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Encyclopedia > Zellig Harris

Zellig Sabbetai Harris (October 23, 1909 - May 22, 1992) was an American linguist, mathematical syntactician, and methodologist of science. Originally a Semiticist, he is best known for his work in structural linguistics and discourse analysis and for the discovery of transformational syntax. October 23 is the 296th day of the year (297th in leap years) in the Gregorian Calendar, with 69 days remaining. ... 1909 (MCMIX) was a common year starting on Friday (see link for calendar). ... May 22 is the 142nd day of the year in the Gregorian calendar (143rd in leap years). ... 1992 (MCMXCII) was a leap year starting on Wednesday. ... Linguistics is the scientific study of human language, and someone who engages in this study is called a linguist or linguistician. ... 14th century BC diplomatic letter in Akkadian, found in Tell Amarna. ... Structuralism is a general approach in various academic disciplines that explores the inter-relationships between fundamental elements of some kind, upon which some higher mental, linguistic, social, cultural etc structures are built, through which then meaning is produced within a particular person, system, culture. ... Discourse analysis is a number of approaches to analysing language use above the sentence or clause level. ... Syntax, originating from the Greek words συν (syn, meaning co- or together) and τάξις (táxis, meaning sequence, order, arrangement), can in linguistics be described as the study of the rules, or patterned relations that govern the way the words in a sentence come together. ...

Harris was born in Balta, now Odessa oblast, Ukraine, and came with his family to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1913. A student in the Oriental Studies department, he received his bachelor's (1930), master's (1932), and doctoral (1934) degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. He began teaching at Penn in 1931, and would go on to found the linguistics department there in 1946, the first such department in the country. Balta is a small town (pop. ... Odessa Oblast (Ukrainian: Одеська область, Odes’ka oblast’ or Одещина, Odeshchyna) is an oblast of south-western Ukraine. ... Nickname: City of Brotherly Love Motto: Philadelphia maneto (Let brotherly love continue) Official website: http://www. ... 1913 (MCMXIII) is a common year starting on Wednesday. ... The examples and perspective in this article or section may not represent a worldwide view. ... 1930 (MCMXXX) is a common year starting on Wednesday. ... A masters degree is an academic degree usually awarded for completion of a postgraduate or graduate course of one to three years in duration. ... 1932 (MCMXXXII) was a leap year starting on Friday (the link will take you to a full 1932 calendar). ... 1934 (MCMXXXIV) was a common year starting on Monday (link will take you to calendar). ... The University of Pennsylvania (Penn is the moniker used by the university itself ) is a private, nonsectarian research university located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. ... 1931 (MCMXXXI) was a common year starting on Thursday (link is to a full 1931 calendar). ... Linguistics is the scientific study of human language, and someone who engages in this study is called a linguist or linguistician. ... 1946 (MCMXLVI) was a common year starting on Tuesday. ...

It is widely believed that Harris carried Bloomfieldian ideas of linguistic description to their extreme development: the investigation of discovery procedures for phonemes and morphemes, based on the distributional properties of these units. One or more images would improve this articles quality. ... In human language, a phoneme is a set of phones (speech sounds or sign elements) that are cognitively equivalent. ... In Morpheme-based morphology, a morpheme is the smallest language unit that carries a semantic interpretation. ... Complementary distribution in linguistics refers to the relationship between two elements where one element can be found only in a particular environment and the other element can be found only in the opposite environment. ...

