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What Are the Applications of Generative Grammar?

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  • Written By: T. Carrier
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2016
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Generative grammar is a theoretical approach to linguistics, or the study of words and language. The basis of the theory is that one can apply a preset collection of grammatical rules to a language in order to determine proper grammar. Therefore, perhaps the most obvious application of generative grammar is that it provides a foundation for learning any language. In addition, proponents argue that human awareness of these rules is innate, so enhanced understanding of the human mind is another potential application. This theoretical approach may even be applied in some surprising areas, such as music theory.

Familiarity with the structural rules of grammar is of course useful in teaching and research. Students of language studies must learn about word and sentence structure, or morphology and syntax, respectively. Word sounds and meanings are also important, and all of these areas are cornerstones of generative grammar. Further, this process uses diagrams like word trees that aid in recognizing and applying various language techniques.

If language were a road, then generative grammar would provide the road signs. The overall approach simply attempts to apply a structural and logical foundation for communication. Many different sub-branches exist, with some theories emphasizing certain analytical points while others focus on applying mathematical principles to language structure. The unifying idea, however, is a belief that language can be studied and understood by recognizing its individual skeletal components. As such, generative grammar principles may be of use to individuals wishing to learn another language.

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While generative grammar recognizes the linguistic differences between languages, it supports a sweeping set of grammatical rules that underlie these differences. Each culture applies its own transformations to sentence structure and language creation, but certain principles — such as the presence of words of action versus words of persons, places or things — seem to hold true for most languages. These concepts just may go by varying names or be diversely applied when crafting sentences. A clock, by way of metaphor, may come in vastly contrasting colors, shapes, and sizes, but the inner mechanical workings are primarily the same.

Proponents theorize that certain rules are universal because they are a natural part of human consciousness. In other words, humans are born with some deep-seated recognition of these principles. Learning simply brings these ideals to the forefront and strengthens them. Early supporters like Noam Chomsky used this belief to explain why young children could generally pick up language easily and learn different languages at a faster rate than adults. Generative grammar is thus a useful tool for highlighting and understanding the natural mental capabilities that a person possesses from birth.

The idea of finding a root structure for a language is not limited to written or spoken language alone. Take music, which has its own language of symbols and notes. Many practitioners find generative grammar useful in teaching core musical concepts, particularly in tonal studies.

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