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EKEV AKADEMİ DERGİSİ Yıl: 12 Sayı: 36 (Yaz 2008) 301

CAN TRANSFORMATIONAL GENERATIVE GRAMMAR BE


USED FOR PEDAGOGICAL PURPOSES?
İbrahim ABUSHİBAB (*)
Abstract
In spite of Chomsky’s statement at a language teaching conference at Northeast University in
1

the United States that linguistics has nothing to offer to the teaching of language, the efforts remain
that the two disciplines are related and interrelated.
Two of the grammars are used to analyze the English language. They are Structural Grammar
and Transformational Grammar. Structuralists are concerned with “stimulus-response” relationship
that governs the human language. They believe that language is acquired through a set of habits
through ample practice and repetition of the nine basic patterns in which all English sentences
are subjected to such patterns. Chomsky2 launched his approach to linguistics with a heavy attack
on the Structural Grammar. Formally, Generative Grammar of Chomsky is defined as a finite set
of rules that can be applied to generate exactly those sentences that are grammatical in a given
language. Lynch, Larry3 says that Transformationalists view grammar as a theory of language
structure rather than a description of actual sentences. They also add that grammar is a device for
producing the structure, not of a particular language, but of the ability to produce and understand
sentences in any and all languages.
This paper discusses the different assumptions and implications of Transformational Grammar
to foreign language teaching methodology.
Key Words: Transformational generative grammar, generative Grammar, language teaching.

Üretici Dönüşümsel Dilbilgisi Pedagojik Amaçlarla Kullanılabilir mi?


Özet
Chomsky’nin Amerika Birleşik Devletleri Northeast University’de düzenlenen dil öğretimi kon-
feransında4 dilbiliminin dil öğretimine önerecek bir şeyi olmadığını söylemesine karşın, çalışmalar
bu iki disiplinin hem birbirleriyle hem de başka disiplinlerle ilişkili olduklarını göstermektedir.
İngiliz dilinin çözümlenmesinde yapısal gramer ve dönüşümsel gramer olmak üzere iki gramer
kullanılmıştır. Yapısalcılar insan dilini yöneten “etki-tepki” ilişkisi ile ilgilenmişlerdir. Yapısalcıla-
ra göre dil, tüm İngilizce cümlelerini temsil eden dokuz temel kalıbı bolca uygulayarak ve tekrarla-
yarak bir dizi alışkanlık yoluyla edinilir. Chomsky2 dilbilim yaklaşımını Yapısal Dilbilgisi’ne büyük
bir saldırı yönelterek başlatmıştır. Chomsky’nin Üretici Dilbilgisi’nin resmi olarak herhangi bir
dilde dilbilgisel olan cümleleri aynen üretmek için uygulanabilen sınırlı sayıda kural dizisi olarak
tanımlamıştır. Lynch ve Larry3, Dönüşümsel gramercilerin dilbilgisini, gerçek cümlelerin betimlen-
mesinden ziyade bir dil yapısı teorisi olarak gördüklerini belirtmektedirler. Onlara göre dilbilgisi,
sadece belli bir dilin yapısını üretme aracı değil, aynı zamanda herhangi bir dilde cümleleri üretme
ve anlama yetisinin de aracıdır.
Bu makale, Dönüşümsel Dilbilgisi’nin yabancı dil öğretim yöntemlerine ilişkin farklı varsayım
ve anlayışlarını tartışmaktadır.
Anahtar Kelimeler: Dönüşümsel Dilbilgisi, Üretici Dilbilgisi, Dil öğretimi
*) Assist Prof., English Department Alzaytoonah Jordanian Private University.
(e-posta: ibrashihab@yahoo.com)
302 / Assist Prof. İbrahim ABUSHİBAB EKEV AKADEMİ DERGİSİ

