Arquivo para o  marcador' Sanskrit'

New approach to formal grammars. (Doktorandem výzkum)

Publicado sob a(s) categoria(s) Linguistics,Philosophy,Science em 25 de October de 2015

This is the Introduction of my Ph.D. research project. Soon I’ll post the whole project in pdf.


New approach to formal grammars: Pāṇini’s grammar as an answer.


The form is the possibility of the structure.

L.Wittgenstein (T.L.Ph., 2.033)





Since Noam Chomsky said the Pāṇini’s grammar (PG) is a “generative grammar, in essentially the contemporary sense of this term” (1965: v), a new perspective in the studies of Aṣṭādhyāyī has appeared. Some linguists trained in PG have been asserting  the link between PG and generative grammar at least since 1965, even assuming that PG is within a specific hierarchy of the Chomsky Hierarchy[1]. But none of them ever questioned the Chomsky’s theory, on the contrary, just accepted it and have applied it to PG its whole framework, however, “the generative perspective has misled linguists concerning the properties of natural language” (Pullum: 2003).

The formalization of grammars has been very restricted to what we call generative frameworks, and these frameworks have been considered theoretically important for any description of natural language without proving empirically its efficacy. It is like saying that for the formal grammar have its potential proved, it has to pass through an analysis of a generative framework, known as mathematical foundations. PG has been a victim of Chomsky’s theory since his declaration. When some linguists trying to apply these new models of framework to PG to prove that PG can be one kind of generative grammar, we see two mistakes: first, to turn PG’s framework to generative framework (something that contributes to PG to lose its linguistic potential); second, to lose the oportunity to challenge Chomsky’s theory with a grammar that describes a language (Sanskrit, in this case) with total efficacy, and empirically.

My research goes in this new perspective, not trying to demonstrate that PG is one kind of generative grammar, but to prove that PG’s method is efficient for describing any natural language. PG will be proved as a model grammar, meaning that it can be applied at least to every natural language in the Indo-european family. This approuch implies two important points: outdo the Chomsky’s theory of grammar (note that I am discussing grammars, not languages); provide a framework completely linguistic for description of languages (avoiding mathematical foundations). With the second point is possible to affirm that PG can even be a model of grammar for Natural Language Processing (NLP).

If a generative grammar is a “system of rules that in some explicit and well-defined way assigns structural descriptions to sentences” (Chomsky, 1965: 8), the grammar of Pāṇini could be considered a generative grammar, but the main problem to consider it as this kind of grammar is that for Pāṇini the objects that linguists investigate (words, phrases, clauses, sentences, lexemes, syllables) are real and have a real structure, than “merely structures imposed on them or posited for them by linguists” (Pullum:2007). The PG is known as saṃjñaka vyākaraṇa, a grammar of categories of technical terms (Kapoor, 2005:70). For Pāṇini, to generate a language (Sanskrit), one grammar firstly must describe it, and if its description is not real, the generation is not effectual. In the end, PG exposes the mistakes that have been investigated by generative linguists.[2]

[1] See J.F.Staal, “Context-Sensitive Rules in Pāṇini” (1965); and M.D.Hyman “From Pāṇinian sandhi to finite state calculus” (2007).
[2] My research has the support of all the examination made by Geoffrey K. Pullum and András Kornai regarding the mistakes of generative grammars and Chomsky’s theory, as well as parts of the Cognitive Linguistics, Geoffrey Sampson for example.

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An anecdote on Chomsky’s linguistic theory.

Publicado sob a(s) categoria(s) Linguistics em 19 de March de 2015

Sometimes you can find some “gaps” in the theories or even in the progress of these theories involved in your research. They become an anecdote about that theory. I’ve found an anecdote about the development of Chomsky’s theory, Generative Grammar, linked with my research. Perhaps the scholars know it – I am not sure.


