UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Recursive grammars and the creative aspect of language use Angel, Jay Leonard

Abstract

The aim of this study is to discover the relationship between the ability of a human being to use language to express ever new thoughts, on the one hand, and the presence in natural languages of devices for the derivation of an infinity of deep structure types for sentences, on the other. The conclusion reached is that the full expression of thought can be carried on in a language with a finite and small number of deep structure types for sentences. This apparently conflicts with the claims of Noam Chomsky and other contemporary linguists to the reverse effect. The significance of this result is further explored within the overall context of generative linguistic theory. The material is organized in the following way. The first chapter begins with an exposition of the basic elements of generative transformational theory, and focuses on the definition of recursive sets of rules and recursive derivations of sentences. It continues with an exposition of the theory of generative linguistics as a branch of human psychology, and raises, and briefly discusses/ the question of the extent to which progress in descriptive linguistics automatically constitutes progress in that portion of explanatory linguistics which attempts to explain the possibility of there being rational as opposed to non-rational creatures, creatures who use language creatively as opposed to creatures which are incapable of such a use of language. The question is not pursued very far, but it is clear that Chomsky and other generative transformational linguists such as Fodor and Katz take it that the recursive generation of sentences is a necessary feature of the language of a rational creature, or a creature whose thought processes and whose expressive capacities are on a par with those of humans. This claim is an interesting one, but it is never supported by analysis. Accordingly the chapter closes with a discussion of the means whereby the claim may be checked. The second chapter performs a test on a crucial portion of the claim, and yields the following negative result: the recursive generation of deep structure types for sentences is not necessary for the full expression of thought. The chapter is long and tangled, but unified around the demonstration of this point. In the third chapter, the significance of this result is explored. I argue that the lexicon contains some underlying recursions — a point which is apparently denied by Chomsky, Fodor, Katz and Postal. I argue further than an extended study would be required to determine, whether or not these recursions are necessary for thought expression. The question of recursive generation of paragraphs is also raised, and some considerations are brought forth suggesting that regardless of whether or not lexical recursions are necessary for thought expression, a claim that they are, and a claim that the recursive generation of paragraphs is necessary for thought expression would have quite different implications for semantic theory and psycholinguistics as compared with the claim that the recursive generation of deep structure types for sentences is necessary for thought expression. Finally, the relationship between the analysis of Chapter Two and the assumption in semantic theory that the semantic content of a complex sentence is a function of the semantic content of its elementary propositions and their structural relations is touched upon. It is suggested that a demonstration of the non-necessity of recursive generation of deep structure types, supplemented in certain ways, provides a justification for what is now often assumed but not justified -- that the semantic content of complex propositions can be recursively specified in terms of the semantic content of its elementary propositions and their structural relations.

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