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Chwasky. Noss
THE CLMENT SCDE IN LINGUISTICS: PRESENT DIRECTIONS.
Pub Date May 66
.
Note-10p.
Journal Cit-College English: v27 n8 p587-95 May 1966
EDRS Price t4-S025 HC-S0A8
INSTRUCTION. *GRAMIAR. LANGUAGE.
Descriptors-DEEP STRUCTURE. DESCRIPTIVE LINGUISTICS. ENGLISH THEORY. PERCEPTION. RESEARCH
*LANGUAGE RESEARCH. LEARNING THEORIES. *LINGUISTICS. *LINGUISTIC GRAMMAR.
LINGUISTICS, SI.RFACE STRUCTURE. TRADITIONAL
METHODOLOGY. STRUCTURAL
TRANSFORMATION GENERATIVE GRAMMAR
Two traditions are distinguishable in modern linguistic theory:and the tradition of
'universal grammar' which flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries, the tradition
of structural or descriptive linguistics which reached its peak 15 or 20 years ago.
surface
Universal grammar was concerned with (1) the relation of deep structure to
forms and to the use and acquisition of language. (2) the act of the perception. and (3)
the acquisition of knowledge in general. Structural linguistics. on other hand, has
been particularly valuable for providing a methodology for the recording and study of
data. The linguists of today can begin to utilize the methods
factual problems which
developedlancirstructural linguists to scientifically investigate the
concernpd the-universal grammarians..We may well witness. then. a synthesis of these
into ttie
two traditions in langUAge study which i411 allow our students to haVe insight
unconsciously and its relation to the mysteries of
complexities of the grammar they use
the human intelligence itself. (DL)
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COLLEGE ENGLISH
AN OFFICIAL ORGAN OF THE NATIONAL COUNCIL OF TEACHERS OF ENGLISH

President Executive Secretary College Section Chairman


Mtiam. Caossir JAhtes R. SQUIRE ROBERT M. GORRELL
Wilmington, Delaware, Public Schools University of Illinois University of Nevada
Editor: James E. Miller, jr., University of Chicago,Chicago 37, Illinois

Vol. 27 CONTENTS FOR MAY 1966 No. 8


THE CURRENT SCENE IN LINGUISTICS: NOaM Chomsky 587
ENGLISH WORDS OF VERY HIGH FREQUENCY: William Card and
Virginia McDavid 596
PHONOLOGY AND THE TEACHING OF PRONUNCIATION: C. Catford
J. 605

HIGH SCHOOL ENGLISH PROGRAMS: f ames R. Squire 613

LITERATURE, THREAT AND CONQUEST: Walter 1. Ong, S. 1. 620

SPEECH, ENGLISH, AND TRAINING: Henry W. Sams 623

A BACKWARD GLANCE: James E. Miller, Jr. 624

ROUND TABLE: The Copyright Law and T. S. Eliot (Oscar Cargill); A Letter
4:1 to One More Newly-Elected Committee Set Up to Plan and Administer a
4) Course in Freshman Composition (Ken Macrorie); A Note on Culture, or
Animation and the jobless (Eric Larsen) 627
C\I REBurrAL: A Comment on Richard Ohmann's "Literature as Sentences" and
C\I
0 Martin Steinmann's "Rhetorical Research" (A. M. Tibbetts); Pinfeathers
for a Ruptured Duck (Raven I. McDavid, Jr.) 634
CI
ta DEPARTMENTAL MEMO (Jerome W. Archer, Editor): Master Assistants at the
University of Wisconsin (Edgar 1V. Lacy, William Lenehan, and Ednah S.
Thomas); Shift in Composition Sequence at Fort Hays Kansas State College
4. (W. R. Thompson) 637

NO (Louis H. Leiter,Editor); Verse: Man's His Own Wine (James


NEWS AND IDEAS
Edmund Magner, fr.) 640
0 Books (Robert E. Knoll and Bernice Slote, Editors)
40 4/

0 ANNUAL INDEX 661

tki
I%
COLLEGE ENGLISH
V olume 27 May 1966 Number 8

The Current Scene in Linguistics:


Present Directions
NOAM CHOMSKY

THE TITLE OF THIS PAPER may suggest possible, and that it is, to Some extent,
something more than can yae provided. It being achieved in current work. Before
would be foolhardy to Jttempt to fore- approaching thc problem of synthesis, 1
cast the development of linguistics or any would like to skctch brieflyand, neces-
other field, even in general tcrms and in sarily, with some oversimplification
thc short run. There is no way to antici- what seem to 1 i.e to b thc most signifi-
pate ideas and insights that may, at any cant features in these two traditions.
time, direct research in new directions or As the name indicates, universal gram-
reopen traditional problems that had mar was concerned with general features
been too difficult or too unclear to pro- of language structure rather than with
vide a fruitful challenge. The most that particular idiosyncrasies. Particularly in
one can hope to do is to arrive at a clear France, universal grammar developed in
appraisal of the present situation in lin- part in reaction to an earlier descriptivist
guistic research, and an accurate under- tradition which held that the only proper
standing of historical tendencies. It task for the grammarian was to present
would not be realistic to attempt to pro- data, to give a kind of "natural history"
ject such tendencies into the future. of language (specifically, of the "culti-
Two major traditions can be distin- vated usage" of the court and the best
guished in modern linguistic theory: one writers). In contrast, universal grammar-
is the tradition of "universal" or "philo- ians urged that the study 'of language
sophical grammar," which flourished in should be elevated from the level of "nat-
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; ural history" to that of "natural phi-
the second is the tradition of structural losophy"; hence the term "philosophical
or descriptive linguistics, which reached grammar", "philosophical" being used, of
the high point of its development perhaps course, in essentially the sense of our
fifteen or twenty years ago. 1 think that a term "scientific." Grammar should not
synthesis of these two major traditions is be merely a record of the data of usage,
but, rattier, should offer an ,-xplanation
Mr. Chomsky, whose fourth book on linguis- for such data. It should establish general
tic theory, Cartesian Linguistics, is now in press, principles, applicable to all languages and
is professor of Modern Languages and Linguis-
tics at the Massachusetts Institute of Tech- based ultimately on intrinsic properties
nology. Tbis paper was read at tbe NCTE of the mind, Which would explain how
convention in November 1P61. language is used and why it has the par-

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588 COLLEGE ENGLISH
ticular properties to whidi the descriptive model is rather curious. In fact, the
grammarian chooses, irrationally, to re- earliest studies of universal grammar, in
strict his attcntion. France, wcrc a part of the movement to
Universal granmiarians did not content raise th: status of thc vernacular, and arc
themselves with merely stating this goal. conccrncd with details of French that
In fact, many generations of scholars often do not even have any Latin
proceeded to develop a rich and far- analogue.
reaching account of the general princi- As to the belief that modern "anthro-
ples of language structure, supported bY pological linguistics" has refuted thc as-
whatever detailed evidence they could sumptions of universal grammar, this is
find from thc linguistic materials avail- not only untrue, but, for a rather impor-
able to thcm. On thc basis of these prin- tant reason, could not be true. Thc rea-
ciples, they attempted to explain many son is that universal grammar made a
particular iacts, and to develop a psycho- sharp distinction between what we 1112V
logical theory dealing with certain as- call "deep structure" and "surface struc-
pects of language use, with the produc- ture." The deep structure of a sentence is
tion and comprehension of sentences. thc abstract underlying form which de-
The tradition of universal grammar termines the meaning of the sentence; it
came to an abrupt end in the nineteenth is present in thc mind but not necessarilY
century. for reasons that 1 will discuss represented directly in the physical sig-
.
directly. I. urthertniire, its achievements nal. The surface structure of a sentence
were very rapidly forgotten, and an in- is the actual organization of thc physical
teresting mythology developed concern- signal into phrases of varying size, into
ing its limitations and excesses. It has now words of various categories, with certain
become something of a clich among particles, inflections, arrangement, and so
linguists that universal grammar suffered on. The fundamental assunipti9n of the
from the following defects: (1) it was universal grammarians was that lan-
not concerned with the sounds of speech, guages scarcely ditrer at thc level of deep
but only with writing; (2) it was based structurewhich , eflects the basic prop-
primarily on a 11atin model, and was, in ertics of thought and conceptionbut
some sense "prescriptive"; (3) its assump-
that they may vary widely at the much
tions about language structure have been less interesting level of surface structure.
refuted by modern "anthropological lin- But modern anthror 'logical linguistics
guistics." In addition, many linguists, does not attempt to dcal with deep struc-
though not all, would hold that universal ture and its relations to surface structure.
grammar was misguided in principle in Rather, its attention is limited to surface
its attempt to provide explanations rather structurcto the phonetic form of an ut-
than mere description of usage. the latter terance and its organization into units of
being all that can be contemplated by the varying size. Consequently, the informa-
"sober scientist." tion that it provides has no direct bear-
The first two criticisms are quite easy ing on thc hypotheses concerning deep
to refute; the third and fourth are more structure postulated by thc universal
interesting. Even a cursory glance at the grammarians. And, in fact, it sccms to me
texts will show that phonetics was a that what information is now available to
major concern of universal grammarians, us suggests not that they wcnt too far in
and that their phonetic theories were not assuming universality of underlying
structure, but that they may have been
very different from our own. Nor have I
been able to discover any confusion of much too cautious and restrained in what
speech and writing. The belief that uni- they proposed.
versal grammar was based on a Latin Thc fourth criticism of universal