His Methods in Structural Linguistics (1951) is the definitive formulation of descriptive structural work as he had developed it up to about 1946. This book made him famous, but was (and still is) frequently misinterpreted as a synthesis of a "neo-Bloomfieldian school" of structuralism. His so-called discovery procedures are methods for verifying that results, however reached, are validly derived from the data, freeing linguistic analysis from Positivist-inspired restrictions, such as the fear that to be scientific one must progress stepwise from phonetics, to phonemics, to morphology, and so on, without "mixing levels." Beginning with the recognition that speaker judgments of phonemic contrast are the fundamental data of linguistics (not derived from distributional analysis of phonetic notations), his signal contributions in this regard during this period include discontinuous morphemes, componential analysis of morphology and long components in phonology, a substitution-grammar of phrase expansions that is related to immediate-constituent analysis, and above all a detailed specification of validation criteria for linguistic analysis. The criteria lend themselves to differing forms of presentation which have sometimes been taken as competing, but for Harris they are complementary, analogously to intersecting parameters in optimality theory. Consequently, Harris's way of working toward an optimal presentation for this purpose or that was often taken to be "hocus-pocus" with no expectation that there was any truth to the matter. The book includes the first formulation of generative grammar. Positivism can have several meanings. ... Phonetics (from the Greek word φωνή, phone = sound/voice) is the study of sounds (voice). ... Phonemics is the branch of linguistics which deals with the study of the phonemes of a language. ... Morphology is the following: In linguistics, morphology is the study of the structure of word forms. ... Optimality theory or OT is a linguistic model proposed by the linguists Alan Prince and Paul Smolensky in 1993, and expanded by John J. McCarthy and Alan Prince in 1993. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with Generative linguistics. ...

Among his most illuminating works in this period are restatements of analyses that bring out the invariant properties of the phenomena. Even in his early publications may be seen his central methodological concern to avoid obscuring the essential characteristics of language under covert presuppositions inherent in conventions of notation or presentation. He later clarified that this is because such notions are dependent upon prior knowledge of and use of language. Natural language, which demonstrably contains its own metalanguage, cannot be based in a metalanguage external to it, and any dependence on a priori metalinguistic notions obscures an understanding of the true character of language.

Deriving from this insight, his aim was to constitute linguistics as a product of mathematical analysis of the data of language, an endeavor which he explicitly contrasted with attempts to treat language structure as a projection of language-like systems of mathematics or logic.

As early as 1939 he began teaching his students about linguistic transformations and the regularizing of texts in discourse analysis. This aspect of his extensive work in diverse languages such as Kota, Hidatsa, and Cherokee, and of course Modern Hebrew, as well as English, did not begin to see publication until his "Culture and Style" and "Discourse Analysis" papers in 1952. Then in a series of papers beginning with "Co-occurrence and Transformations in Linguistic Structure" (1957) he put formal syntax on an entirely new, generative basis. 1939 (MCMXXXIX) was a common year starting on Sunday (link will take you to calendar). ... Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes, are a Native American group comprising a union of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara peoples, whose native lands ranged across the Missouri River basin in the Dakotas. ... Original distribution of the Cherokee language Cherokee (Cherokee: ᏣᎳᎩ) is an Iroquoian language spoken by the Cherokee people. ... The Modern Hebrew language is a Semitic language of the Afro-Asiatic language family. ... The English language is a West Germanic language that originates in England. ...

Harris recognized, as Sapir and Bloomfield also had stated, that semantics is included in grammar, not separate from it, form and information being two faces of the same coin. (Any specification of semantics other than that given in language can only be stated in a metalanguage external to language.) But grammar as so far developed could not yet treat of individual word combinations, but only of word classes. A sequence or ntuple of word classes (plus invariant morphemes, termed constants) specifies a subset of sentences that are formally alike. He investigated mappings from one such subset to another in the set of sentences. In linear algebra, a transformation is a mapping that preserves linear combinations, and that is the term that Harris introduced into linguistics. Edward Sapir. ... In the main, semantics (from the Greek and in greek letters σημαντικός or in latin letters semantikos, or significant meaning, derived from sema, sign) is the study of meaning, in some sense of that term. ... Metalanguage in linguistics is a language used to make statements about language (the object language). ... Linear algebra is the branch of mathematics concerned with the study of vectors, vector spaces (also called linear spaces), linear transformations, and systems of linear equations in finite dimensions. ... In mathematics, a linear transformation (also called linear map or linear operator) is a function between two vector spaces that preserves the operations of vector addition and scalar multiplication. ...

