Transformational Space: Trees Branching Out

In 1957, Noam Chomsky published Syntactic Structures, in which he developed the idea that each sentence in a language has two levels of representation — a deep structure and a surface structure

Chomsky believed there are considerable similarities between languages’ deep structures, and that these structures reveal properties, common to all languages that surface structures conceal.

Consider the deep structure of a Photograph –

the Codes & Conventions



the Linguistics of Photography …….

between foreground & background ……..

an Implied Space.


Tree Branching Mt

The Deep Structure


the Core

( where the seeds of knowledge are found )

Semantic Relations

(of a sentence)

 Innate linguistic knowledge

grows on a Tree


the Fruit






Mapped on to the surface structure

like swelling bark

(which followed the phonological form

of the sentence very closely)

Mary had a little lamb,
His fleece was white as snow,
And everywhere that Mary went,
The lamb was sure to go.

He followed her to school one day,
They put it online, as is the rule –
It went viral – lots of laughs and re-play
To see that lamb at school.

Images & sentences

via transformations 

mapped on the surface structure

bend with the context.

A knotty concept

grows inward –

language a dense forest –

The tree branches out

stretching to the sky framed

by space, rooted change.


The further you go into the woods,

the further you come out.


Tree Branching 2 fr

Chomsky developed a formal theory of grammar where transformations manipulated not just the surface strings, but the parse tree associated to them, making transformational grammar a system of tree automaton .

Source : Transformational Grammar


14 thoughts on “Transformational Space: Trees Branching Out

  1. Not sure that I followed all of the meaning of this Joseph but I can see it in the last image. Very beautifully done when the image can clarify what my mind has trouble following in words.

    1. Many thanks. 🙂
      You know the text grew unexpectedly. The spell check did not recognize transformational. So I double checked and there was tranformational grammar. Something from my university days – it came bubbling back and as I made the connections with media literacy, children’s literature and communication it poured out, like a spilled glass of milk. 😀

      It is very dense terminology – basically it was the idea that we are hardwired for language and in some way the rules for generating language are built into our neurology – Innate linguistic knowledge . Today that sound less surprising or Controversial than in 1957. The ability to generate new sentences & combinations of sentences that you have never heard before was a big issue. That implies an open ended system that problem solves & discovers new things. It is difficult to describe a set of linguistic rules that allow for that type of behaviour.

      The images & text play with that concept and attempt to connect it to mass media. The way of trying to describe these rules includes diagrams that are called trees – so there is the tree metaphor.

      A knotty concept

      grows inward –

      language a dense forest –

      1. Like a spilled glass of milk – lovely metaphor Joseph. Back in 1957 that idea would have had many stumbling blocks, but from our perspective now it is indeed an open ended system. The things (words) that have come into being in the last 50 years to explain our world and our part in it would sound like a gibberish to someone from that time who had not grown with it.

      2. Yes, quite right Sheldon. It is all expressive creativity. We take it for granted when the younger generation coins a new word or phrase and then we call it slang. In reality it is living poetry, metaphors & similes in real life environments. Add text messaging, youtubing & animated gifs/cinemagraphs and you have both a new communication system and new art forms.

        I recently saw a conversation online conducted in animated gifs/cinemagraphs with only one or two words in the whole sequence. I’m now trying to think of how to compose a visual poem made up of those things 😀

      3. Yes, the same way Marshall McLuhan explanations and theories about Mass Media seem obvious now that we have such advanced social media – even the term social media would make little sense when the only widely accessible forms were telephone & letters ( the closest thing to an online forum was the new talk radio show format).

        We would interpret hardwired language as evidence that we are designed for creative expression. At that time language was purely cultural activity, like clothing styles. Deep structure sounded like a shadowy metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, with no evidence or meaningful analogy. Today we are accustomed to the idea (fact) that software is a program of coded math language that runs below the surface allowing our media devices to do all sorts of impossible things.

    1. Many thanks. So glad this made a connection for you. I touch on Deleuze’s concept of the line of flight in some earlier posts.

      1. If you put line of flight in the search box on the right, you will get three related posts. Thanks for the video link. Root systems are the implied space of a plant. 🙂

    1. Yes, he is very critical of North American consumer culture and how it distorts the democratic principles of social equality. Linguistics reveals the power of language to isolate and control social strata power.

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