a
THE CURRENT SCENE IN LINGUISTICS 589

grammarnamely, that it was misguided in which the study of language should


in seeking explanations in the first place develop.
I will not discuss. It seems to mc that this The tradition of universal grammar
criticism is based on a misunderstanding came to an end morc than a century ago.
of the nature of all rational inquiry. There Several factors combined to lead to its
is particular irony in thc fact that this decline. For one thing, the problems
criticism should -be advanced with thc posed were beyond the scope of thc
avowed intention of making linguistics technique and understanding then avail-
"scientific." It is hardly open to question able. The problem of formulating thc
that the natural sciences are concerned rules that determine deep structures and
precisely with the problem of explaining relate them to surface structures, and the
phenomena, and have little use for ac- deeper problem of determining the gen-
curate description that is unrelated to eral abstract characteristics of these rules,
problems of explanation. could not be studied with any prccision,
I think that we have much to learn and discussion therefore remained at the
from a careful study of what was achieved level of hints, examples, and vaguely for-
bv the universal grammarians of the mulated intentions. In particular, the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It problem of rule-governed creativity in
seems to me, in fact, that contempo- language simply could not be formulated
rary linguistics would do well to take with sufficient precision to permit re-
their concept of language as a point of search to proceed very far. A second
departure for current work. Not only do reason for the decline of traditional lin-
they make a fairly clear and well- guistic theory lies in the remarkable
founded distinction between deep and successes of Indo-European comparative
surface structure, but they also go on to linguistics in the nineteenth century.
study the nature of deep structure and to These achievements appeared to dwarf
provide valuable hints and insights con- the accomplishments of universal gram-
cerning the rules that relate the abstract mar, and led mans, linguists to scoff at
underlying mental structures to surface the "metaphysical" and "airy pronounce-
form, the rules that we would now call ments" of those who were attempting to
"grammatical transformations." VVhat is deal with a much wider range of prob-
more, universal grammar developed as lemsand at that particular stage of the
part of a general philosophical tradition development of linguistic theory, were
that provided deep and important in- discussing these topics in a highly incon-
sights, also largely forgotten, Into the use clusive fashion. Looking back now, we
and acquisition a language, and, further- can see quite clearly that the concept of
more, into problems of perception and language employed by the Indo-Euro-
acquisition of knowledge in general. pean comparativists was an extremely
These insights can be exploited and de- primitive one. It was, however, well-
veloped. The idea that the study of lan- suited to the tasks at hand. It is, there-
fore, not too surprising that this concept
guage should proceed within thc frame-
of language, which was then extended
work of what we might nowadays call and developed by the structural and
"cognitive psychology" is sound. There descriptive linguists of the twentieth
is much truth in the traditional view that century, became almost completely dom-
language provides the most effective inant, and that the older tradition of lin-
means for studying the nature and mech- guistic theory was largely swept aside
anisms of the human mind, 3nd that only and forgotten. This is hardly a unique
within this context can we perceive the instance in intellectual history.
larger issues that determine the directions Structural linguistics is a direct out-
590 COLLEGE ENGLISH
growth of the concepts that emerged grammar. One real advance has bccn in
in Intlii-European comparative study, universal phoneticsI rcfcr herc particu-
which was primarily conc..med with larly to thc work of Jakobson. Other
language as a system of p.onological ncw and important insights might also
units that undergo systematic modifica- be cited. But in general, the major con-
tion in phonetically determined contexts. tributions of structural linguistics seem
Structural linguistics rcintcrprctcd this to me to be methodological rathcr than
concept for a fixed state of a language, substantive. These methodological con-
investigated the relations among such tributions are not limited to a raising of
units and thc patterns they form, and the standards of precision. In a more
attempted, with varying success, to ex- subtle way, the idea that language can
tend the same kind of analysis to "higher be studied as a formal system, a notion
levels" of linguistic structure. Its funda- which is developed with force and effec-
mental assumption is that procedures of tiveness in the work of Harris and
segmentation and classification, applied Hockett, is of particular sirificance. It
to data in a systematic way, can isolate is, in fact, this general insight and the
and identify all types of elements that techniques that emerged as it developed
function in a particular language along that have made it possible, in the last few
with the constraints that they obey. A years, to approach the traditional prob-
catalogue of these elements, their rela- lems once again. Specifically, it is now
tions, and their restrictions of "distribu- possible to study the problem of rule-
tion," would, in most structuralist views, governed creativity in natural language, I