Since Harris was Noam Chomsky's teacher, some linguists have questioned whether Chomsky's generative transformational grammar is as revolutionary as it has been usually considered. The two scholars developed their concepts of transformation on different premisses. Adapting Post production systems as a formalism for generating language-like symbol systems, Chomsky had developed phrase-structure grammar for presentation of immediate-constituent analysis, and extended it for presentation of Harris's transformations as operations mapping one phrase-structure tree to another. This led to his redefinition of a transformation as an operation mapping a deep structure into a surface structure. A consequence of this abstract treatment is that relations between words must be managed by a separate apparatus for semantics, and their phonological shapes by a separate phonological apparatus. Avram Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is the Institute Professor Emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. ... Transformational grammar is a broad term describing grammars (almost exclusively those of natural languages) which have been developed in a Chomskian tradition. ... In linguistics, and especially the study of syntax, the deep structure of a linguistic expression is a theoretical construct that seeks to unify several related observed forms. ... In linguistics and syntax, surface structure refers to the representation derived from deep structure of a linguistic expression by transformational rules. ...

Harris's transformational analysis enabled the refinement of the word classes found in a grammar of expansions (subsequently, in a grammar of substring combinability), recursively defining semantically more and more specific subclasses according to the combinatorial privileges of words, and progressively approximating a grammar of individual word combinations.

Work on the set of transformations, factoring them into elementary sentence-differences as transitions in a derivational sequence, led to a partition of the set of sentences into an informationally complete sublanguage with neither ambiguity nor paraphrase, and the set of its more conventional and usable paraphrases ("The Two Systems of Grammar: Report and Paraphrase" 1969). Morphemes in the latter may be present in reduced form, even reduced to zero; they are recoverable under deformations and reductions of phonemic shape that he termed "extended morphophonemics". Thence, according with the generalization of linear algebra to operator theory, came Operator Grammar. Here at last is a grammar of the entry of individual words into the construction of a sentence. When the entry of an operator word on its argument word or words brings about the string conditions that a reduction requires, it may be carried out; most are optional. Operator Grammar resembles predicate calculus, and has affinities with Categorial Grammar, but these are findings after the fact which did not guide its development or the research that led to it. Recent work by Stephen Johnson on formalization of operator grammar adapts the "lexicon grammar" of Maurice Gross for the complex detail of the reductions. Linear algebra is the branch of mathematics concerned with the study of vectors, vector spaces (also called linear spaces), linear transformations, and systems of linear equations in finite dimensions. ... In mathematics, operator theory is the branch of functional analysis which deals with bounded linear operators and their properties. ...

In his work on sublanguage analysis, Harris showed how the sublanguage for a restricted domain can have a pre-existent external metalanguage, expressed in sentences in the language but outside of the sublanguage. In the language as a whole, restrictions on operator-argument combinability can only be specified in terms of relative acceptability, and it is difficult to rule out any satisfier of an attested sentence-form as nonsense, but in technical domains, especially in sublanguages of science, metalanguage definitions of terms and relations restrict word combinability, and the correlation of form with meaning becomes quite sharp. The test and exemplification of this in The Form of Information in Science (1989) is an interesting partial vindication of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. It also expresses Harris's lifelong interest in the further evolution or refinement of language in context of problems of social amelioration (e.g., "A Language for International Cooperation" [1962], "Scientific Sublanguages and the Prospects for a Global Language of Science" [1988]). In linguistics, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (SWH) states that there is a systematic relationship between the grammatical categories of the language a person speaks and how that person both understands the world and behaves in it. ...

