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Nov 29, 2013 02:23

To clearly understand how enormous was Chomsky revolution it is very important to know the academic environment around him and the issues that were ignored and never faced.

Prior to the publication of his Syntactic Structure in 1957, linguistic was a set of classified sentences of human language that have never formed a theory of human language, but, it just followed empirical knowledge and behavioral thoughts. As Hockett wrote in 1942, linguistics was no more than a classificatory science.
The first problem Chomsky had to face was about the infinity of language. As matter of fact structuralist assumption it is not easy to account for the fact the languages have an infinite number of sentences. If each language has a finite number of phonemes and morphemes it is impossible to say the same for the number of the sentences, in fact, it is always possible to produce a longer one.

Furthermore the structuralist methods of classification do not seem able to account for all of the internal relations within sentences. For example, to take well known case, the two sentences "John is easy to please" and "John is eager to please" seem having the same grammatical structure. Each is a sequence of noun-copula-adjective-infinitive verb. But the grammar of the two is quite different. In the first sentence, though it "John" functions as the direct object of the verb to please and the sentence means: it is easy for someone to please John. Whereas in the second "John" functions as the subject of the verb to please and the sentence means: John is eager that he please someone.

Another facts that structuralists linguistics are unable to explain is the existence of ambiguity when it derives, not from the words in the sentence, but from the syntactical structure. As John Searle say in his essay: “ Consider the sentence --The shooting of the hunters is terrible.- This can mean that it is terrible that the hunters are being shot or that the hunters are terrible at shooting or that the hunters are being shot in a terrible fashion. Another example is -I like her cooking.- In spite of the fact that it contains no ambiguous words (or morphemes) and has a very simple superficial grammatical structure of noun-verb-possessive pronoun-noun, this sentence is in fact remarkably ambiguous. It can mean, among other things, I like what she cooks, I like the way she cooks, I like the fact that she cooks, even, I like the fact that she is being cooked.”

What differentiates Chomsky works from other proceeding linguistics was the attempt to get an answer to this kind of issues. Under the surface of the uniform structure there are several different structures that I called “deep structure”.