The Comparison and Contrast Between Chomsky Transformational-Generative Linguistics and Halliday Systemic Functional Linguistics

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The Comparison and Contrast Between
Chomsky Transformational-Generative Linguistics and Halliday Systemic Functional Linguistics Abstract
As two of cornerstones constructing the modern linguistic theories, the transformational generative linguistics represented by Noam Chomsky and the systemic functional linguistics featured by Michael Halliday have always been deemed as two most influential and pivotal roles in the modern linguistic academic fields. However, they distinct each other in many respects while virtually making the same impacts. Based on this, this paper probes into discussing the comparison and contrast between these two linguistics systems.

Key words: transformational, functional, linguistics, comparison


Prior to unfold the compassion, personally, I am continuing to appreciate that generative and systemic functional grammars persist as “non-overlapping magisteria.” Since they are not dichotomous or contrary, it should be accepted that it’s helpful to simply define one in terms of what the other is not, if we want to safely conclude one is advantageous than the other, there must be a criteria or purpose relating to it. Nevertheless, the primary function of language is communication, if for this purpose, we must doubt that which theory is more applicable when users actually produce or understand language. It is widely believed that, in the kind of society we live in, context is an important element we have to take into consideration in language study for the moment we understand the human language. And thus we admit that systemic functional grammar is more developed from TG grammar and has more advantages in terms of helping us use language, understand meanings and analyze discourses. In my observation, there are at least six differences between systemic functional grammar and TG grammar as follows. 1. TG grammar is the linguistic version that has been mostly influenced by and developed upon language form, whereas systemic functional grammar is the study of language through meaning, i.e. its function. Chomsky insisted that linguistics should go beyond merely describing syntactic structures, and aim to explain why language is structured in the way it is – which includes explaining why other kinds of structures are not found. TG grammar solves the long unsolved question of traditional grammar: the transformation process from active tense sentence to passive one. He thought that syntax is the center of linguistic study which consists of surface structure and deep structure. Chomsky also put forward two important concepts: competence and performance in his Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. The former refers to a language user’s underlying knowledge about the systems of rules, and the latter the actual use of language in concrete situations. For TG grammar, linguist’s task is primarily to describe competence because performance is impossible without competence. But, to Halliday, it’s more significant to describe actual sentences with many functions not the idealized deep structure. He was concerned with the function of the sentence, what the writer’s purpose is in writing the sentence – in other words, with the meaning. Language serves three major functions as the metafunction: the ideational, the interpersonal and the textual functions. However, any full analysis of the sentence will inevitably need to take account of both the meaning and the form. To summarize, Chomsky characterized form independently of meaning and function, while Halliday had good reasons to believe that meaning and function can help shape form. Both these approaches in linguistics have their advantages and disadvantages and they can interact with each other complementarily. In fact, both of them represent the two directions of linguistic studies at present: the vertical study of language in relation to thought and logic and the horizontal study of language with the social cultural...
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