Harris's linguistic work culminated in the companion books A Grammar of English on Mathematical Principles (1982) and A Theory of Language and Information (1991). Mathematical information theory concerns only quantity of information; here for the first time is a theory of information content. In the latter work, also, Harris ventured to propose at last what might be the "truth of the matter" in the nature of language, what is required to learn it, its origin, and its possible future development. His discoveries vindicate Sapir's recognition, long disregarded, that language is pre-eminently a social artifact. Information theory is the mathematical theory of data communication and storage, generally considered to have been founded in 1948 by Claude E. Shannon. ... Info redirects here; for other uses, see . ...

Harris's enduring stature derives from the remarkable unity of purpose which characterizes his oeuvre. His rigor and originality, as well as the richness of his scientific culture, allowed him to take linguistics to ever new stages of generality, often ahead of his time. He was always interested in the social usefulness of his work, and applications of it abound, ranging from medical informatics, to translation systems, to speech recognition, to the automatic generation of text from data as heard, for example, on automated weather radio broadcasts. Many workers continue to extend lines of research that he opened. Informatics is a sub-genre[1] of information science, which is the study of information. ... Translation is an activity comprising the interpretation of the meaning of a text in one language — the source text — and the production, in another language, of a new, equivalent text — the target text, or translation. ... Speech recognition technologies allow computers equipped with a source of sound input, such as a microphone, to interpret human speech, for example, for transcription or as an alternative method of interacting with a computer. ...

Other students of Harris, besides Noam Chomsky, include Joseph Applegate, Lila Gleitman, Michael Gottfried, Maurice Gross, James Higginbotham, Stephen Johnson, Aravind Joshi, Michael Kac, Edward Keenan, Richard Kittredge, Leigh Lisker, Fred Lukoff, Paul Mattick, James Munz, Bruce Nevin, Jean-Pierre Paillet, John ("Haj") Ross, Naomi Sager, Morris Salkoff, Thomas Ryckman, and William Watt. Dr. Aravind K. Joshi was born in 1929 in Pune, India. ... John Robert Háj Ross is a linguist who played a part in the development of generative semantics along with George Lakoff, James D. McCawley, and Paul Postal. ...


Complete bibliography of Harris's writings. A selection of Harris's works follows.

  • 1936. A Grammar of the Phoenician Language (Ph.D. dissertation)
  • 1939. Development of the Canaanite Dialects: An Investigation in Linguistic History
  • 1951. Methods in Structural Linguistics
  • 1962. String Analysis of Sentence Structure
  • 1968. Mathematical Structures of Language
  • 1970. Papers in Structural and Transformational Linguistics
  • 1976. Notes du Cours de Syntax (in French)
  • 1981. Papers on Syntax
  • 1982. A Grammar of English on Mathematical Principles
  • 1988. Language and Information (ISBN 0231066627)
  • 1989. The Form of Information in Science: Analysis of an immunology sublanguage (ISBN 9027725160)
  • 1991. A Theory of Language and Information: A Mathematical Approach (ISBN 0198242247)
  • 1997. The Transformation of Capitalist Society (ISBN 0847684121)

External links

  • Zellig Harris Home Page
  • Zellig S. Harris's Life and Work, Year-by-Year
  • Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent: Zellig Haris, Avukah, and Hashomer Hatzair
  • Penn's Department of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, successor to the Oriental Studies department
  • Penn's Department of Linguistics (the first in the U.S.)
  • A review of The Transformation of Capitalist Society (by Bruce E. Nevin)

  Results from FactBites:
Zellig Harris Information (1423 words)
Harris was born in Balta, now Odessa oblast, Ukraine, and came with his family to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1913.
It is widely believed that Harris carried Bloomfieldian ideas of linguistic description to their extreme development: the investigation of discovery procedures for phonemes and morphemes, based on the distributional properties of these units.
Harris recognized, as Sapir and Bloomfield also had stated, that semantics is included in grammar, not separate from it, form and information being two faces of the same coin.
  More results at FactBites »



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