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Grammar and Structural Analysis

Updated on June 24, 2017
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Bronwen was a teacher for over forty years. Degrees include School Librarianship, Psycholinguistics and Theology, and Applied Linguistics.

A Dictionary and Thesaurus are so Useful
A Dictionary and Thesaurus are so Useful | Source

Structuralists vs Descriptivists

The term, Structural Analysis, is often used synonymously with Descriptive Grammar. While structural analysis is similar to descriptive grammar, structuralists claim that structural grammar differs in that it provides a system that describes a language as it is spoken synchronously, rather than describing it functionally as the descriptivists have done.

Structuralists divided language into segments and categories, and used samples of real speech as source material; they then divided these into meaningful units, or phonemes and signs.

Chomsky disagreed with the methods and goals of the structuralists, claiming that their shortcomings included a futile emphasis on the collection and classification of data. In his work, Chomsky made a departure from a focus on external, observable data, as he preferred to rely more on 'intuition.'

Bloomfield and Chomsky

  • Bloomfield: Leonard Bloomfield, a US linguist, was influenced by the behavioural psychology of Boas and Sapir. He laid the foundation for both descriptive and structural grammatical analysis, but he allowed the dogma of the time to affect his account of linguistic knowledge and use. He used a stimilus-response model to describe the communication process, but, in language-learning he emphasised the role of habit and the need to follow a mechanistic view of human behaviour.
  • Chomsky: However, Chomsky supported the idea that behaviour is based on logical structure when it is employed abstractly, not in a physical or mechanistic approach; he held that by putting emphasis on habit, the structuralists were heading in the wrong direction.
  • Bloomfield: Another tenet held by many linguists in the USA at that time was the importance of using an inductive method when conducting research. Bloomfield believed that each language should be analysed on it own terms.
  • Chomsky: However, Chomsky attempted to find rules that underlie all languages.
  • Bloomfield: Bloomfield had a strong interest in the physical measurement of speech. He believed that a description of language should begin with phonology. However, he did admit there was also a need to consider meaning, the semantics of the language being studied. On meaning change, he held that a speech-form is a relatively permanent object to which meaning is attached, but that it may be able to be changed.

Types of Grammars Explored

A number of different approaches were explored, including the separation of grammar and semantics, item and process, item and arrangement, immediate constituent analysis and phrase structure.

Separation of Grammar and Semantics: The Post-Bloomfieldians of the 1940s attempted to separate grammar and semantics completely. They tried to apply to grammar the assumptions and procedures that they used in dealing with phonology and to extend phonemic analysis to include the consideration of stress, pitch and degree of syllabic separation.

The Item and Process Model: Hockett (1954) focussed on the collection and classification of data and used the item and process model employed by Boas and Sapir. At this time, he pointed out its strengths, but later he found weaknesses in the model.

Item and Arrangement: Item and arrangement grammars were later developed by several linguists, including Zelig Harris. Variations of the model included immediate constituent analysis and phrase structure. These were more powerful models of description than finite state grammars.

Serious limitations in item and arrangement grammars were revealed: they dealt with only one element and one rule at a time, so they were unable to economically incorporate the double reference where operations such as the situation where a conjunction may refer to two distinct sentences. It was also found that these models could not describe processes such as inversion, substitution, and relations between sentences that are paraphrases of each other, nor could they describe relations between discontinuous elements.

Transformational Grammar

Because of the shortcomings of the various approaches, Harris began to apply mathematical and logical techniques of analysis to language. He proposed the concept of a process that he called 'transformation.'

Transformation: This was a grammatical process which changes the order of constituents within a sentence and that can delete, substitute or add elements. This process could account for relations between discontinuous elements, paraphrases, and other grammatical phenomena that could not be adequately handled by the earlier methods of syntactic analysis in descriptive linguistics.


As time went on, linguists with both descriptive and structuralist preferences began to develop a much greater understanding of language and of how their theories and resultant models could be applied globally to almost any spoken language.

The History of Linguistics and Grammar is Fascinating
The History of Linguistics and Grammar is Fascinating | Source

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      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 3 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      AudreyHowitt: I wonder how I missed your comment - sorry, and thank you for it and the share.

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      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      AudreyHowitt: Thank you! That is lovely.

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      Audrey Howitt 4 years ago from California

      Wonderful article Blossom!! Sharing this!

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      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      stars439: /Thank you for your lovely comments. God bless you and your family.

      annart: That's a very interesting and practical thing that you are doing; I'm sure that all your work will help and hope that it is appreciated, too. Dyslexia can make a really bright student seem - and feel - dumb, so it's wonderful that you are helping in this way. Thank you for your useful comments.

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      Ann Carr 4 years ago from SW England

      Fascinating hub; so informative. I love the logic and structure of language. I was 'odd' in that I loved studying grammar at school. The description of 'transformational' grammar is interesting; I've been formulating a morphological system of reading, to help my dyslexics who don't respond so well to phonics. The way words change shape and meaning is a 'concrete' way of showing students how words can be built and how they develop. A dyslexic can't cope so well with abstracts and this is one way I can help some students.

      The French language is similarly fascinating. I've tried to apply my approaches when helping foreign students with English, whether dyslexic or not.

      Thanks for a high quality hub. Up, useful, interesting and shared. Thank you as well for following me.

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      stars439 4 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

      Interesting read into grammar, and language that I knew absolutely nothing about. God bless you precious heart for a little more education that most folks probably never take time out of life to realize unless they are involved in fine tunning their gramatical wisdom . You're knowledge is awesome, and how fortunate we are to reap the world winds of it .

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      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Silkekarina: That is so great! It made me smile, too. I wonder - which language do you dream in? That would be interesting.

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      Jean Valerie Kotzur nee Stoneman 4 years ago from Germany

      Thankyou. Quite honestly I don't think about it any longer. After a certain time your brain does not differentiate between the two languages. I have often thought about something and then turned to my sister (when she visits) and asked her opinion about it. It is when her face clouds over and her mouth drops that I know I have gabbled on in the wrong language. We have some laughs about it sometimes.

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      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Silkekarina: After all that time you must be really bilingual - how great! It's something that lots of people strive for, but never really reach.

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      Jean Valerie Kotzur nee Stoneman 4 years ago from Germany

      They say that I have a bavarian slant and an english accent, but even my english accent has weakened over fifty years of speaking german.

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      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Silkekarina: That must have been very difficult to begin with. Learning by 'immersion', that is, being in the target language situation and having to use it, is the best way to learn a new language. Do German people think you speak the language as they do, or do they think you have an 'accent'? I guess it comes without needing to think about it, now. Lovely!

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      Jean Valerie Kotzur nee Stoneman 4 years ago from Germany

      This is a very interesting hub. I am English and my deceased husband was German. From the beginning of our marriage I had to speak German. Over a few years I learned to speak fluently and grammatically correctly. It was not easy, but learning the background and structure of the language and how it evolved over time made it much easier.

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      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      John Mello: Thank you. Good to hear from you, too.

      Paul Kuehn: I find it very interesting and I'm glad that you do, too.

      Frank Atanacio: How lovely! Thank you, Frank.

      Ericdierker: Well, we all use language to communicate, so even if we only speak one language, it is important to understand how we do it.

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      Eric Dierker 4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Well done. Important stuff.

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      Frank Atanacio 4 years ago from Shelton

      Blossomsb thank you for this A+ hub :)

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      Paul Richard Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      This is great background knowledge for any linguist to have. Thanks for this hub. Voted up and sharing with followers.

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      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

      Nice Hub, Blossom. Voted up :)