In his keynote address in 2015, George Lakoff said the following (at 22:10)

The whole idea of generative grammar fell apart. There were things that you could not do with it. Even if it was meaningless, you still couldn't do certain sentences... There are examples where there can't be a deep structure, for example. That was discovered in '74, and nobody's found a way to do it since then.

I find this confusing. According to Wikipedia

Generative Grammar considers grammar as a system of rules that generates exactly those combinations of words that form grammatical sentences in a given language.

Since the rules are arbitrary, shouldn't we be able to encode essentially anything with them?

So my question is: what are the limitations of generative grammar, and specifically what is Lakoff referring to here?

  • 2
    Is your question about generative grammar, or about Lakoff's opinion about GG?
    – user6726
    Jan 9, 2021 at 20:24
  • 1
    @user6726 He seems to be talking about facts ("discovered", "cannot do"), not just opinions ("like" / "dislike")
    – MWB
    Jan 9, 2021 at 20:36
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    @user6726 If you know that some limitations of GG were discovered in '74, I'd say you can ignore his speech. If you don't, you should probably be asking the same Q I just did.
    – MWB
    Jan 9, 2021 at 20:45
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    @user6726 I wouldn't say that. I just think that if an SE anon (no offense) is going to contradict a highly respected authority on the topic, he should at least know (or want to know) what that authority was referring to.
    – MWB
    Jan 9, 2021 at 20:55
  • 2
    George and I have always had the agreement that he's not responsible for what I say and I'm not responsible for what he says. Though I don't agree with this particular chunk, taken out of context. When he says There were things that you could not do with it he's not talking about most of the things linguists would want to to. Note that for about the last 20 years or so, he's billed himself as a cognitive scientist rather than a linguist.
    – jlawler
    Jan 9, 2021 at 23:21


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