Introduction
Since the beginning of the attempts for teaching English as a second language (TESL)
in the early 1940s, different methods have been used in order to achieve the best learning
outcome. Unfortunately, scholars have reached no agreement on the most effective (TESL)
methodology. There is no single method of language teaching that has been considered
as superior to others4.
Structuralism emphasizes on the process of segmenting and classifying the physical
features of utterances which Noam Chomsky later called surface structure with little
reference to the abstract underlying structures (Chomsky’s Deep structure) of language
or their meaning. It is this emphasis which the Chomskyan approach to language strongly
attacked; for generative linguistics. Structuralism is based on a body of original collected
language data known as a corpus. This corpus represents native spoken or written
language. It is broken down by the grammarians who describe and classify it in terms of
form, position and function, for example, in the sentence.
The shouting boys are swimming in the pool.
Shouting is: − a verb by form.
− an adjective by position.
− a modifier by function.
The assumptions of the structuralism have been criticized and challenged by the
transformationalists, who assume that language is a system acquired not on "stimulus-
response" basis, but through a developmental process directed by innate guiding principles.
Transformational Grammar rejects the description of a corpus and focuses on discovery
procedures as the aim of linguistic science. Grammar is considered as sets of rules which,
when followed, can generate all the grammatical sentences of language. The number of all
the grammatical sentences possible in language is infinite. Transformationalists evolve the
finite set of rules responsible for the creation of the infinite number of sentences possible
in a language.
To conclude, structuralists consider the language as a system acquired on “stimulus-
response” basis and it is a mechanical skill. On the other hand, transformationalists
consider language as a developmental process of two levels; the surface structure which
determines the pronunciation of individual lexical items and their sequence in a sentence,
and the deep structure which determines the underlying meaning of a sentence. Politzer5
states that “deep structures can lead only to one specific surface realization. However, the
reverse is not true.”
1) Chomsky, Noam, Linguistic Theory, Northeast Conference on Research and Language learning,
Northeast University, 1966.
2) Chomsky, Noam, Syntactic Structure, The Hague: Mouton and Co, 1957.
3) Lynch, Larry, Grammar Teaching: Implicit or Explicit, http://EzineArticles.com/?,2007.
4) Light, Richard, “The Current Scene in Second Language Teaching: A Brief Background”, Teaching
English as a Second Language: Perspectives and Practices, Vol. 1, 1978.
5) Politzer, Robert, Linguistics and Applied Linguistics: Aims and Methods, Heinle and Heinle
Enterprises, 1972, p.57.
CAN TRANSFORMATIONAL GENERATIVE GRAMMAR 303
BE USED FOR PEDAGOGICAL PURPOSES?
Transformational Grammar Advantage on the Structural Grammar:
As stated previously, Structural Grammar analyses the sentences under the nine
basis patterns. Accordingly, all English sentences are subjected into the following basic
sentence patterns6.
Pattern 1: N Be Adj
Example: Food is good.
Pattern 2: N Be UN (uninflected word)
Example: The girl is here.
Pattern 3: N1 Be N1
Example: My brother is a doctor.
Pattern 4: N In. V (intransitive)
Example: He runs
Pattern 5: N1 Tr. V (transitive) N2
Example: The girl bought a dress.
Pattern 6: N1 Tr.V N2 N3
Example: The mother bought the girl a dress.
Pattern 7: N1 Tr.V N2 N2
Example: The player chose Harry captain.
Pattern 8: N LV (linking verb) Adj.
Example: The acrobat seems young.
Pattern 9: N1 LV N1
Example: My brother remained an outstanding student.
The above sentences are condensed examples of the basic patterns. They can be
expanded by adding new elements or forms to each of them. Thus, the sentence of pattern
4 (N In. V) can be expanded into a sentence like “He runs quickly”, and similarly with
other sentences.
These patterns are to be taught through grammatical explanation regardless of the
prominent method based on this theory is the aural-oral or audio-lingual method, which
gives emphasis to the oral skills and differ the reading and writing skills to a later stage
of instruction.
Structuralists assume that language is a system which can be acquired as a set of
habits through ample practice and repetition of patterns, with emphasis on those areas that
contrast between the native language and the target language7.
6) Abushihab, Ibrahim “Text Processing and Topic Unity” in Atlas for Studies and Research, vol. 3, No.
1, 2008, p.3.
7) Harris, David, “The Future of ESOL: Continuity or Generation Gap? In Teaching English as a
Second Language: Perspective and Practices-Background and Approaches, vol. 1, The University
of the State of New York, The State Education Department, Bureau of Bilingual Education, Albany,
N.Y. 1978.
304 / Assist Prof. İbrahim ABUSHİBAB EKEV AKADEMİ DERGİSİ

