June 2000 Macmillan Reference Ltd Construction Grammar Keywords #Construction#grammar#psycholinguistics#argument structure#unification#semantics Goldberg, Adele E. Adele E. Goldberg. University of Illinois US 1. Basic Concepts Construction Grammar is a linguistic theory concerned with the nature of speakers' knowledge of language. Like traditional grammars, Construction Grammar takes the basic units of language to be form -- meaning pairings, or CONSTRUCTIONS. 1.1. Constructions A CONSTRUCTION is defined to be a pairing of form with meaning/use such that some aspect of the form or some aspect of the meaning/use is not strictly predictable from the component parts or from other constructions already established to exist in the language. On this view, phrasal patterns, including the constructions of traditional grammarians, such as relative clauses, questions, locative inversion, etc. are given theoretical status. Words (or really, morphemes) are also constructions, according to the definition, since their form is not predictable from their meaning or use. Given this, it follows that the mental dictionary or lexicon is not neatly delimited from the rest of grammar, although phrasal constructions differ from lexical items in their internal complexity. Both phrasal patterns and lexical items are stored in an extended `constructicon.' Elements within the constructicon vary in degrees of idiomaticity. At one end of the idiomaticity continuum, we find very general, abstract constructions such as the Subject-Predicate construction; on the other end, we find simple lexical items and constructions with all of their lexical fillers specified but with non-compositional meanings (e.g., kick the bucket). In between, we find the full range of possibilities: for example, idioms which have freely fillable positions (keep/lose x's cool), compositional collocations with fixed word order (e.g., up and down), phrasal patterns that are only partially productive (e.g. the English ditransitive), phrasal patterns which are partially morphologically specified (e.g., The Xer, the Yer, as in The less it rains, the better the potatoes). Construction Grammar shares the basic and fundamental idea that the construction (or sign) is central to an account of language with several other current theories including Head Driven Phrase Structure Grammar, Cognitive Grammar, and Montague Grammar. This view of grammar can be contrasted with the claim made by Principles and Parameters theories that constructions are entirely epiphenomenal, that they are merely taxonomic artifacts, explained through the interaction of the principles of Universal Grammar, once the values of parameters are fixed. Although most aspects of language are highly motivated, in the sense that they are related to other aspects of the grammar and are nonarbitrary, Construction Grammar holds the view that much of language is idiosyncratic to varying degrees and must therefore be learned. 1.2 Declarative, mono-stratal representation A given sentence is licensed by the grammar if and only if there exists in the language a set of constructions which can be combined (or superimposed) to produce an accurate representation of the surface structure and semantics of that sentence. An ambiguous sentence is a sentence for which there exists more than one set of constructions that can be assembled to produce a possible representation. Constructions are represented declaratively, and any constructions which do not conflict may be combined to give rise to grammatical expressions. Thus Construction Grammar is monostratal: no derivations are posited. Typically, particular sentences (or constructs) instantiate several constructions simultaneously. For example, the sentence (A) below instantiates the subject-predicate construction, the ditransitive construction, the determiner construction (the letter), the past tense morphological construction (fax-ed) and five simple morphological constructions, corresponding to each word in the sentence: (A) Elena faxed Ken the letter. 1.3 Integrated information Conventionalized aspects of both meaning and use are directly related to particular syntactic patterns within individual constructions. Thus, Construction Grammar does not assume that syntax is generally isolated or isolatable from semantics or conditions of use. Construction Grammar also eschews a strict division between the pragmatic and the semantic. `Frame-semantic' (encyclopedic) meaning is considered fundamental to an adequate understanding of linguistic entities, and as such is integrated with more traditional definitional characterizations. Generalizations about particular arguments being topical, focused, inferable, etc. are also stated as part of the constructional representation. Facts about the use of entire constructions, including register, dialect variation, etc. are stated as part of the construction as well. Thus a construction may be posited because of something not strictly predictable about its frame-semantics, its packaging of information structure, or its context of use. 1.4 Relations among constructions within a language Constructions do not form an unstructured set, but rather a highly integrated system, based on general principles of categorization. Constructions are typically closely related to other constructions, and are in that sense, not arbitrary. Generalizations across constructions are captured within the theory via an inheritance hierarchy, which allows shared structure to be represented. For example, an abstract Left Isolate construction is inherited by several different constructions, exemplified by the following: the woman who she met yesterday (restrictive relative clause) Abby, who she met yesterday (non-restrictive relative clause) Bagels, I like. (topicalization) What do you think she did? (main clause non-subject wh-question) Each of the patterns: restrictive and non-restrictive relative clauses, topicalization, and whquestions requires a distinct construction of its own, owing to its particular formal and pragmatic properties. But each inherits from the more general Left Isolate construction, which specifies the properties that are shared. In particular, the LI construction has two sisters, with the specification that the left sister satisfies the valence requirement of some predicator at an undefined depth in the right sister; the right sister is a maximal verb phrase, with or without a subject. Thus the Left Isolate construction serves to capture the generalizations across these various patterns. 1.7. Formalization Many practitioners of this theory have adopted the use of a unification based formalism in order to rigorously detail the specifications of particular constructions. Thus each construction is represented by an Attribute-Value Matrix (AVM). Each attribute can have at most one value. Attributes may be n-ary, or may be feature structures themselves. Any pair of AVMs can be combined to license a particular expression, just in case there is no value conflict on any attribute. When two AVM's unify, they map onto a new AVM, which has the union of attributes and values of the two original AVMs. 2. Research Focus 2.1 Data Research in Construction Grammar has emphasized the importance of attested data, gathered from discourse or corpora. At the same time, Construction grammarians routinely supplement corpus data with data gained from introspection, one obvious reason being that corpora do not contain sentences marked as unacceptable. Another source of data comes from psycholinguistic experimentation. 