THEORY OF INNATENESS
Resource Person:Asif Ali Raza
To whom this term “GENERATIVISM” refers?
Avram Noam Chomsky • Dec 7 1928
• American Linguist, Philosopher,
Cognitive Scientist, Logician,
• Highly credited for the
development of Generativism
• Has a significant impact on the
intellectual community since the
mid 20th Century
• Development of the Theories
of generative grammar
• Classification of formal
language properties in the
• Critiques of the school of
BACKGROUND & DEVELOPMENT
Generativism is rejection of B.F.Skinner’s Behaviourism and
usually presented as having developed out of and in reaction
to the previously dominant school of post-Bloomfieldian
American descriptivism: a particular version of structuralism.
Up to a point, it is historically justifiable to see the origin of
generativism within linguistics in this light. But, as Chomsky
himslef came to realize later, there are many respects in which
generativism constitutes a return to older and more traditional
views about language.
The term “Generativism” is being used here to refer to the
theory of language that has been developed, over the years or
so, by Avram Noam Chomsky and his followers.
Indeed, relatively few of the linguists, who were impressed by
the technical advantages and heuristic value of Chmsky’s
system of transformational-generative grammar when he
first put this forward in the late 1950s, have ever explicitly
associated themselves with the body of assumptions and
doctrines that is now identifiable as Generativism.
Chomsky pointed out poverty of stimulus for the acquisition of language.
He was against stimulus play vital role in language learning.
He held hypothesis that language is free from stimulus control.
He opines that human language is innate and pre-wired in human brain.
A child acquires language in three years.
Language Acquisition Device (LAD) is the prime source of learning
The innate body of linguistic knowledge is termed as “Universal Grammar”
Strongest evidence for the existence of UG is simply the fact that children
successfully acquire their native language in a short time.
The competence-performance distinction is at the heart of
Distinction between competence & performance similar to
Saussure’s distinction between langue and parole
Chomskyan generativism closer to Saussurean and Post-
Competence & Performance
Creativity, in Chomsky’s view, is a peculiarly human
attribute, which distinguishes men from machine and as far as
we know from animals.
It is rule governed creativity and this is where generative
grammar comes into own.
The utterances that we produce have a certain grammatical
structure: they conform to identifiable rules of well-formedness.
Creativity & Productiviy
Productivitymakes possible exercise of creativity.
Productivity is not to be identified with creativity but there is an
intrinsic connection between them.
Creatiivity & Productiviy
"Generativism can designate an approach for
relating language to the intuitive knowledge of
speakers and to the mental capacities of
humans at large.”
(Robert de Beaugrande)
Mid - Late 20th Century (1960s)
This term was used in 1950s by Chomsky.
Generative Grammar is a grammar in which a set of formal
rules are used to generate or define the membership of an
infinite set of grammatical sentences in a language. Instead of
analyzing a single sentence, this grammar devises a set of rules
of construction that may help in generating sentences or
structures in an infinitely large number. This grammar attempts
to produce all and only grammatical sentences of language.
(all and only means that our analysis must account for all the
grammatical correct phrases and sentences and only those
grammatical correct phrases and sentences in whatever
language we are analyzing.)
We have a rule such as “a prepositional phrase in English
consists of a preposition followed by a noun phrase”. We can
produce a large number of (infinite) phrase using this rule.
e.g. in the zoo, on the table, near the window
Behavioural theory remained dominant in the first half of 20th
century. It is an approach to psychology and learning. It stresses
on observable and measureable behaviours. In behaviourism,
the learners are viewed as passively adopting to their
According to the belief of the theory, free will is an illusion. In
other words, human beings are shaped entirely by their external
The behaviourists, tried to explain learning without refering to
mental process. This theory sees the language learner as
“Tabula Rasa” (blank slate).
GENERATIVISM OBJECTS BEHAVIOURISM
Chomsky has done more than anyone else to demonstrate the
sterility of the behaviourists’ theory of language.
He has pointed out that much of the technical vocabulary of
behaviourism (‘stimulus’, ‘response’, ‘conditioning’,
‘reinforcement’ etc.), if taken seriously, cannot be shown to
have any relevance to the acquisition and the use of language.
INFLUENCE OF GENERATIVISM ON
LINGUISTICS AND OTHER DISCIPLINES
Generativism has been enormously influential, not only in
linguistics, but also in philosophy, psychology and other
disciplines concerned with language.
Influence of Chomskyan generativism upon all modern
linguistics theory has been so deep and so pervasive that even
those who reject this or that aspects of it tend to do so in terms
that Chomsky has made available to them.
“Language and Linguistics” by John Lyons
“Syntactic Structures” by Avram Noam Chomsky