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21 Sep

Transformational Generative Grammar

Transformational Generative Grammar

TG Grammar is one of the most influential modern linguistic theories. It was proposed by Noam Chomsky in Syntactic Structures (1957) and Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965). There are two aspects to this theory – transformational and generative.


Transformational Aspect of TG Grammar

TG Grammar shows relationship between sentences such as active-passive, affirmative-negative etc. It shows how different types of sentences are derived from basic types of simple sentences (known as kernel sentences) through the application of rules called Transformational Rules (T rules). Kernel sentences are simple, affirmative, active and declarative sentences.

Eg ‘Tom saw Sally’ is a kernel sentence (S1)

The passive form  is ‘Sally was seen by Tom’ (S2)

Through PS rules and T rules, S1 can be transformed into S2.

S1 is the kernel sentence and S2 is the transform


According to TG Grammar, the different types of sentences are transforms of kernel sentences. Transforms are derived through addition, deletion, substitution or rearrangement of elements.

TG Grammar is organized into 3 components: (i) Base component or Phrase structure

(ii) transformational component and (iii) morphophonemic component. The first and third components are obligatory while the second is optional.

Base component/ PS Component

Through PS rules, PS component generates the structure underlying a kernel sentence in the form of a string of symbols. The tree representing the structure of a sentence is called P marker. The output of PS rules is called the kernel string.

Transformational component

This part contains the rules known as T rules which can transform kernels in various ways. There are two sets of T rules:

(i) optional T rules that may apply and obligatory T rules that must apply

(ii) single base transformations and double base transformations

Morphophonemic component: This part converts the output of transformational component into a phonemic transcription.


Generative aspect of TG Grammar

TG Grammar is generative since it must be able to generate all and only the grammatical sentences of a language. TG Grammar has finite number of rules which enable us to generate infinite set of sentences in the language

Competence and Performance:

TG Grammar is a theory of competence ie a native speaker’s knowledge of a set of internalized rules regarding language. The speaker’s competence(knowledge of rules) is the object of linguist’s attention not his performance (actual sentences he produces). The dichotomy between competence and performance corresponds to langue and parole respectively.

Deep structure and Surface structure

A sentence is structured at a deep level and at a surface level, with a deep structure and a surface structure. The deep structure represents the basic semantic content of the sentence. Surface structure provides the outer form and syntactic structure. The surface structure is derived from the deep structure by the application of T rules. The deep structure of

Tom saw Sally (S1) and

Sally was seen by Tom (S2)

is the same. The sentences mean the same. The difference is that in S2 passive transformation has been applied. The phrase ‘love of God’ has two different deep structures. The application of different T rules convert the  two deep structures into the same surface structure. The phrase ‘shooting of hunters’ also has two different deep structures.


Differences between PSG & TG


PSG                                                     TG

Makes use of PS rules              Makes use of PS rules and T rules

PS rules generate surface         PS rules generate DS

Structure directly                     Which is converted into SS by T rules

PSG rewrites a symbol TG changes a string into another string

as a string

S---->       NP + VP                    NP+Aux+MV----->   Aux+NP+MV


Compiled by

Neethu Tessa Baby

Assumption College Changanacherry

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