The Transformation Model: A Crash Course

Noam Chomsky developed transformational grammar. This forms the basis of the NLP Meta-Model. A short introduction will explain the main ideas of the transformation model. There are a lot of rules in our language that are mainly determined by grammar. In English we distinguish three categories of rules: 1. Well-formedness, 2. Unit structure, 3. Logical contextual relationships.

1. Well-formedness:

Which of the following three sentences sound well-formed?

  • Even professors have speech problems.
  • Even professors have spotted blemishes.
  • Even professors has speech problems.

The first sentence is well-formed, complete and grammatically correct.

The second sentence sounded well-formed, but the content is unclear - therefore we speak of a semantically misspelled sentence. (semantics = doctrine of the meaning of the words).

The third sentence is syntactically malformed, i.e., grammatically wrong. (syntax = sentence construction)

2. Unit structure:

Sentences can be subdivided into units that belong together. You can easily recognize this in the following sentence:

  • The Maharajah of India believed the Maharani would eat.

“The Maharajah” and “of India” form a unity. They belong together. The “Maharaja” and the word “would” do not form a unity.

3. Logical contextual relationships

Whether a sentence is logical or not, whether it makes sense or not, is decided the feeling of the language. There are five criteria to decide if a sentence is logical or not:

  • Complete
    (Whenever you hear a verb, you can determine what information is needed for the verb so that the entire sentence makes sense. We call this information “valence”.)
  • Ambiguity
    (Sentences can convey different contents.
    Example: The investigation of police officers can be dangerous.
    Meanings: a) The investigation conducted by police officers can be dangerous. b) Investigating the police can be dangerous.
  • Synonymity
    (Sentences of like meanings, for example, Susanne looked for the address. Susanne looked up the address.)
  • Relationship indices
    (Indications of relationships between words. Example: My car is fantastic.)
  • Presuppositions
    (Sentences that provide additional information.
    Example: My dog ran away. This sentence assumes I have a dog.)

The surface structure of a sentence is always what is literally said and can be represented in a structure tree (graphical representation of sentence structures). The words are grouped into units that belong together. Example: "The Meyer family bought a house." Here 3 units can be summarized, namely: The married couple Meyer / bought / a house. The deep structure is a complete, well-formed sentence. Example: "The Meyer family bought a house from their neighbors with money." A transformation is a transfer of the sentence from the deep structure to the surface structure. When a deep structure is linked to more than one surface structure, it is called synonymity transformation.

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