Grammar and Structural Analysis
Structuralists vs Descriptivists
The term, Structural Analysis, is often used synonymously with Descriptive Grammar. While structural analysis is similar to descriptive grammar, structuralists claim that structural grammar differs in that it provides a system that describes a language as it is spoken synchronously, rather than describing it functionally as the descriptivists have done.
Structuralists divided language into segments and categories, and used samples of real speech as source material; they then divided these into meaningful units, or phonemes and signs.
Chomsky disagreed with the methods and goals of the structuralists, claiming that their shortcomings included a futile emphasis on the collection and classification of data. In his work, Chomsky made a departure from a focus on external, observable data, as he preferred to rely more on 'intuition.'
Bloomfield and Chomsky
- Bloomfield: Leonard Bloomfield, a US linguist, was influenced by the behavioural psychology of Boas and Sapir. He laid the foundation for both descriptive and structural grammatical analysis, but he allowed the dogma of the time to affect his account of linguistic knowledge and use. He used a stimilus-response model to describe the communication process, but, in language-learning he emphasised the role of habit and the need to follow a mechanistic view of human behaviour.
- Chomsky: However, Chomsky supported the idea that behaviour is based on logical structure when it is employed abstractly, not in a physical or mechanistic approach; he held that by putting emphasis on habit, the structuralists were heading in the wrong direction.
- Bloomfield: Another tenet held by many linguists in the USA at that time was the importance of using an inductive method when conducting research. Bloomfield believed that each language should be analysed on it own terms.
- Chomsky: However, Chomsky attempted to find rules that underlie all languages.
- Bloomfield: Bloomfield had a strong interest in the physical measurement of speech. He believed that a description of language should begin with phonology. However, he did admit there was also a need to consider meaning, the semantics of the language being studied. On meaning change, he held that a speech-form is a relatively permanent object to which meaning is attached, but that it may be able to be changed.
Types of Grammars Explored
A number of different approaches were explored, including the separation of grammar and semantics, item and process, item and arrangement, immediate constituent analysis and phrase structure.
Separation of Grammar and Semantics: The Post-Bloomfieldians of the 1940s attempted to separate grammar and semantics completely. They tried to apply to grammar the assumptions and procedures that they used in dealing with phonology and to extend phonemic analysis to include the consideration of stress, pitch and degree of syllabic separation.
The Item and Process Model: Hockett (1954) focussed on the collection and classification of data and used the item and process model employed by Boas and Sapir. At this time, he pointed out its strengths, but later he found weaknesses in the model.
Item and Arrangement: Item and arrangement grammars were later developed by several linguists, including Zelig Harris. Variations of the model included immediate constituent analysis and phrase structure. These were more powerful models of description than finite state grammars.
Serious limitations in item and arrangement grammars were revealed: they dealt with only one element and one rule at a time, so they were unable to economically incorporate the double reference where operations such as the situation where a conjunction may refer to two distinct sentences. It was also found that these models could not describe processes such as inversion, substitution, and relations between sentences that are paraphrases of each other, nor could they describe relations between discontinuous elements.
Because of the shortcomings of the various approaches, Harris began to apply mathematical and logical techniques of analysis to language. He proposed the concept of a process that he called 'transformation.'
Transformation: This was a grammatical process which changes the order of constituents within a sentence and that can delete, substitute or add elements. This process could account for relations between discontinuous elements, paraphrases, and other grammatical phenomena that could not be adequately handled by the earlier methods of syntactic analysis in descriptive linguistics.
As time went on, linguists with both descriptive and structuralist preferences began to develop a much greater understanding of language and of how their theories and resultant models could be applied globally to almost any spoken language.