Deep structure and surface structure are two related concepts in the study of language, specifically in the field of syntax. They were introduced by the linguist Noam Chomsky in the 1950s as part of his theory of generative grammar.
Deep structure refers to the abstract, underlying meaning of a sentence, which is not necessarily reflected in its surface form. In other words, it is the meaning of a sentence before it has been put into a specific grammatical structure. Deep structure includes the relationships between words, such as the subject-verb-object relationship, and the meaning of any additional phrases or clauses that are part of the sentence. It is considered to be the more abstract and fundamental level of language structure.
Surface structure, on the other hand, refers to the actual grammatical structure of a sentence as it is spoken or written. This includes the specific word order, the presence or absence of articles, prepositions, and other grammatical markers, and the punctuation used to separate different parts of the sentence. Surface structure can vary depending on the context, the speaker or writer, and the purpose of the communication.
Chomsky’s theory of generative grammar posits that deep structure is the result of a set of innate rules or principles that are common to all human languages. These rules are responsible for generating all the possible sentences in a language, based on a finite set of basic elements or building blocks. These building blocks include words, phrases, and clauses, and the rules govern how these building blocks can be combined and ordered to form sentences.
According to Chomsky, the process of producing a sentence involves starting with the deep structure, or the underlying meaning, and then applying a set of transformational rules to generate the surface structure. These rules allow speakers to change the word order, add or remove words, and modify the grammatical structure of a sentence while preserving its underlying meaning. The resulting surface structure is then spoken or written, allowing the listener or reader to decode the meaning based on their knowledge of the language’s syntax and semantics.
The distinction between deep structure and surface structure is useful for understanding the ways in which language can be manipulated and transformed to convey different meanings. For example, the passive voice is a grammatical construction that can be used to change the focus of a sentence, from the agent or subject to the patient or object. This involves transforming the surface structure of a sentence while preserving its deep structure and meaning.
Another example is the use of questions and negation, which involve transforming the surface structure of a sentence to convey a different meaning. In both cases, the underlying deep structure remains the same, but the surface structure is modified to convey a different emphasis or intention.
In conclusion, deep structure and surface structure are important concepts in the study of language and syntax. Deep structure refers to the underlying abstract meaning of a sentence, while surface structure refers to its grammatical structure as it is spoken or written. The distinction between the two allows us to understand how language can be manipulated and transformed to convey different meanings, and provides insights into the rules and principles that govern language production and comprehension.