Generative semantics

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The generative semantics is a generative grammar model , which in the 1960s by George Lakoff , James D. McCawley, Paul M. Postal and John Robert Ross was developed in response to Noam Chomsky's neglect of semantics in the transformational grammar (TG).

Chomsky had conceived Generative Grammar in connection with his criticism of American taxonomic structuralism (more under: The Development of Debate ), which only analyzed objectifiable phenomena of grammar by classifying and segmenting them into their basic components, but not the abstract system of rules organizing language ( deep structure ), from which normal language sentences ( surface structure ) are derived ( generated ) through various transformations . Chomsky wanted to depict this process in his TG, but initially without the elusive word meanings. However, he expanded his model in 1965 with interpretative semantics .

The discussion about this semantic component triggered the dispute among North American scientists known as Linguistics Wars - Lakoff against Chomsky and led to the conception of generative semantics , e.g. Sometimes with recourse to European linguists (e.g. Louis Hjelmslev and Lucien Tesnière). In contrast to Chomsky's TG, the deep structures underlying the sentences of a language are not understood as a syntactic system of rules, but as semantic representations (predicate-argument structures - as in predicate logic ).

Comparison with the interpretative semantics of transformation grammar

→ see also: Interpretative Semantics, comparison with Generative Semantics (GS) by George Lakoff.

Lakoff's work is based on Chomsky's theories on generative transformation grammar and takes a semantically enriched approach to a case grammar . The extensions from Lakoff were used in connection with the model structures of artificial intelligence .

Lakoff et al. a. criticized the fact that Chomsky's Generative Grammar is composed of two different sets of rules: a syntactically generative deep structure and an interpretive semantics , which interprets the structures built up by the syntax. Instead, Generative Semantics is based on a semantic deep structure to which the syntactic features are assigned and which, among other things, works with various rule formats: selection rules ( well-formedness conditions or restrictions), logical implications and presuppositions adopted by Frege ( natural prerequisite for linguistic utterances) , the were not used in Chomsky's universally declared transformation grammar .

For their part, Chomsky and his co-workers complained about generative semantics (see Lakoff versus Chomsky) that in the semantic-generative derivations it does not distinguish between phenomena that are based on knowledge of language and those that are of a linguistic systematic nature (see Fries 1983).

By refining the extended standard theory and specifying the principle of autonomy (autonomy of special rule systems for language systems ), some of the points criticized by generative semantics in the aspect model were taken into account (see Lakoff versus Chomsky, Development of Debate). The debate about the semantic components also influenced the conception of new language theories in pragmatics and cognitive linguistics .


  • Klaus Baumgärtner, Hugo Steger (Ed.): Funkkolleg Language. An introduction to modern linguistics. Beltz Weinheim 1971, 1972.
  • N. Chomsky: Current Issues in Linguistic Theory. Muton, The Hague, et al. a. 1975.
  • N. Chomsky: Aspects of the theory of syntax. MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass. 2007, ISBN 978-0-262-03011-3 .
  • Lepore: The Problem of Adequacy in Linguistics. In: Theoretical Linguistics. 6, 1979, pp. 161-172.
  • W. Abraham, RI Binnick (Ed.): Generative Syntax. 1974.
  • G. Lakoff: On Generative Semantics. 1972, pp. 305-359.
  • F. Newmeyer: Linguistic Theory in America. Academic Press, San Diego et al. a. 1992, ISBN 0-12-517152-8 .
  • N. Fries: Syntactic and semantic studies on the freely used infinitive and related phenomena in German. Narr, Tübingen 1983, ISBN 3-87808-821-3 .
  • H. Krenn, K. Müllner: Bibliography on generative semantics. 1970, pp. 85-105.
  • Helmut Glück (Ed.): Metzler Lexicon Language . 4th edition. JB Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2010, ISBN 978-3-476-02335-3 .

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b c The Linguistics Wars - Lakoff versus Chomsky, The semantic theory in discussion