Through the years, linguists have produced many models of grammar, however, two models have proven to be most controversial. They are Chomsky's generative grammar of formal syntax and functional, usage-based approaches. These two fields, formalists and functionalist, are divided into two divisions of linguistic theories without cooperation. While one field focuses on cognitive abilities, the other directs their attention to syntax and universal grammar (henceforth UG). This essay investigates the main characteristics and basic differences of generative grammar and usage-based approaches.
In short, Chomsky's generative grammar involves the human innate ability to learn a language, termed UG, and the fundamental role of syntax. This genetically encoded ability (UG) as well as exposure to language (environment) answers Chomsky's question "how is language generated in the speaker?". His earlier theory of parameters, ...view middle of the document...
First, the usage-based theory is associated with cognitive linguistics and their focus on meaning (lexical semantics). They emphasize on identifying phraseological units and the memory of pre-constructed forms and patterns in the mental lexicon. Higher frequency of forms or patterns increases accessibility to them, whereas lower frequency words are soon forgotten. With children, early exposure to forms or patterns is entrenched in their lexicon. These forms are categorized and mentally represented in the mental lexicon and thus memorized. Moreover, due to the importance of the multicultural aspects of language, the usage-based approaches take into account the social dimension of contrasting usage both synchronically and diachronically.
In view of the main characteristics between Chomsky's generative grammar and the usage-based approaches, there are considerable basic differences. In particular, Chomsky and generative grammar makes a clear distinction between syntax and the lexicon, whereas usage-based theories make none at all. While generative grammar takes no interest in language change due to its external properties (E-language), usage-based focuses on diachronic as well as synchronic issues of language because, to them, historical linguistics and sociolinguistics are not regarded separate disciplines. Another difference, is the importance of phraseology within the discipline of cognitive linguistics and the usage-based approach, however, generative grammar has limited interest except for the grammar, structure, and irregularities of phrases.
Overall, Chomsky's universal grammar is a principle of the language faculty embedded in the human mind and generative grammar is based on the principles of syntactic rules. However, usage-based approaches build upon the theory of language learning with input, mental representation, frequency, and categorization. Due to their dissimilar theories and approaches towards language acquisition, they have sided against each other rather than to work together.
Herbst, Thomas (2010). English Linguistics: A Coursebook for Students of English. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.