Transformational theory is but one of several theories of syntax, or to be more precise theories of the interface of syntax, morphology, and semantics, depending on the definition of each component. Standard transformational theory assumes a bi-level analysis: deep structure and surface structure. This befurcation is subject to debate, but will assume this two level analysis, as it is the most popular theory in North America, although there is a shift to a newer theory called the Minimalist Theory. This theory is too new and too complex at this time to cover adequately in a course such as intermediate syntax.
Transformational theory is in fact a theoretical framework, which consists of several theories. In one such theory it is assumed that there are four autonomous levels: D-structure (formerly called deep-structure), S-structure (formerly called surface structure), Logical form, and the Phonetic Component.
In transformational theory it is assumed that a base strucure is generated and each node is assigned a lexical item--all of this is subject to a well-formedness constraint. That is, a well-formed sentence cannot be illogical or ungrammatical. The base structure plus the lexical entry forms a 'D-structure.' It is assumed that one of the nodes in the D-structure can move to another position leaving a copy of itself in the original position. The lexical item assoicated with the original position is generally erased.
For example, in the following sentence:
(1) Has Mary finished her assignment?
It is assumed that the auxiliary verb has is moved from its original position in the sentence which correspdonds that the related statement:
(2) Mary has finished her assignment.
The argument for a transformation here is to link these two and other similar pairs of sentences together, generating a common underlying structure from which the different surface structures are derived. Sentence (1) is closer to the common structure. The basic common structure is the following (omitting certain details):
(3) Mary finish her assignment.
This structure is modified by the auxiliary verb have:
(4) Mary have finish her assignment.
This structure is modified by the agreement forms on the auxiliary verb and the inflectional morpheme on the main verb finish:
(5) Mary has finished her assignment.
Here, transformational grammar kicks in. To form a question the auxiliary verb is moved to the beginning of the sentence:
(6) Has Mary finished her assignment?
This is an informal description of what we assume happens.
Another example of a transformation is topicalization. In topicalization a phrase node is moved to the beginning of the sentence. In the following sentence her assignment is topicalized:
(7) Her assignment Mary has finished.
In the movement of her assignment , we assume that the moved NP is adjoined to CP. In the following animation, we start with the adjoined CP in place. A copy of her assignments is made and it moves to the vacant branch of the CP node. The lexical material of the original NP is replaced with a trace:
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