constitute a full grammar of the the problem of constructing grammars 1

language. that explicitly generate deep and sur-


Structural linguistics has very real face structures and express the relations
accomplishments to its credit. To me, it between them, and the deeper problem
seems that its major achievement is to of determining the universal conditions
have provided a factual and a methodo- that limit the form and organization of
logical basis that makes it possible to rules in the grammar of a human lan-
return to the problems that occupied the guage. When these problems are clearly
traditional universal grammarians with formulated and studied, we are led to a
some hope of extending and deepening conception of language not unlike that
their theory of language structure and suggested in universal grammar. Further-
language use. Modern descriptive lin- more, I think that we are led to conclu-
guistics has enormously enriched the sions regarding mental processes of very
range of factual material available, and much the sort that were developed, with
has provided entirely new standards of care and insight, in the rationalist philos-
clarity and objectivity. Given this ad- ophy of mind that provided the intellec-
vance in precision and objectivity, it be- tual background for universal grammar.
comes possible to return, with new hope It is in this sense that I think we can
for success, to the problem of construct- look forward to a productive synthesis
ing the theory o; a particular language of the two major traditions of linguistic
its grammarand to the still more research.
ambitious study of the general theory of If this point of view is correct in !

language. On the other hand, it seems to essentials, we can proceed to outline the
me that the substantive contributions to problems facing the linguist in the fol-
the theory of language structure are few, lowing way. He is, first of all, concerned
and that, to a-large extent, the concepts to report data accurately. What is less
of modern linguistics constitute a retro- obvious, but nonetheless correct, is that
gression as compared with universal the data will not be of particular interest
THE CURRENT SCENE IN LINGUISTICS 591

