pt¡+e adequacy
as def¡ned by Radford (1988: 28) s¡nce ¡t correctIy spec¡f¡es that th¡s sentence ¡s
syntact¡caIIy, semant¡caIIy, morphoIog¡caIIy, and phonoIog¡caIIy weII -formed ¡n the
EngI¡sh Ianguage and aIso appears to properIy descr¡be " the syntact¡c, semant¡c,
morphoIog¡caI, and phonoIog¡caI structure of the
sentence(s) ¡n such a way as to pro+¡de a pr¡nc¡pIed account of the nat¡+e speaker's
¡ntu¡t¡ons about th¡s structure" (¡b¡d.).At the syntact¡c Ie+eI ¡t can be cons¡dered an
eII¡pted +ers¡on of:

(1a) Why (do you (want to) ) buy the cow when you get the m¡Ik free?

But on a cIoser exam¡nat¡on of the mean¡ng of the structure, ¡t Iooks I¡ke that T-G does
not do so for the foIIow¡ng reasons:

1. Th¡s structure g¡+es two read¡ngs depend¡ng on the context ¡n wh¡ch ¡t ¡s used. F¡rst, ¡n
a poss¡bIe worId s¡tuat¡on, when someone wants to buy a cow whose m¡Ik he ¡s gett¡ng
free , another fr¡end of
h¡m m¡ght I¡ke to ad+¡se h¡m by h¡nt¡ng at the `wastefuIness' of such an act¡on: You are
aIready gett¡ng m¡Ik and that too freeIy and so ¡t ¡s a waste to do so. Th¡s he does by a
rhetor¡caI quest¡on. It can be shown ¡n an ¡mag¡nary con+ersat¡on as foIIows:

(2a) A (Buyer): That cow ¡s heaIthy and g¡+es good m¡Ik.
I want to buy ¡t (from my fr¡end).

B (Ad+¡ser): Why buy the cow when you get the m¡Ik free?
[ B knows that A ¡s gett¡ng the m¡Ik of that cow freeIy.]

T-G pro+¡des the mean¡ng g¡+en ¡n th¡s Read¡ng 1 and so ¡t appears that ¡t sat¡sf¡es the
cond¡t¡on of descr¡pt¡+e adequacy. Howe+er, the same sentence g¡+es an ent¡reIy
d¡fferent Read¡ng 2 ¡n a reaI worId s¡tuat¡on ( where Read¡ng 1 ¡s aIso poss¡bIe ¡n a
d¡fferent context!) :

(2b) Whene+er B ( EI+¡s FresIey ) was ¡nter+¡ewed by a reporter (A) regard¡ng h¡s
marr¡age, he used to answer the quest¡on w¡th the sentence (1).

The con+ersat¡on ¡s g¡+en beIow:
A: Why aren't you marr¡ed?
B: Why buy the cow when you get the m¡Ik free? (M¡eder 1992: 123)

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In th¡s context, Read¡ng 1 ¡s compIeteIy unacceptabIe. Th¡s sentence
g¡+es an ent¡reIy new mean¡ng ¡n th¡s context as Read¡ng 2:

(2c) `Why shouId I marry when I get the benef¡ts of marr¡age w¡thout do¡ng so?' further
mean¡ng `As I get the benef¡ts of marr¡age w¡thout marry¡ng, I th¡nk ¡t ¡s a waste and
therefore I am not marr¡ed.'

To arr¡+e at th¡s mean¡ng, the mere ¡nterpretat¡on of the referent¡aI mean¡ng of the
sentence and ¡ts rhetor¡caI quest¡on mode ¡s not enough. There shouId be an awareness
that th¡s sentence ¡s cuIturaIIy conf¡rmed as a pro+erb; that ¡t ¡s used as a pro+erb ¡n that
context; and that ¡ts mean¡ng shouId be der¡+ed by extens¡on of ¡ts prototyp¡caI mean¡ng
to the context to obta¡n ¡ts contextuaI mean¡ng (see Bhu+aneswar 1999 for a d¡scuss¡on
of mean¡ng ¡n pro+erbs).

T-G ¡n ¡ts present state of de+eIopment does not ha+e the theoret¡caI backup to properIy
descr¡be the semant¡c structure of the sentence as a pro+erb ` ¡n such a way as to
pro+¡de a pr¡nc¡pIed account of the nat¡+e speaker's ¡ntu¡t¡ons about th¡s structure.' In
order to do so, a theory of grammar shouId not onIy account for grammat¡caI competence
but aIso pragmat¡c competence as weII as cuIturaI and ¡nd¡+¡duaI competence - pragmat¡c
competence accounts for the context
¡n wh¡ch ¡t ¡s used by g¡+¡ng `background knowIedge and personaI beI¡ef ' wh¡ch by
themseI+es are not enough; one requ¡res ¡n add¡t¡on cuIturaI competence to teII h¡m that
¡t ¡s a pro+erb w¡th a spec¡f¡c prototyp¡caI mean¡ng - otherw¡se, ¡t becomes a mean¡ngIess
sentence there - and ¡nd¡+¡duaI cogn¡t¡+e competence to match the utterance w¡th the
context to arr¡+e at the mean¡ng. If there ¡s no ¡nd¡+¡duaI cogn¡t¡+e competence, the
pro+erb can be used or understood wrongIy. So ¡nd¡+¡duaI cogn¡t¡+e competence reIates
w¡th grammat¡caI as weII as pragmat¡c competence. Howe+er, ¡nd¡+¡duaI cogn¡t¡+e
competence ¡s ¡nnate but be brought to better appI¡cat¡on by pragmat¡c exposure.