[b-hebrew] Generation grammar and b-hebrew

dwashbur at nyx.net dwashbur at nyx.net
Wed Jun 16 22:11:36 EDT 2010

On 16 Jun 2010 at 20:08, Eric Inman wrote:

> I have a question.
> My understanding is that such a grammar is for defining the set of
> sentences
> that can be considered to be valid Hebrew sentences. This would
> imply that
> any sentence is in one of two states: either a valid Hebrew sentence
> or not.
> My concern is that typically there are sentences which are
> technically valid
> but which would never or rarely be used in practice. In some cases
> this
> would be because the sentence makes no sense semantically. In other
> cases it
> would be because for whatever reason a different sentence would
> normally be
> preferred for expressing the given content. In other words, the
> question of
> whether or not a sentence is a valid Hebrew sentence sometimes is
> neither
> yes or no but rather more of a probability or set of probabilities
> of how
> likely the sentence is to be used in practice and/or considered
> valid.

Not exactly.  Generative grammarians don't use the term "valid."  Rather, we use "well 
formed," which is to say, it fits what we understand about how the language actually forms 
clauses.  Generative grammar, in contrast to previous systems such as structuralism, 
doesn't just seek to describe.  It seeks to explain.  That is, a structural approach says "This 
is what we see, and here's a categorization of it,"  whereas generative says "This is what we 
see, and here is how it comes about, how it's generated within the speaker's mind."  In a 
generative approach, we try to predict what would constitute a well formed clause and what 
would not.  Now, pretty much all languages at one time or another use ill-formed clauses, 
clauses that go contrary to what we know of the "normative" grammar of the language.  
Consider this:

Six months ago I couldn't even spell "scholar" and now I are one.

The last clause is deliberately ill-formed to illustrate a point.  But that  doesn't make it any 
less ill-formed.  A generative grammar of BH would seek to determine what is a well-formed 
clause, what contexts would produce it, and what constraints there are on the rules that form 

Hope this helps,

Dave Washburn


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