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generative grammar


generative grammar

Noam Chomsky (b. 1928)


In linguistics, a grammar (or set of rules) that indicates the structure and interpretation of sentences which native speakers of a language accept as belonging to the language.

Adopting the term generative from mathematics, linguist Noam Chomsky introduced the concept of generative grammar in the 1950s.

See also:


  • "Generative grammar can be regarded as a kind of confluence of long-forgotten concerns of the study of language and mind, and new understanding provided by the formal sciences."
    (Noam Chomsky, The Minimalist Program. The MIT Press, 1995)

  • "A generative grammar of, say, English is an attempt at providing a fully explicit and mechanical statement of the rules governing the construction of English sentences. That is, the rules of the grammar must tell us exactly what can be counted as a grammatical sentence of English, while excluding everything that is not a sentence of English."
    (R.L. Trask and Bill Mayblin, Introducing Linguistics, 2000)

  • "A significant break in linguistic tradition came in 1957, the year American Noam Chomsky's Syntactic Structures appeared and presented the concept of a 'transformational generative grammar.' A generative grammar is essentially one that 'projects' one or more given sets of sentences that make up the language one is describing, a process characterizing human language's creativity. Modified in its theoretical principles and methods over succeeding years by many linguists, principally in the USA, a transformational generative grammar attempts to describe a native speaker's linguistic competence by framing linguistic descriptions as rules for 'generating' an infinite number of grammatical sentences.

    "A generative grammar, as understood by Chomsky, must also be explicit; that is, it must precisely specify the rules of the grammar and their operating conditions."
    (Steven Roger Fischer, A History of Language. Reaktion Books, 1999)

  • "Simply put, a generative grammar is a theory of competence: a model of the psychological system of unconscious knowledge that underlies a speaker's ability to produce and interpret utterances in a language. . . . A good way of trying to understand [Noam] Chomsky's point is to think of a generative grammar as essentially a definition of competence: a set of criteria that linguistic structures must meet to be judged acceptable."
    (Frank Parker and Kathryn Riley, Linguistics for Non-Linguists. Allyn and Bacon, 1994)
Also Known As: transformational generative grammar
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