to him in itself, but rather only insofar theory of linguistic structure provide
as it sheds light on the grammar of the very relevant evidence for anyone con-
language from which it is drawn, where cerned with these matters; to me it seems
by the "grammar of a language" I mean quite obvious that it is within this general
die theory that deals with the mech- framework that linguistic research finds
anisms of sentence construction, which its intellectual justification.
establish a sound-meaning relation in this At every level of abstraction, the lin-
language. At the next level of study, the guist is concerned with explanation, not
linguist is concerned to give a factually merely with stating facts in one form or
accurate formulation of this grammar, another. He tries to construct a grammar
that is, a correct formulation of the rules which explains particular data on the
that generate deep and surface structures basis of general principles that govern
and interrelate them, and the rules that the language in question. He is interested
give a phonetic interpretation of surface in explaining these general principles
structures and a semantic interpretation themselves, by showing how they are
of deep structures. But, once again, this derived from still more general and
correct statement of the grammatical abstract postulates drawn from universal
principles of a language is not primarily grammar. And he would ukimately have
of intcrest in itself, but only insofar as to find a way to account for universal
it sheds light on the more gcneral ques- grammar on the basis of still more gen-
tion of the nature of language; that is, eral principles of human mental struc-
the nature of universal grammar. The ture. Finally, although this goal is too
primary interest of a correct grammar is remote to be seriously considcrcd, he
that it provides the basis for substantiat- might envision the prospect that the kind
ing or refuting a general theory of lin- of evidence he can provide may lead to
guistic structure which establishes gen- a physiological explanation for this en-
eral principles concerning the form of tire range of phenomena.
grammar. I should stress that what I have
Continuing one step higher in level of sketched is a logical, not a temporal order
abstraction, a universal grammara gen- of tasks of incrcasing abstractness. For
eral theory of linguistic structure that example, it is not necessary to delay thc,
determines the form of grammaris study of general linguistic theory until
primarily of interest for the information particular grammars are available for
it proviaes concerning innate intellectual many languages. Quite thc contrary. The
structure. Specifically, a general theory study of particular grammars will be
of this sort itself must provide a hypothe- fruitful only insofar as it is based on a
sis concerning innate intellectual struc- precisely articulated theory of linguistic
ture of sufficient richness to account for structure, just as the study of particular
the fact that the child acquires a given facts is worth undertaking only when it
grammar on the basis of the data avail- is guided by some general assumptions
able to him. More generally, both a about the grammar of the language from
grammar of a particular language and a which these observations are drawn.
general theory of language are of intcrest
primarily because of the in ,ight they All of this is rather abstract. Let mc try
provide concerning the nature of mental to bring the discussion down to earth bY
processes, the niechanisnis of perccption mcntioning a few particular problems, in
and production and thc mechanisms by thc grammar of English, that point to the
which knowledge is acquired. Therc can need for explanatory hypotheses of thc
be little doubt that both specific theories sort I have bccn discussing.
of particular languages and thc general Consider thc comparative construction
592 COLLEGE ENGLISH
in English; in particular, such sentences determine what general concept of lin-
as: guistic structurc hc employs that leads
(1) I have never seen a man taller than him to the conclusion that thc grammar
John of English treats (1) and (2) as para-
(2) I have never seen a taller man than phrases but not the superficially similar
John pair (3) and (4). This still unknown prin-
Sentences (1) and (2), along with innu- ciple of English grammar may lead us to
merable others, suggcst that thcrc should discover thc relevant abstract principle
be a rule of English that permits a sen- of linguistic structure. It is this hope, of
tence containing a Noun followed by a course, that motivates the search for the
Comparative Adjective to be trans- relevant principle of English grammar.
formed into the corresponding sentence Innumerable examples can be given of
containing the sequence: Comparative this sort. I will mention just onc more.
AdjectiveNoun. This rule would then Consider the synonymous sentences (5)
appear as a special case of the very gen- and (6):
eral rule that forms such Adjective-Noun (5) It would be difficult for him to
constructions as "the tall man" from the understand this
underlying form "the man who is tall", (6) For him to understand this would be
and so on. difficult.
But now consider the sentence: Corresponding to (5), we can form rela-
(3) I have never seen a man taller than tive clauses and questions such as (7):
Mary (7) (i) something which it would be dif-
This is perfectly analogous to (1); but ficult for him to understand
we cannot use the rule just mentioned to (ii) what would it be difficult for
form him to understand?
(4) I have never seen a taller man than But there is some principle that prevents 1

M ary. the formation of the corresponding con-


In fact, the sentence (4) is certainly not structions of (8), formed in the analogous
synonymous with (3), although (2) ap- way from (6):
pears to be synonymous with (1). Sen- (8) (i) soinething which for him to un-
tence (4) implies that Mary is a man, derstand would be difficult
although (3) does not. Clearly either the (ii) what would for him to under-
proposed analysis is incorrect, despite the stand be difficult?
very considerable support one can find The nonsentences of (8) are formed from
for it, or there is some specific condition (6) by exactly the same process that
in English grammar that explains why forms the correct sentences of (7) from
the rule in question can be used to form (5); namely, pronominalization in the
(2) but not (4). In either case, a serious position occupied by "this", and a re-
explanation is lacking; there is some ordering operation. But in the case of
principle of English grammar, now un- (6), something blocks the operation of
known, for which we must search to the rules for forming relative clauses and
explain these facts. The facts are quite interrogatives. Again, the facts are inter-
clear. They are of no particular interest esting because they indicate that some
in themselves, but if they can bring to general principle of English grammar
light some general principle of English must be functioning, unconsciously; and,
grammar, they will be of real significance. at the next level of abstraction, they
Furthermore, we must ask how every raise the question what general concept
speaker of English comes to acquire this of linguistic structure is used by the per-
still unknown principle of English gram- son learning the language to enable him
mar. We must, in other words, try to to acquire the particular principle that
I

