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Chomsky, Syntax, Semantics

From:Ed Heil <edheil@...>
Date:Wednesday, September 15, 1999, 20:58
As I understood it, Chomsky's original conception of semantics was
strictly truth-value-based, and he thought that syntax's only
contribution to semantics was in the area of Logical Form: e.g. in
"Colorless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously" it identified the ideas as
being colorless and green, and as sleeping furiously.  He also thought
that "transformations" had no semantic effect, other than possibly
leaving a component unexpressed, e.g. that the semantics of "Somebody
hit me" was identical to "I was hit," and that therefore the latter
ought to be derivable from the former via a transformation.

These ideas were considerably modified in his later theory
(especially the part about transformations preserving semantics; that
was thrown out) but as I understand it Chomsky still thinks that
syntax can be profitably studied as an independent, mathematically
structured entity (receiving its structure from the Principles and
Parameters of the Language Organ, which itself mutated spontaneously
into existence out of nowhere), not as a practical means of
communication shaped by its function and users.  To this, some would
still object.

Boxcars are pulling an Ed of sorts out of town.