Making Grammar Relevant to Teaching with Chomsky and Halliday

Making Grammar Relevant to Teaching—Episode 42

Mike:  Hello, and welcome to another episode of “Making Grammar Relevant to Teaching.”
Today we are going to talk about transformational generative grammar with Noam Chomsky.
First, though, Professor Chomsky has some problems with structuralism.

Chomsky: I certainly do. Basically, structuralism only deals with grammar superficially.

Mike: Ok. And…

Chomsky: Some people think that a benefit of structuralism is that it treats each language as
unique and deals with grammar based on the language itself. I see this is a negative because
all human languages have certain characteristics in common. There is a universal grammar that
governs all languages.

Mike: Universal…?

Chomsky: Structuralists completely failed to consider how structures are related. They were too
busy describing what they observed to notice the underlying rules. They failed to account for the
deep structures.

Mike: Deep structures?

Chomsky: I am talking about the structures that are programmed into human brains genetically.
Universal Grammar. Deep underlying rules about how all languages operate.

Mike: I am having a hard time conceptualizing universal grammar. I find it hard to believe that
there is such a thing. Perhaps that is a question for another day. Please continue.

Chomsky: We should devote a whole show to UG. I’d like to add one more thought about
my problems with structuralism. Language is more than just physical behavior. It is a mental
phenomenon. Learning a language is much more than simply repeating structures until they can
be repeated automatically and perfectly.

Mike: I see. I can certainly agree with that. My question is, “How can we apply Transformational-generative grammar (TGG) to
teaching?”

Chomsky: I think students need a chance to use their creativity. Teachers need to provide an
environment that gives students a chance to activate what they already inherently know.

Mike: Are you saying that we don’t need to teach grammar rules?

Chomsky: Exactly. There is no point. Students need to use and hear the language in order to
figure out on their own ho w the language they are studying works.

Mike: I like the sound of that.

Mike: Well. Look at the time word count…I mean, um, time. It has certainly been a pleasure.
Thank you for your time and input.

Chomsky: Thank you, Mike. I look forward to coming back again.

Mike: Let’s see about that.

Making Grammar Relevant to Teaching—Episode 43

Mike: Hello and welcome to another exciting episode of “Making Grammar Relevant to
Teaching.” Last week we had the pleasure to talk with Noam Chomsky about structural
grammar and transformational generative grammar. This week, we will talk about TGG and
systemic functional grammar with Michael Halliday. Welcome.

Halliday: It is really a pleasure. Thanks for having me, Mike.

Mike: Last week we talked with Noam Chomsky. Could you say a few words about TGG?

Halliday: Well, I honestly feel that Chomsky’s positions were extreme and that they caused
huge rifts in linguistics. He failed to admit or realize that he was building on the work of others.

Mike: I see. And were do you fall?

Halliday: I feel that grammar is a resource, rather than a rule. We use grammar to help us
convey our ideas. TGG focuses on form rather over function. It is important to think about why
we use language. Why do we use language, Mike?

Mike: Um, to interact with others?

Halliday: Right. That is one of what I call the metafunctions of language use. The others are
to represent our experiences in the world and to create texts. By texts, of course, I mean both
written and spoken. While I am on the subject of texts, I should mention that TGG operates on
the level of sentences and below. I am of the belief that context is of great importance and the
whole text needs to be considered.

Mike: Ok.

Halliday: Any time we use language we use grammar to represent our ideas.

Mike: I see your point, but I am still having trouble seeing the implications for teaching.

Halliday: To simplify things a bit…

Mike: Actually, that would be great because one of the main criticisms of functional grammar is
that it is quite complex and difficult for teachers to grasp.

Halliday: That is a valid point. Language is too complicated to be represented by a simple
system. I think teachers need to focus on what students need to do with the language. Meaning
is of utmost importance. Language is certainly a system, but it is a system of choices.

Mike: So what should teachers do?

Halliday: They should help students use the language as effectively and appropriately as
possible rather than emphasize correcting grammatical errors.

Mike: That sounds like great advice to me. Thanks a lot for coming! Next week we will play
“Count the Morphemes” with Scott Thornbury.

April 2013

Long story short…I wrote this ages ago and pretty much forgot about it. Recently, GFOTB (good friend of the blog) Ben Naismith wrote about his MA course. The post is here. Ben wondered about how his new-found knowledge of Systemic Functional Grammar could be of use in the classroom. I felt I didn’t have much to share and then remembered this and emailed it to Ben just for fun. As pleased as he was to have bootleg original underground Griffin docs he encouraged me to post it. So here it is. (I originally intended it to be a “page” and not a post but since I already made it a post (and Ben commented) so it shall stay.

Meanwhile, on Twitter @TESOLatMQ shared this  link related to SFG. 

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4 comments

    • mikecorea

      🙂 I am thankful for the reminder of its as well as the encouragement to post it. I actually intended it to be a ‘page” and not a post but since you have already liked it and commented I will leave it be. I’m in the process of explaining it a bit and why I suddenly posted it!)

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