THE CURRENT SCENE IN LINGUISTICS 593

explains the difference between (7) and should be brought to the student's atten-
(8). tion and he should be presented with the
Notice that there is nothing particu- case for the various alternatives. But in
larly esoteric about these examples. The the case of teaching grammar, the issue
processes that form comparative, relative, is often confused by a pseudo-problem,
and interrogative constructions are which I think deserves some further
among the simplest and most obvious in discussion.
English grammar. Every normal speaker To facilitate this discussion, let me
has mastered these processes at an early introduce some terminology. I will use
age. But when we take a really careful the term "generative grammar" to refer
look, we find much that is mysterious in to a theory of language in the sense
these very elementary processes of described above, that is, a system of rules
grammar. that determine the deep and surface
VVhatever aspect of a language one structures of the language in question,
studies, problems of this sort abound. the relation between them, the semantic
There are very few well-supported an- interpretation of the deep structures and
swers, either at the level of particular the phonetic interpretation of the surface
or universal grammar. The Jinguist who structures. The generative grammar of a
is content merely to record and organize language, then, is the system of rules
phenomena, and to devise appropriate which establishes the relation between
terminologies, will never come face to sound and meaning in this language.
face with these problems. They only Suppose that the teacher is faced with
arise when he attempts to construct a the question: which generative grammar
precise system of rules that generate deep of English shall I teach? The answer is
structures and relate them to correspond- straightforward in principle, however
ing surface structures. But this is just difficult the problem may be to settle in
another way of saving that "pure descrip- practice. The answer is, simply: teach
tivism" is not fruitful, that progress in the one that is correct.
linguistics, as in any other field of But generally the problem is posed in
inquiry, requires that at every stage of rather different terms. There has been 1
our knowledge and understandint. we great deal of discussion of the choice not
pursue the search for a deeper explana- between competing generative gram-
tory theory. mars, but between a generative grammar
I would like to conclude with just a and a "descriptive grammar." A "de-
few remarks about two problems that are scriptive grammar" is not a theory of
of direct concern to teachers of English. the language in the sense described
The first is the problem of which gram- above; it is not, in other words, a system
mar to teach, the second, the problem of rules that establishes the sound-mean-
why grammar should he taught at all. ing correspondence in the language, inso-
If one thinks of a grammar of English far as this can be precisely expressed.
as a theory of English structure, then Rather, it is an inventory of elements of
the question which grammar to teach is various kinds that play a role in the
no different in principle from the prob- language. For example, a descriptive
lem facing the biologist who has to de- grammar of English might contain an
cide which of several competing theories
to teach. The answer, in either case, is inventory of phonetic units, of pho-
that he should teach the one which nemes, of morphemes, of words, of lexi-
appears to be true, given the evidence cal categories, and of phrases or phrase
presently available. Where the evidence types. Of coursc the inventory of phrases
does not justify a clear decision, this or phrase types cannot be completed
594 COLLEGE ENGLISH
since it is infinite, but let us put aside erative and descr;ptive gramniars
this difficulty. tcrms of a factual assumption about
It is clear, however, that thc choice nature of langgage. Let us suppose I
between a generative grammar and a a theory of language will consist n
descriptive grammar is not a genuine one. definition of thc notion "grammar,"
Actually, a descriptive grammar can be well as definitions of various kinds
immediately derived from a generative units (e.g., phonological units, trrirp
grammar, but not conversely. Given a logical units, etc.). 'hen wc apply sl
generative grammar, we can derive the a general theory to data, wc use
inventories of elements that appear at definitions to find a particular grami
various levels. The descriptive grammar, and a particular collection of units. C
in the sense just outlined, is simply one sider now two theories of this sort t
aspect of the full generative grammar. differ in thc following way. In one,
It is an epiphenomenon, derivable from units of various kinds arc dcfincd in
thc full system of rules and principles pendently of the notion "grammar";
that constitutes the generative grammar. grammar, thcn, is simply the collect
The choice, then, is not between two of thc various kinds of unit. For exam
competing grammars, br.t between a we define "phoneme," "morpheme," c
grammar and one particular aspect of in terms of certain analytic procedu
this grammar. To me it seems obvious and define thc "grammar" to bc the
how this choice shot:ld be resolved, since lection of units derived by apply
thc particular aspect that is isolated in these procedures. In thc other thec
the descriptive grammar seems to be of thc situation is reversed. The not
little independent importance. Surely the "grammar" is defined independently
principles that dctermine the inventory, thc various kinds of unit; the gramma
and much else, are more important than a system of such-and-such a kind. -1
the inventory itself. In any event, the units of various kinds are defined
nature of the choice is clear; it is not a terms of the logically prior conc
choice between competing systcms, but "grammar." They are whatever appt
rather a choicc between the whole and in the grammar at such-and-such a k
a part. of functioning.
Although I think what I have just said The difference between these t
is literally correct, it is still somewhat kinds of theory is quite an import
misleading. I have characterized a descrip- one. It is a difference of factual assur
tive grammar as one particular aspect tion. The intuition that lies behind
of a full generative grammar, but actu- scriptive grammar is that the units
ally the concept "descriptive grammar" logically prior to the grammar, wh
arose in modern linguistics in a rather is merely a collection of units. The mill
different way. A descriptive grammar tion that lies behind the development
was itself regarded as a full account of generative grammar is the opposite; i
the language. It was, in other words, that thc grammar is logically prior to
assumed that the inventory of elements units, which are merely the elements t
exhausts the grammatical description of appear at a particular stage in the fu
the language. Once we have listed the tioning of grammatical processes.
phones, phonemes, etc., we have given a can interpret this controversy in term !
full description of grammatical structure. its implications as to the nature of I
The grammar is, simply, the collection guage acquisition. One who accepts
of these various inventories. point of view of descriptive gramt
This observation suggests a way of will expect language acquisition to b
formulating the difference between gen- process of accretion, marked by grad
THE CURRENT SCENE IN LINGUISTICS 595