There is one famous linguistic classification in Chomsky’s theory, “deep structure and surface structure”, which fell down in the last development of the theory known as Minimalist Program, that could be adjusted years before and have put the theory in advance in a way that is dealt today. In 1965, Noam Chomsky wrote in the preface of his book Aspects of the Theory of Syntax that Pāṇini’s grammar (Aṣṭādhyāyī) is a “generative grammar, in essentially the contemporary sense of this term”. If someone developing a new theory bumps into a work that delineates the same theory, he should study carefully this work before giving a next step. It seems that Chomsky never did it in respect of Pāṇini’s grammar, which made him to lose time in the discovery of some details of the new concept of his theory.


Concerning deep and surface structures, or syntactic-semantic relations, in 1969, Paul Kiparsky and J.F. Staal wrote the paper Syntactic and Semantic Relations in Pāṇini, where they compare the kāraka’s system with those deep and surface structures, their conclusion is:


“It seems that the general form of Pāṇini’s syntatic rules and levels is in fact rather difference from those of a generative grammar. In the theory of Chomsky, deep structures and surface structures have the same formal properties. Both are represented by trees with labeled nodes and ordered branches. The set of deep structure categories (Sentence, Noun Phrase, Verb, Phrase, etc.) is a subset (perhaps a proper subset) of the set of surface structure categories. For Pāṇini, on the other hand, each category belongs to one and only one level.”


And before they noted:


“For Pāṇini […] the constituents of a sentence are all on a par, with no further hierarchical structure.”


It was only in 1995 that Noam Chomsky’s paper Bare Phrase Structure brought in the same conclusions seen in Pāṇini and noticed by Kiparsky and Staal in 1969, so twenty six years later. In the paper is noted:


“A linguistic expression of L is at least a pair (π, λ) of this sort and under minimalist assumpions, at most such a pair, meaning that there are no ‘levels of linguistics structure’ apart from the two interface levels PF and LF; specifically, no levels of D-structure or S-structure.”


OBS: the terms D-structure and S-structure are respectively deep and surface structures, the terms PF and LF are phonetic form and logical form.


All the changings of the last part of the theory MP were conceived in respect of the goal “to explain how it arises in the mind of the speaker the problems of descriptive and explanatory adequacy” (1995); but as regards the changings, MP also brought in a new ‘computational system’, in which all the phrase structure rules and X-bar theory was criticized and ‘rewritten’, what was responsible for some changings in the theory of context-free languages and grammars, part of the area of NLP.


For Pāṇini, a structure could never be seen as deep and surface, but on pairs in one unique level. What makes the structure (syntax) much more “computable”. Twenty six years of delay, therefore, could be very useful for the development of Chomsky’s theory, in the end all area of natural language processing could be affected.




But more than this, in the paper (1995), Chomsky ensures:


“The basic assumption of the P&P model [Principles and Parameters] is that languages have no rules at all in anything like the traditional sense [of his theory] and no grammatical constructions except as taxonomic artifacts”


However, Kiparsky and Staal (1969) noted:


“It has been said that Pāṇini’s method was taxonomic […], the kāraka theory suggests not only that such statements are untrue, but also that Pāṇini’s treatment of syntax and semantics presents analogies to various aspects of several modern linguistic theories, whithout being directly identifable with any of them”.


What Chomsky calls Principles and Parameters model is exactly what Pāṇini calls Sāmānya (general) and Viśeṣa (particular) and all his grammar is delineated with them. If Chomsky had studied the Aṣṭādhyāyī in 1965, maybe he could advance his theory and avoid some mistakes the theory has.


PS: If you want to read a very good critical paper about Chomsky’s Minimalist Program, read The Structure of Unscientific Revolutions, Shalom Lappin, Robert D. Levine and David E. Johnson, 2000 (on web). The papers I quoted here can be found on web.

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A jewel.

Publicado sob a(s) categoria(s) Sanskrit,Science em 26 de May de 2013

From Bhagavad Gīta (7.7).


मयि सर्वम् इदं प्रोतं सूत्रे मणिगणा इव

mayi sarvam idaṃ protaṃ sūtre maṇigaṇā iva

On me all this universe is strung like clusters of jewels on a string.

It’s a beautiful line of poetry. A metaphor, of course. Lives inside life.

But perhaps we can even see the string theory on it.

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