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Noam Chomsky’s approach to language

SHAFAQNA SCIENCE- Undoubtedly, Chomsky is the most important linguist in the history, partly because his answer (or, answers) to that question has been influential profoundly.

The philosophical importance of linguistics stems from the fact that specific areas of inquiry can possibly be approached from multiple directions. Many philosophers want to ask questions and solve problems associated with the nature of language, and many philosophers are similarly interested in topics which are adjacent to that of language (communication, cognition, etc.).

The best way to understand Chomsky’s work from a philosophical perspective is two-fold. First, his perspective on language is interesting to the philosophy of language. The reason is that Chomsky’s theory tries to find answers to most major questions that philosophers have about language, and has more indirect implications for other such questions. Chomsky himself was influenced significantly by some of the major philosophers of his era, particularly Austin and Quine, and conducted quite extensive research in philosophical logic. Second, as long as Chomsky’s theory claims to be a ‘scientific’ approach to language, it might be seen to provide some basic data for anyone wishing to build an accompanying philosophy of language. In other words, at least, one conception of the relationship between science and philosophy.

Noam Chomsky is credited with developing the theory of Universal Grammar (UG). The development of UG has occurred at two levels. There are the general ideas about language and language acquisition on one level on which the theory is based. This includes the concepts of language competence, language performance and the innateness of language. On another level the theory involves an explanation of syntax, which is closely connected to historical and social context.

Chomsky’s research into language has moved through different phases. The original model, referred to as Syntactic Structures, took its name from the title of Chomsky’s 1957 book, which established the notion of ‘generative grammar’. Its emphasis was on explicit ‘generative’, formal description.

This first theory differentiates between phrase structure rules that generated the basic structures of a language, called ‘kernel sentences’, and transformations which altered these in different ways by turning them into passive or negative sentences etc.; thus its popular name was ‘transformational generative grammar’ or ‘TGG’. Its most memorable product was the sentence, “Colourless green ideas sleep furiously”, which was intended to show that sentences could be grammatical but meaningless and hence that syntax is independent of semantics.

Chomsky introduced the idea of the competence/performance distinction between language knowledge and language use, for which it is important to recognize ‘deep’ and ‘surface’ structure in the sentence.

All theories of Chomsky attempt to explain what can be known about language, and how this knowledge is acquired. Chomsky has been very explicit in stating that his interest is in the mind not in language as such.

According to Chomsky, each language can be considered as a specific relationship between sounds and meaning. Chomsky believes that the mind fills this gap via a ‘computational system’. It connects the sounds of language with meanings in the speakers’ minds.

Logic is another major area of philosophy that is interesting personally to Chomsky. To explain why this is important, some connections should be drawn between grammar and logic.

Grammar, in linguistics context, is the whole knowledge of language in a person’s mind, not just the syntax. It must show both how the sentence is pronounced – as a sequence of sounds, stress patterns, intonation and so on – and what the sentence actually means – x is a proper name, y is a verb and so forth.

Some philosophers, like Frege, want to know what language means, and to find a way of representing that. Chomsky indicates another way of approaching language, focusing less on meaning for its own sake and more on how an analysis of meaning in a language considers the analysis of basic structures of language and, eventually, how language works in the mind.

Source: TheCollector

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