growth in the size of inventories, the Frammar in the schools_ My impression


is generally taught as
elements of the inventories being devel- is that grammar
oped by some sort of analytic or induc- an essentially closed and finished system,
tive: procedures. One who accepts the and in a rather mechanical way. What
underlying point of view of generative is taught is a system of terminology, a
grammar will expect, rather, that the set of techniques for diagramming sen-
process of language acquisition must be tences, and so on. I do not doubt that
more lik e that of selecting a particular this has its function, that the student
hypothesis from a restricted class of must have a way of talking about lan-
possible hypotheses, on the basis of guage and its properties. But it seems to
limited data The selected hypothesis is me that a great opportunity is lost when
the grammar; once accepted, it deter- the teaching of grammar is limited in
mines a system of relations among ele- this way. I think it is important for stu-
ments and inventories of various sorts. dents to realize how little we know about
There will, of course, be growth of the rules that determine the relation of
inventory, but it will be a rather periph- sound and meaning in English, about
eral and "external" matter. Once the the general properties of human lan-
child has selected a certain grammar, he guage, about the matter of how the
will "know" whatever is predicted by incredibly complex system of rules that
constitutes a grammar is acquired or put
this selected hypothesis. He will, in other
words, know a great deal about sentences to use. Few students are aware of the
to which he has never been exposed. This fact that in their normal, everyday life
is, of course, the characteristic fact about they are constantly creating new linguis-
human language. tic structures that are immediately
I have outlined the difference between understood, despite their novelty, by
two theories of grammar in rather vague thost zo whom they speak or write. They
terms. It can be made quite precise, and are never brought to the realization of
the question of choice between them how amazing an accomplishment this is,
becomes a matter of fact, not decision. and of how limited is our comprehension
My own view is that no descriptivist of what makes it possible. Nor do they
theory can be reconciled with the known acquire any insight into the remarkable
facts about the nature and use of lan- intricacy of the grammar that they use
unconsciously, even insofar as this system
guage. This, however, is a matter that
goes beyond the scope of this discussion. is
understood and can be explicitly
To summarize, as the prolc...in is usu- presented. Consequently, they miss both
ally put, the choice between generative the challenge and the accomplishments
and descriptive grammars is not a gen- of the study of language. This seems to
uine one. It is a choice between a system me a pity, because both are very real.
of principles and one, rather marginal Perhaps 25 the study of language returns
selection of consequences of these prin- gradually to die full scope and scale of
ciples. But there is a deeper and uld- its rich tradition, some way will be
mat4 factual question, to be resolved found to introduce students to the tan-
not by decisk n but by sharpening the talizing problems that language has
assumptions and confronting them with always posed for those who are puzzled
facts.
Finally, I would like to say just a word and intrigued by the mysteries of human
about the matter of the teaching of intelligence.