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deep structure


deep structure

Language, Consciousness, Culture: Essays on Mental Structure by Ray Jackendoff (The MIT Press, 2007)


In transformational grammar, the underlying syntactic structure (or level) of a sentence. In contrast to surface structure (the outward form of a sentence), deep structure is an abstract representation that identifies the ways a sentence can be analyzed and interpreted.

In transformational grammar, deep structures are generated by phrase-structure rules, and surface structures are derived from deep structures by a series of transformations.

See also:

Examples and Observations:

  • "[Noam] Chomsky had identified a basic grammatical structure in Syntactic Structures [1957] that he referred to as kernel sentences. Reflecting mentalese, kernel sentences were where words and meaning first appeared in the complex cognitive process that resulted in an utterance. In [Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, 1965], Chomsky abandoned the notion of kernel sentences and identified the underlying constituents of sentences as deep structure. The deep structure was versatile insofar as it accounted for meaning and provided the basis for transformations that turned deep structure into surface structure, which represented what we actually hear or read. Transformation rules, therefore, connected deep structure and surface structure, meaning and syntax."
    (James D. Williams, The Teacher's Grammar Book. Lawrence Erlbaum, 1999)

  • "The remarkable first chapter of Noam Chomsky's Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965) set the agenda for everything that has happened in generative linguistics since. Three theoretical pillars support the enterprise: mentalism, combinatoriality, and acquisition. . . .

    "A fourth major point of Aspects, and the one that attracted most attention from the wider public, concerned the notion of Deep Structure. A basic claim of the 1965 version of generative grammar was that in addition to the surface form of sentences (the form we hear), there is another level of syntactic structure, called Deep Structure, which expresses underlying syntactic regularities of sentences. For instance, a passive sentence like (1a) was claimed to have a Deep Structure in which the noun phrases are in the order of the corresponding active (1b):
    (1a) The bear was chased by the lion.
    (1b) The lion chased the bear.
    Similarly, a question such as (2a) was claimed to have a Deep Structure closely resembling that of the corresponding declarative (2b):
    (2a) Which martini did Harry drink?
    (2b) Harry drank that martini.
    . . . Following a hypothesis first proposed by Katz and Postal (1964), Aspects made the striking claim that the relevant level of syntax for determining meaning is Deep Structure.

    "In its weakest version, this claim was only that regularities of meaning are most directly encoded in Deep Structure, and this can be seen in (1) and (2). However, the claim was sometimes taken to imply much more: that Deep Structure is meaning, an interpretation that Chomsky did not at first discourage. And this was the part of generative linguistics that got everyone really excited--for if the techniques of transformational grammar could lead us to meaning, we would be in a position to uncover the nature of human thought. . . .

    "When the dust of the ensuing 'linguistic wars' cleared around 1973 . . ., Chomsky had won (as usual)--but with a twist: he no longer claimed that Deep Structure was the sole level that determines meaning (Chomsky 1972). Then, with the battle over, he turned his attention, not to meaning, but to relatively technical constraints on movement transformations (e.g. Chomsky 1973, 1977)."
    (Ray Jackendoff, Language, Consciousness, Culture: Essays on Mental Structure. MIT Press, 2007)
Also Known As: deep grammar, D-structure
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