Unlike structuralism, transformationalists have the ability to distinguish between


sentences which have the same surface structure, but different deep structures. Structural
linguistics was mainly concerned with near-surface identity for the purpose of interpreting
the sentence, but transformational linguistics analyzes the surface identity for the purpose
of underlying differences. Chomsky8 states the following examples:
1- John is eager to please.
2- John is easy to please.
The structuralists classify such sentences under the same basic patterns.
S. + Be + adj + infinitive
because the surface structures of both sentences are obviously identical.
Transformational Generative Grammar has an advantage on the Structural Grammar in
interpreting such sentences of the same structures, but of different meanings (different
deep structures). Transformationalists say that although these sentences have the same
surface structure, they have different deep structures or meanings:
The first means: John is eager to please others (people).
The second means: It is easy for people to please John.
Both sentences are not capable of being transformed in the same way:
− It is easy to please John.
− It is eager to please John.
Another quoted example9:
1- I expected John to be examined by a doctor.
2- I persuaded John to be examined by a doctor.
Sentence 1 conveys the same meaning as:
a. I expected a doctor to examine John.
However,
b. I persuaded a doctor to examine John.
changes the meaning of 2 completely. Sentence 1 can also be changed to:
a. I expected that John would be examined by a doctor.
The same change when applied to 2, gives an ungrammatical sentence.
b. I persuaded that John would be examined by a doctor.
The reason for the lack of correspondence between the possible changes of sentence 1
and 2 lies in the underlying differences in deep structure not surface structure.
A final example again from Chomsky10 “I had a book stolen.” Which is analyzed
according to the basic patterns as “N1 V N2”, but there are at least three different deep
structures expressed by the example:
8) Chomsky, op. cit., 1966.
9) Chomsky, ibid., 1966.
10) Chomsky, ibid., 1966
CAN TRANSFORMATIONAL GENERATIVE GRAMMAR 305
BE USED FOR PEDAGOGICAL PURPOSES?
1- I had a book. Someone stole the book.
2- There was (someone had) a book. I had someone (ordered someone to) steal the
book.
3- I had stolen a book.
Native speakers can normally understand the ambiguity of surface structures. This
seems to imply that they interpret surface structures by a process that relates them to the
underlying deep structure. The concept of basic patterns as defined by structural linguists
is limited for the purpose of explaining some very basic aspects of human language.
Transformational Grammar distinguishes between two aspects of a speaker’s language
production. One aspect is the speaker’s subconscious knowledge of a set of internalized
rules. This is called his competence. The other is the speaker’s use of these rules where he
speaks. This is called his performance.
Transformationalists believe that the language user is able to:
− Make infinite use of finite means.
− Distinguish grammatical, ungrammatical and nonsensical sentences.
− Perceive ambiguity.
How Transformational Grammar Generate Sentences:
It is Chomsky’s system that has attracted the most attention and has received the most
extensive exemplification and further development. As outlined in syntactic structures,
Transformational Grammar comprised three sections or components: the phrase-structural
component, the transformational component, and the morphophonemic component. Each
of these components consists of a set of rules operating upon a certain “input” to yield a
certain “output.” The notion of phrase structure may be dealt with independently of its
incorporation in the large system. In the following system of rules, S stands for sentence,
NP for noun phrase, VP for verb phrase, Det for determiner, Aux for auxiliary (verb), N
for noun, and V. for verb stem.
1- S NP + VP
2- VP V + NP
3- NP Det + N
4- Verb Aux + V
5- Det the, a, …
6- N man, ball, …
7- Aux will, can, …
8- V hit, see, …
To generate sentences, Transformational Grammar employs the following:
a) Phrase Structural Rules: these are a set of rewriting rules applied on the deep
structure. In these rules, the arrow ( ) can be interpreted as an instruction
to rewrite whatever symbol appears to the left of the arrow is the symbol or
string of symbols that appears to the right of the arrow. For example, the phrase
306 / Assist Prof. İbrahim ABUSHİBAB EKEV AKADEMİ DERGİSİ

structural rule:
S NP + VP
means that a sentence can be rewritten as a noun phrase + a verb phrase. The
phrase structural rules can also be represented by a tree diagram.
For example, the phrase structural rules:
S NP + VP
NP Art + N
VP V+N
can be tree diagrammed as follows:
S

