Sentence Processing and Psychological Reality

Posting by Ade Tuty Anggriany | 5:07 PM

1. Meaning, Sound, and Syntax Relations in Chomsky’s Grammar
In relating sound and meaning, Chomsky does not begin with the meaning of the sentence nor the sound pattern of the sentence; he begins with the syntax of the sentence. In fact, he starts with the letter S, which, although one might be tempted to interpret it as meaning ‘sentence’. The structures that represent the sound or Phonetic Form (PF) and the meaning or Logical Form (LF) of a sentence are first generated from the syntax, which is activated by the vacuous S. syntax functions independently (‘autonomously’) of meaning and sound. The meaning and sound pattern of a sentence is defined by the function of syntax. In this conception, only syntax is ‘generative’.

2. Why Chomsky’s Grammar is not a Performance Model
For speaker production the true process would involve the ideas of what a person wants to express, and it must end with speech sounds.

In Chomsky’s terminology, this process would begin with something like Logical Form (LF) and end with the Phonetic Form (PF). While, for speaker understanding the true process would involve a reverse ordering. In Chomsky’s terminology, the process would begin with the PF and end with the LF. Chomsky’s grammar could not be used directly as either a model of production or of understanding. Chomsky is aware of this and has long cautioned readers not to interpret his grammar as a kind of performance process. Even though it is neither a model of production nor of understanding, Chomsky has made it an essential part of the performance process. He asserts that his grammar will be used in both the processes of sentence production and understanding. In this regard, the speaker must develop some sort of use rules, heuristics, or strategies so that the grammar can be used for such performance processes.

3. Types of Performance Models
There are two possible basic performance conceptions; the first conception is Resource Grammar Approach, it is also as a ‘componential’ model. Here, the grammar is used as a sort of resource in order that a speaker may engage in the process of producing or understanding sentences. The second conception is Process Grammar Approach. Here, a grammar (or grammars) is itself a process in the production or understanding of sentences.
a. Chomsky’s resource grammar performance model
There are two performance processes to be explained, two sets of use rules are required: one set for production, the other for understanding. Essentially, production performance involves meaning or ideas as input, and speech as output, while understanding involves speech as input and meaning as output. When given input, one of the sets of use rules will interact with the grammar to provide an output.
b. A process grammar performance model
There are type of grammars that are part of the process itself - for example, the semantic-based grammars (Functional Grammar, mainly derived from Generative Semantics Grammar) and psychological process grammars (Cognitive Grammar). The semantic-based grammars could serve directly as models of sentence production since they take the meaning of the sentence as input and provide the sound pattern of the sentence as output. However, to suppose that a speaker would actually go step by step through such a grammar to produce a sentence is doubtful.
c. No workable performance model yet with Chomsky’s grammar
There are two distinct possibilities why Chomsky’s grammar is no workable performance model. Either psycholinguists are not smart enough to create a workable model, or, there is something wrong with Chomsky’s conception of grammar such that a performance model cannot be devised.

4. Some Features of Sentence Production and Understanding
a. Explaining the speed of conversations
Speed is made possible by a speaker or hearer having knowledge and strategies that often enable one to jump directly from meaning to sound and vice versa without the mediation of syntax in the process of understanding and producing sentence. For example, in production, because the production of a sentence involves the output of words in a linier order. In this respect, familiar phrases and sentence are especially useful.
b. Some features of sentence production
The aim of the production process is to provide a set of sounds for the thought that the speaker wishes to convey. There are some features of sentence production:
• Thought Process: this universal process use knowledge and a stock of concepts to create thoughts. It is stimulated by various mental and environmental influences.
• Purpose + proposition: this is the essential thought which a person wishes to communicate to someone. The purpose of a thought involves such intentions as questioning, asserting, denying, and warning with respect to a proposition. The proposition consists of two basic types of concepts: arguments and predicates.
• Pragmatics and Semantic Structure: politeness, persuasions, and other pragmatic factors will influence what the final meaning of sentence will be.
• Basic Strategies: this component identifies certain properties of the Semantic Structure and assigns searches to be done of the Stored Items and Transformational rules.
• Phonetic Structure and Acoustic signal: the phonetic Structure is a psychological level which represents the pronunciation of the sentence. It consists of the discrete speech sounds and prosodic features (pitch, stress, etc.).
c. Some features of sentence understanding
Fodor, Bever, and Garret have postulated that a string of incoming words are first identified in terms of their grammatical class (noun, verb, etc) so that for English a syntactic strategy like

NP + V + NP → Subject + Verb + Direct Object

can apply. This means that the first NP is identified as the Subject, while the NP that follows the V is identified as the Direct Object. Such as in the sentence ‘The cat chased the mouse.’
Basic strategies are better specified in terms of semantic aspects. Thus rather than the strategy of NP + V + NP → Subject, etc, the strategy would be a semantic strategy, something like

Living thing + Action + Thing → Agent + Action + Action’s object

Here, with the identification of the individual concepts of ‘living Thing’, ‘Action’ and ‘Thing’, the semantic roles of ‘Agent’ and ‘Action’s Object’ are assigned with respect to ‘Action’. Thus, given a sentence like ‘Mary pushed Sally’, the first word of ‘Mary’ (assuming for convenience a single word-by-word analysis) will be immediately identified in the Stored Items as the name of a person, person being an item that includes the meaning of living thing.

5. The Psychological Unreality of Chomsky’s Grammar
a. The psychological contradiction in Chomsky’s theorizing
The content of the rules of grammar are thus determined by the directional relationship which Chomsky postulated with respect to the levels of his grammar. But, he declares that it would be ‘absurd’ to propose that in producing a sentence a speaker would start from the initial letter S, construct a D-structure line by line, then insert lexical items and apply transformations to form a S-structure, etc. Thus, Chomsky asserts, the process of generating a linguistic derivation is not a process that a speaker would ever employ in producing a sentence. The same would be true for the understanding of sentences – a performance process that must begin with sound and not the letter S and a variety of syntactic principles.
Now, since the direction order in Chomsky’s grammar is psychologically unreal, and since the content of his grammatical principles and parameters are determined by this directional order, we can only conclude that Chomsky’s principle and parameters are as the psychologically unreal as the psychologically unreal order on which they were based. (see more Steinberg, 1976 and 1982, pp. 77-80)

6. The Anti-Mentalist Skeletons in Chomsky’s Closet
How is it that Chomsky’s theorizing has resulted in this internal psychological contradiction? The facts show that Chomsky was not always a Mentalist and that the psychological theorizing for his grammar came some years later.
We find that Chomsky supporting Bloomfield, a pro-Behaviorist linguist, in his attack on Mentalist, ideas and meanings (ideas and meanings are attacked because such abstract entities lead to a theory of mind). Chomsky, in his work 1955, devoted over a hundred pages to attacking the relevance of semantics to grammar. Even so, semantics was given only a secondary role. Syntax continued to be given the primary autonomous role in the grammar. Because Chomsky continued to give syntax a primary role, mentalistic claims about his grammar, that Chomsky fell into psychological self-contradiction. Not even his brilliant competence-performance solution was enough to save the theory, although it did serve to detract critics from focusing psychological attention on the grammar.

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