Prototype Theory and Hebrew Tense/Aspect

Dave Washburn dwashbur at
Fri Dec 17 09:30:13 EST 1999

> > A surface structure is realized, but it's not generated there.  Initial
> > generation and subsequent movement take place below that, and
> > this is where I'm talking about.
> >
> > > I would consider the real distinction between surface structure and
> > > semantics to be between the forms that are found in the text, and the
> > > meaning/function that they have in conveying the message.
> > >
> > > In this regards, surface structure is found at many levels:
> > > morphemes/lexemes
> > > morphology
> > > syntax
> > > discourse structures above the sentence
> >
> > Please define what you mean by "surface structure."  I get the
> > feeling we're using this term two different ways.
> Yes, I think we are.
> Speaking (perhaps solely!) for myself: I see between grammar and semantics
> two parallel hierarchies of structure.
> Grammar starts with the morphemes and builds an hierarchy through
> morphology, syntax, and discourse structures.


> Semantics starts with concepts and builds propositions and arguments and
> communication.

Also OK.

> I use surface structure to refer to the forms that can be observed in the
> actual text, which are essentially grammatical forms and structures.  With
> respect to the related transformational structures posited by Generative
> grammar as 'deep-structure', I consider to be merely ways of relating
> certain alternative surface forms.  I do not consider so-called
> 'deep-structure' to be more basic than so-called 'surface-structure': do not
> most 'deep-structure' forms appear as alternatives in the surface structure?

I'm not sure what you mean by this last question.  "Surface 
structure" (now more commonly known as S-structure) doesn't 
refer to the actual phonetic realization of the clause, but to the form 
just before phonetic realization is applied.  The phonetic 
component, which follows S-structure, applies things like 
contractions, elisions, accents, dialectical pronounciations etc.  S-
structure is more or less the structure of the clause after movement 
transformations (and I personally add insertion and deletion 
transformations) have been applied, at the point where the clause 
is ready to be sent on to the phonetic component.

> Although I have not studied Generative Semantics, I seem to recall that they
> start with the presupposition that 'deep-structure' is closer to Semantic
> structure than is surface structure.  I do not agree, but hold that the
> relationship between syntax (in whichever of its surface-level related
> instantiations) and semantics is arbitrary.

Terminology is again a factor here: "Generative Semantics" was a 
subset of transformational-generative grammar that had a heyday in 
the late 60's and early 70's but ultimately collapsed.  I assume you 
meant "semantics within generative grammar."  A good introduction 
to the whole subject is F. Newmeyer, "Linguistic Theory in 
America."  Please develop what you mean by "arbitrary."

> > > I might also ask, is not there meaning associated with the structure of
> > > syntax?
> >
> > Depends on what you mean by "meaning."  I associate "meaning"
> > with semantics: the ideas conveyed by words, phrases and
> > clauses (on this see especially Jackendoff, "Semantics in
> > Generative Grammar").  Syntax, by contrast, deals with force and
> > connection: "force" being a category or form's essential purpose,
> > especially as regards things like mode, and connection being the
> > ways that clauses do or do not relate to one another in
> > coordination, subordination, dependence, etc.
> Here again, I see Semantics as extending beyond mere propositions, to the
> formation of logical arguments and communications.  Coordination,
> subordination, etc., permit the author/speaker to formulate his/her ideas
> into these higher level semantic units.  Furthermore, the different
> alternatives (such as coordination vs. subordination) permit certain
> propositions to be highlighted for rhetorical purposes.

I agree.  The reason I limit myself the way I did is because my 
work takes place at the clause level.  I don't spend a lot of time 
(grammatically speaking) at those higher levels.

> I hope we have clarified ourselves for each other!  I now (think I)
> understand your grammatical orientation and your statements!

I'm getting closer to understanding yours, and I look forward to the 
clarifications (sorry if I seem a little slow...)

Dave Washburn
Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name.
                                   Psalm 86:11

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