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Contemporary Linguistics and Cognitive Science - Реферат

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Contemporary Linguistics and Cognitive Science

Noam Chomsky

Sobel S.P. The Cognitive Sciences:

An Interdisciplinary Approach. – London; Toronto:

Mayfield Publishing Company, 2001. – pp. 159-167.

The impetus that set the field of linguistics on its current path came from the publication of Chomsky's Syntactic Structures (1957) and Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965). These works ignited a revolution in linguistics, placing it squarely back into the domain of the mind and determining the direction it has followed ever since.

What Chomsky contributed initially was a shift of focus to the (vast and largely unconscious) set of rules he hypothesized must exist in the minds of speakers and hearers in order for them to produce and understand their native language or languages. Like Pānini, he was concerned with discovering, isolating, and pinpointing these rules, to make their formulation precise and predictive. But, as a 20th-century researcher, he was working within the contemporary framework of science. Scientific effort requires abandoning vagueness in favor of focusing on the observable specifics, which alone lead to productive hypotheses. But unlike the behaviorists, Chomsky based his hypothesis on the assumption of a capacity in the brain that functions without the conscious awareness of the person in whom this functioning is taking place, and which it is indeed possible and profitable to study. The data provided by language permit us to infer what must be taking place as language is produced. In the process, Chomsky proposed a method of formalizing the rules of the components of language. In view of the impact on and pervasiveness of this approach in linguistic research in the second half of the 20th century, a brief introduction is in order.

The first component of language Chomsky addressed was the syntactic component—the portion of one's linguistic competence that handles the arrangement of words into sentences. A simple sentence serves as an example of what formal rules must contain if they are to be capable of generating such a sentence:

The cat chased a mouse.

This sentence contains five separate words, some of which—the cat, a mouse— "feel" as though, when taken together, they form a somewhat larger unit. The words in each grouping must occur in this order *cat the and *mouse a are not permissible English combinations. (The asterisk preceding each such formulation is, by convention, a sign that what follows is not grammatical in the language.) It is also true that in English one or the other of these combinations may come first and the verb, in this case chased, must come between them. The following ordering would also be fine for English, though it expresses a somewhat unusual situation:

A mouse chased the cat.

Also perfectly good sentences of English are these two:

A cat chased the mouse.

The mouse chased a cat.

A rule that would specify that these four orderings are just those that are permitted for this set of words would have to refer to the part of speech each word represents. These sentences demonstrate that nouns may occur both before verbs and after verbs and that articles, when present, must be placed before the nouns they refer to. But the rules would also make clear that not all sentences contain nouns that are preceded by an article:

Babies cry

is a perfectly good English sentence, yet there is no the or a before babies. Nor, for that matter, is there a noun after the verb. So the rules would specify that a verb need not be followed by a noun.

The rules Chomsky formulated making all of this explicit are written, in their most basic form for the simplest of sentences, as follows: Letting S stand for the sentence, N for nouns, V for verbs, and Art for articles, and an arrow, → , for the way in which S can be expanded to include its elements,

S → (Art) N V (Art) (N).

S can be rewritten or expanded as (i.e., the sentence contains) an article followed by a noun followed by a verb followed by an article followed by a noun—in that order. Articles and the noun following the verb are placed in parentheses to indicate that they may or may not be present in the sentence. The first noun, which serves as the subject of the sentence, must be present, as must the verb.

A slightly more complicated sentence might contain another element:

The white cat chased a frightened mouse.

A brave mouse chased the small cat.

Now we must accommodate adjectives. In English, when an adjective is associated with a noun, it occurs before the noun. Modifying our rule to allow for this, we can write

S→ (Art) (Adj) N V (Art) (Adj) (N).

But we know that a noun may have more than one adjective associated with it. Therefore, we need a symbol to indicate that indefinitely many adjectives may occur before a noun. To make this clear we place an asterisk after Adj: Adj*. (A moment's thought will suffice to convince you that there can be only one article preceding a noun.) Our rule now looks like this:

S → (Art) (Adj*) N V (Art) (Adj*) (N).

This is not a very economical formulation, because it repeats so many of the elements. It may be condensed, because in principle a noun will always have the possibility of a preceding article and indefinitely many adjectives. If we call this combination a noun phrase, and abbreviate it NP, we can write our rule this way:

S → NPV(NP).

Now we must write a rule that expands NP:

NP → (Art) (Adj*) N.

A sentence can be divided up intuitively much as a noun phrase can, into components that seem to "go together." The white cat forms one part of the sentence, that which is being spoken about—the subject. Chased a frightened mouse forms the other part of the sentence, that which is being said about the subject— the predicate.

The white cat chased a frightened mouse at high speed into the grassy yard.

To capture the intuition that the sentence breaks into two major parts, we can recognize the status of the second part by calling it a verb phrase, or VP. The rule that produces, or generates, sentences can now be stated in the condensed form

S → NP VP.

Our latest sentence now contains two additional phrases, at high speed and into the grassy yard. Each of these, as you can see, contains a preposition, abbreviated Prep (at, into), followed by a noun phrase. This we can categorize as a prepositional phrase, abbreviated PP which we formulate as follows and add to our list of rules:

PP → Prep NP.

As the sentence indicates, there is the possibility for an indefinite number of prepositional phrases following the verb.

Each part of our rule for generating sentences can be expanded by writing the rules we have formulated for each element, giving us the following set:


NP → (Art) (Adj*) N.

VP → V(NP) (PP*).

PP → Prep NP.

The NP in this last rule can of course be expanded by means of the already stated NP rule.

It must be understood, of course, that these particular rules apply to English sentences only. The rules for generating the sentences of other languages would require a different formulation. German, for example, would require the verb to occur as the last element in the verb phrase.