[b-hebrew] Generation grammar and b-hebrew

Eric Inman eric-inman at comcast.net
Wed Jun 16 23:06:18 EDT 2010

Ok, I think I see where you're coming from. I'll watch and see how this
takes shape. Thanks.

Eric Inman 

-----Original Message-----
From: b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org
[mailto:b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of dwashbur at nyx.net
Sent: Wednesday, June 16, 2010 9:12 PM
To: 'b-hebrew'
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Generation grammar and b-hebrew

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 it.

Hope this helps,

Dave Washburn

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