NP VP

Art N V N
b) Transformational Rules:
These are a set of rules applied to the deep structure to generate the surface structure
as a string of morphemes. They are indicated by double-arrow from left to right (=>)
meaning that the deep structure at the left of the arrow can be transformed into the surface
structure on the right of the arrow. For example, the affix rule
af + v => v + af
means that an affix preceding a verb in the deep structure is suffixed to that verb in the
surface structure, e.g.
en + write => write + en (written)
c) Morphophonemic Rules:
When applied to a sentence, the transformational rules change the deep structure into
a series of morphemes which can be grouped into units which belong to each other and
spelled out from the lexicon to generate the final surface structure of the sentences, i.e.
the form in which we say.
For example,
N + pres + have + en + go => N + have + pres + go + en
It is the morphophonemic rules which tell us how to group related units together and
spell them out. Thus we have
N + (have + pres) + (v + en)
spelled out into: “Ali has arrived”.
Suppose we want to generate the following sentence: Has Ali written the letter?
CAN TRANSFORMATIONAL GENERATIVE GRAMMAR 307
BE USED FOR PEDAGOGICAL PURPOSES?
The deep structure of this sentence is:
Ali has written the letter.
The phrase structural rules of this sentence give us the following tree diagram:
S

NP Aux VP

N Tn have en v NP

art N

N pres have en v art N

Thus we have the string as follows:


N + pres + have + en + V + art + N
By applying the affix transformational rule, af + V => V + af, we get:
N + pres. + have + en + V+ art + N => N + have + pres + V + en + art + N
By applying the question transformational rule:
NP + Aux => Aux + NP, we get:
N + have + pres + V + en + art + N => have + pres + N + V + en + art +N
To get the surface structure of the sentence, we apply the morphophonemic rules to
get:
(have + pres) + N + (V + en) + art + N
Spelled as: Has Ali written the letter?
How Transformational Grammar Avoids Generating Non-Sensical Sentences:
Transformational Grammar avoids generating non-sensical sentences coming from
the phrase structural rules:
Example: S N+V+N
This rule may wrongly give the following sentence:
The stone eats an apple.
The rule stated above allows us to replace (N) for any noun and (V) for any verb.
Consequently, we may generate non-sensical sentences as the example above.
308 / Assist Prof. İbrahim ABUSHİBAB EKEV AKADEMİ DERGİSİ

