Cognitive Approaches

Construction Grammar

What is Construction Grammar?

At the heart of what shapes Construction Grammar is the following question: what do speakers of a given language have to know and what can they ‘figure out’ on the basis of that knowledge, in order for them to use their language successfully? The appeal of Construction Grammar as a holistic and usage-based framework lies in its commitment to treat all types of expressions as equally central to capturing grammatical patterning (i.e. without assuming that certain forms are more ‘basic’ than others) and in viewing all dimensions of language (syntax, semantics, pragmatics, discourse, morphology, phonology, prosody) as equal contributors to shaping linguistic expressions.

Construction Grammar has now developed into a mature framework, with an established architecture and representation formalism as well as solid cognitive and functional grounding. It is a constraint-based, generative, non-derivational, mono-stratal grammatical model, committed to incorporating the cognitive and interactional foundations of language. It is also inherently tied to a particular model of the ‘semantics of understanding’, known as Frame Semantics, which offers a way of structuring and representing meaning while taking into account the relationship between lexical meaning and grammatical patterning.

The trademark characteristic of Construction Grammar as originally developed consists in the insight that language is a repertoire of more or less complex patterns – CONSTRUCTIONS – that integrate form and meaning in conventionalized and often non-compositional ways. Form in constructions may refer to any combination of syntactic, morphological, or prosodic patterns and meaning is understood in a broad sense that includes lexical semantics, pragmatics, and discourse structure. A grammar in this view consists of intricate networks of overlapping and complementary patterns that serve as ‘blueprints’ for encoding and decoding linguistic expressions of all types.