The origin and developmemt of generative semantics
Against the background of the controversial and polarized work of Frederick Newmeyer and Robin Tolmach Lakoff, this paper chronicles the early development of generative semantics, an internal movement within the transformational model of Chomsky’s Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. The first suggestions toward the movement, whose cornerstone was the obliteration of the syntax-semantics boundary, were by George Lakoff in 1963. But it was the work conducted under the informal banner of “Abstract Syntax” by Paul Postal that began the serious investigations leading to such an obliteration. Lakoff was an active participant in that research, as were Robin Tolmach Lakoff, John Robert (“Háj”) Ross and James D. McCawley. Through their combined efforts, particularly those of McCawley on semantic primitives and lexical insertion, generative semantics took shape in 1967: positing a universal base, importing notions from predicate calculus, decomposing lexical structure, and, most contentiously, rejecting the central element of the Aspects model, deep structure.