To avoid generating such sentences, Transformational Grammar uses the following


procedure:
Selectional Rules: They tell us which words we can use with which. The verb (eat)
has different semantic features. One of them is [+ animate], which means that it requires
a [+ animate] subject. Accordingly, the noun “stone” cannot be used as a subject of the
verb “eat” because it is a [- animate] noun.
Selectional rules could be classified into two types:
a- Syntactic Selectional Rules: they concentrate on syntactic features of the word.
Because the verb “run” is intransitive, we cannot say “Ali runs home.” “Run” has
syntactic features. One of them is [- transitive].
b- Semantic Selectional Rules: during the last few decades, some semanticists (e.g.
Katz and Foder11, and Katz12) have been trying to formulate a new approach to the
meaning of lexical items. They state that the meaning of a word can be described
and understood as a togetherness of certain components of meaning. Each word
can be differentiated from one another. Look at the following examples:
man = + human + male + adult
child = + human – adult
Accordingly, we can say “The child eats an apple.” but not “The stone eats an apple.”
As mentioned above, one of the semantic features of the verb “eat” is [+ animate] which
means that it requires an animate subject.
However, we ought not to forget that such verbs can be used metaphorically as in:
The fire eats the papers.
How Transformational Grammar and Structural Grammar Account for
Ambiguous Sentences:
Ambiguity refers to “a word or sentence which expresses more than one meaning.”13.
The meaning of a sentence can be predicted from the meaning of the words it contains.
The reader or listener ought to decide whether the meaning is to be related to the actual
surface structure or some more abstract deep structure14.
Thakur15 assures that the statement may be ambiguous if it lacks the clue from the
context. It may be ambiguous in the sense that the listener may not be clear about what
exactly the speaker is trying to do by uttering that sentence. Hurford and Heasley16 state
that “a word or sentence is ambiguous when it has more than one sense. A sentence is
ambiguous if it has two (or more) paraphrases which are not themselves paraphrased of
each other.”
It is very important for a reader or a listener to understand ambiguity because it affects
his comprehension. For example, when reading:
11) Katz, J. and Fodor, J., The Structure of a semantic theory, Language, 39, 1963, p.170-210.
12) Katz, J., Semantic Theory, New York: Harper and Row, 1972.
13) Crystal, D., A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics (3rd edition) Blackwell 1992, p.17.
14) Palmer, F. Semantics, Cambridge: University Press 1993, p.38.
CAN TRANSFORMATIONAL GENERATIVE GRAMMAR 309
BE USED FOR PEDAGOGICAL PURPOSES?
They are washing clothes.
The reader or listener cannot decide if it means:
1- They (people) are doing the action of washing.
or 2- They (clothes) are for washing.
Such ambiguous sentences can be accounted and understood on the basis of sentence
basic patterns. The above-mentioned sentence can be of two patterns:
S + V + O. (first meaning).
S + Be + adj + N (second meaning).
There are still other types of ambiguous sentences which cannot be understood and
accounted by structural grammar. For example:
John teaches the group singing.
According to the structuralists, the above-mentioned sentence may have one of two
basic patterns:
N1 + V + N2 + N3 (John teaches singing to the group).
or N1 + V + N2 (John teaches the singing of the group).
In addition to these two meanings, El-Natoor17 states the transformationalists account
for two different deep structures (meanings) which the structuralists have failed to see:
1- John teaches the group. John is singing.
2- John teaches the group. The group is singing.
In the first sentence “singing” is an adjective modifying John while in the second
sentence “singing” is an adjective modifying the group.
The ambiguous sentence is that which has a surface structure and two or more deep
structures. For example “Time flies” is considered as one surface structure, but it has two
deep structures (a) The time flies (N+V) (b) Time the flies (V+N).
The notion of the surface structure and the deep structure which the transformationalists
use is very useful for understanding the message which the speaker or the writer wants
to convey.
General Pedagogical Implication of Transformational Grammar:
In spite of Chomsky’s statement at a language teaching conference at Northeast
University in the United States that linguistics has nothing to offer to the teaching of
language, the fact remains that the two disciplines are closely interrelated. Chomsky18
states “I am, Frankly, rather skeptical about the significance, for the teaching of languages,
of such insights and understanding as have been attained in linguistics and psychology.”
15) Thakur, D. Semantics, Palna: Bharat: Bhawan 1999, p.38.
16) Hurford, J. and Heasley, B. Semantics: A Coursebook, Cambridge: Cambridge University 1985,
p.13.
17) El-Natoor, Khalaf, An Experimental Study of the Relative Effectiveness of A Transformational
Approach and A Structural Approach in Teaching the English Progressive forms to Non-Native
Speakers of English, Unpublished PhD Dissertation, State University of New York at Albany 1981.
18) Comsky, ibid.
310 / Assist Prof. İbrahim ABUSHİBAB EKEV AKADEMİ DERGİSİ