2.2 Full Coverage: lexical semantics and marked constructions There has been a focus on the semantics and distribution of particular lexical items within the framework, owing to the belief that the rich semantic/pragmatic constraints on individual words or idiomatic phrases reveals much about our knowledge of language. There has been a great deal of attention paid to marked constructions within the theory. For example, consider the Covariational Conditional construction, exemplified by the more you think about it, the less you understand. Independent knowledge of the and grammatical comparison will not directly predict that this the relevant class of expressions will exist or have exactly the form and meaning they have; therefore a distinct construction is posited. Other examples of marked constructions include the What's X doing Y? construction, exemplified by sentences such as, What's that fly doing in my soup? And the Nominal Extraposition construction, (e.g. It's amazing the difference!). As these examples indicate, Construction Grammar aims to account for the full range of facts of any language, without assuming that a particular subset of the data is part of a privileged “core”. Researchers argue that marked constructions shed light on more general issues, and serve to illuminate what is required for a complete account of the grammar of a language. Construction Grammarians takes the point of view that the ordinary patterns of grammar do not differ qualitatively from these sorts of quantitatively more complex constructions. 2.3 Argument Structure Constructions In many current linguistic theories, the form and general interpretation of basic sentence patterns of a language are taken to be determined by semantic and/or syntactic information specified by the main verb in the sentence. The sentence patterns given in (1) and (2) indeed appear to be determined by the specifications of give and put respectively: 1. Chris gave Pat a ball. 2. Pat put the ball on the table. Give is a three argument verb and is expected to appear with three complements corresponding to agent, recipient and theme. Put, another three argument verb, requires an agent, a theme and a location and appears with the corresponding three complements in (2). However, while (1) and (2) represent perhaps the prototypical case, the interpretation and form of sentence patterns of a language are not reliably determined by independent specifications of the main verb. For example, it is implausible to claim that sneeze has a three argument sense, and yet it can appear in (3): 3. She sneezed her tooth across the yard. The following attested examples similarly involve sentential patterns that do not seem to be determined by independent specifications of the main verbs: 4. ‘She smiled herself an upgrade.' (A. Douglas, Hitchhiker's guide to the Galaxy Harmony Books) 5. 'We laughed our conversation to an end.' (J. Hart. 1992, Sin NY: Ivy Books) Moreover, verbs typically appear with a wide array of complement configurations. Consider the verb sew and the various constructions in which it can appear (labeled in parentheses): 6a. Pat sewed all afternoon. (intransitive) b. Chris sewed a shirt. (transitive) c. Pat sewed Chris a shirt. (ditransitive) d. Pat sewed the sleeve shut. (resultative) e. Pat sewed a button onto the jacket. (caused-motion) f. Chris sewed her way to fame and fortune. (way-construction) In Construction Grammar, instead of predicting the surface form and interpretation solely on the basis of the verb's independent specifications, the lexical verb is understood to combine with an argument structure construction (e.g., the ditransitive, resultative, the caused-motion construction, etc.). Verbs constrain the type of argument structure constructions they can combine with by their frame-specific semantics and particular obligatory roles, but they typically can combine with constructions in several ways. It is the argument structure constructions that provide the direct link between surface form and general aspects of the interpretation such as something causing something else to move, someone causing someone to receive something, something moving somewhere, someone causing something to change state, etc. The argument structure constructions, which provide the basic sentence patterns of a language, directly reflect these types of basic frames of experience. That is, the skeletal patterns, independently of the main verb, designate such patterns of experience. Thus constructions are invoked both for marked or especially complex pairings of form and meaning and for many of the basic, unmarked patterns of language. 3. Future prospects 3.1 Cross-linguistic work Constructions that are sometimes labeled as the “same” in two languages typically differ subtlely in their form, their meaning, and/or their use. Thus construction grammarians have generally been cautious about trying to explain generalizations that may not be exceptionless. There is, however, a growing body of work on constructions in various languages, and a growing focus on accounting for cross-linguistic tendencies, similarities and implicational hierarchies. 3.2 Psycholinguistics: Processing and Acquisition A central claim made by Construction Grammar is that words and phrases are the same basic type of entity: learned pairings of form and meaning/use. A good deal of interest in the theory has been generated within psycholinguistics, by researchers in both processing and acquisition, because they see in Construction Grammar the possibility of a psychologically plausible and testable linguistic theory. Glossary Construction: a conventional pairing of linguistic form and function, including both phrasal pattern and morphological stems. Monostratal: non-derivational; relevant form is surface structure Frame semantics: rich, encyclopedic knowledge; much like frames or scripts in AI Argument Structure Constructions: constructions that encode the form and function of simple basic clause types in a language such as the transitive, ditransitive and resultative constructions. Unification: formal principle of combination wherein consistent attribute value matrices can be combined unless there is an overt clash of features. References Bates E, Goodman JC. 1997. On the inseparability of grammar and the lexicon: Evidence from acquisition, aphasia and real-time processing. Language and Cognitive Processes12: (5-6) 507584. Bencini, G. and A. Goldberg. 2000. The Contribution of Argument Structure Constructions to Sentence Meaning. Journal of Memory and Language 43 640-651. Fillmore, C. J., P. Kay and M.C. O'Connor. 1988. Regularity and idiomaticity in grammatical constructions: the case of LET ALONE. Language 64: 501-538. 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