Harris, Chomsky and the origins of transformational grammar
According to Chomsky’s report of the mid 1970s, he and Harris developed their theories in an essentially independent way; whereas according to some statements by Harris, some contact actually took place between them. To shed light on this issue, it may be useful to systematically compare their respective views of the notion ‘transformation’ as well as their analyses of certain syntactic phenomena. Among the topics dealt with in the present article are: the system of syntactic categories and their symbols; the notion of ‘zero elements’; the phenomenon of discontinuous constituents; the English auxiliary system; wh-constructions; the typology of transformations; the notions of ‘kernel’ and ‘kernel sentence’.Several of these analyses show many points of contact between the two scholars (e.g., the analysis of wh-constructions or that of English auxiliaries), which allow us to maintain that they surely influenced each other. The overall differences between the two models are also clear: the transformational relation holds between sentences in Harris’s framework, while it holds between underlying strings on the one hand and actual sentences on the other in Chomsky’s. As a consequence of this different view of the notion of transformation, two problems which were fundamental for Chomsky had no importance for Harris, namely the order of transformations and the distinction between optional and obligatory transformations.It can therefore be concluded that, if the two scholars certainly influenced each other when they were working out their respective transformational theories, their theoretical views were acutely different almost from the beginning.
Keywords: Harris, Chomsky, grammar, syntax, transformation
Published online: 14 February 2017
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