Although the teacher and the linguist view language from two different angles, the
linguist’s view of language determines the language teacher’s formulation of the basic
tasks involved in foreign language teaching. The linguist’s answer to the question, “what
is language?” will influence the language teacher’s response to the question, “What skills
and knowledge are necessary for language proficiency?
The teachers who follow the principles of Transformational Grammar ought to ensure
that the pupils actually use the Transformational Grammar for the purpose of generating
sentences. The best way for the pupil to generate sentences is preparing exercises in
which specific questions are used to have the student supply specific sentence elements.
As the grammar becomes more complex, new questions can be added to the exercises.
The role of the student is to create (generate) utterances which are new as the following
exercises:
Stage One:
One of the phrase structural rules in Transformational Grammar is the following:
S NP VP
NP Det + N
VP V
Teacher Students
Who? (N) The boy
What does he do? (V) The boy writes
Stage Two:
S NP VP
NP (Det) (Adj.) N
VP V
Teacher Students
Who? (N) The boy
What a kind of a boy? (Adj + N) The clever boy
What does he do? (V) The clever boy writes
Stage Three:
S NP VP
NP (Det) (Adj) N
VP VP (NP)
Teacher Students
Who (Det + N) A girl
What kind? (Adj + N) A beautiful girl
What does she do? (V) A beautiful girl sings
What (NP) A beautiful girl sings a song
What kind (Adj N) A beautiful girl sing a new song
19) Politzer, Robert , op. cit.
CAN TRANSFORMATIONAL GENERATIVE GRAMMAR 311
BE USED FOR PEDAGOGICAL PURPOSES?
Stage four:
S NP VP
NP (Det) (Adj) N
VP VP (NP) (Adverbial)
Teacher Students
Who (Det + N) My brother
What does he do? (V) My brother writes
What? (N) My brother write a letter
What kind? (Det Adj N) My brother writes a long letter
Where (Adv) My brother writes a long letter in class.
One of the students may take the role of the teacher to create learner centered
atmosphere in the classroom.
Teachers of English may also prepare the following exercises that are based on
Transformational Grammar for their students:
1- Phrase structural rules can be considered kernel. In presenting of a foreign language,
sentences representing kernels ought to be taught first. Examples:
a- The flower is small (Det N Be Adj).
b- The student is my friend (Det N Be Det N).
c- The man is over there (Det N Be Adv.)
d- The man laughed (Det N V (intra.)).
2- “There” transformation
Example:
“A man is over there” is transformed into” There is a man over there.”
3- Expansion of verb section by applying auxiliary:
Example:
“The man laughed.” is expanded as follows:
− The man could laugh.
− The man has laughed.
− The man is laughing.
− The man could have laughed.
4- Interrogative Transformation:
Examples:
The man is here. Is the man here?
The man hits the ball Does the man hit the ball?
5- Expansion of verb section by adding adverb.
Example:
The man hit the ball The man hit the ball accurately
312 / Assist Prof. İbrahim ABUSHİBAB EKEV AKADEMİ DERGİSİ

6- Negative Transformation:
Example:
The man can hit the ball. The man cannot hit the ball.
Ali speaks English Ali doesn’t speak English.
7- Passive Transformation:
Example:
The boy buys a bicycle A bicycle is bought.
There is no methodological aspect of Transformational Grammar that can be converted
into teaching procedures. Nevertheless, Transformational Grammar has given numerous
implicit assumptions about language teaching.
Conclusion
Structural Grammar is based on collected language data which is called corpus. The
corpus represents spoken and written sentences done by the native speakers. The corpus is
analyzed and broken down by the grammarians who classify it in terms of form, position
and function.
Politzer19 states that sentences can be considered as grammatically identical if they
share the same grammatical meaning. The identical grammatical meaning shared by
several sentences is the grammatical patterns which they represent. Structuralists found
the syntactical arrangements in corpus by listing the nine basic patterns. Sentences in a
text are analyzed under such patterns and all English sentences are subjected into these
patterns.
Unlike Structuralism, Transformationalists distinguish between competence which
they define as the ideal speaker-hearer’s knowledge of the language, and performance
which is the actual use of language. The aim of Transformational Grammar is to show
how it is possible for speakers to produce grammatical sentences. Transformational
Grammar is interested in competence and this interest marks the clearest difference
between Structuralism and Transformational Grammar. Structuralism is text based and
only interested in language that has actually occurred. Transformational Grammar does
not use text since it is more interested in what produced the text than the text itself.
Transformational Grammar has an advantage on the Structural Grammar in interpreting
sentences of the same basic patterns, but of different meanings. For example, structuralists
fail to distinguish between the following sentences:
John is eager to please.
John is easy to please.
because they both belong to the same patterns:
N + Be + Adj + Inf.
Transformational Grammar is not concerned with English teaching methodology.
There are no teaching procedures of Transformational Grammar that can be converted
into teaching procedures, but it gives implicit assumptions about language teaching. We
can deal with such assumptions to derive some teaching English methodology.