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Cognitive Linguistics Croft & Cruse 9

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1 Cognitive Linguistics Croft & Cruse 9
From idioms to construction grammar

2 9.1 Introduction Construction grammar arose as a reaction to Generative grammar, inspired by a concern for the need to account for idiomatic expressions – the rest of this section basically describes modular theories of this type, where rules generate all structures larger than the word, thus “eliminating” the notion of the grammatical construction On the generative view, syntax is completely regular, and all arbitrary or idiosyncratic phenomena belong to the lexicon

3 9.2 The problem of idioms Idiom – a conventional expression whose meaning or use cannot be entirely predicted on the basis of its constituents Other properties: Restricted syntax Figurative meaning Description of social activity in terms of concrete action Association with informal register Evaluative or affective description

4 9.2 The problem of idioms, cont’d.
The problem is that the behavior of idioms is partly explainable by syntactic rules and partly not explainable. If your theory says that everything is in either the lexicon or the syntax, what can you do with idioms? Fillmore et al. identify various kinds of distinctions among idioms: Encoding vs. decoding idioms Grammatical vs. extragrammatical idioms Substantive vs. formal idioms With vs. without pragmatic point

5 9.2 The problem of idioms, cont’d.
Encoding idioms: interpretable, but arbitrarily conventionalized (answer the door), something a hearer could figure out, but wouldn’t guess to be the normal way of saying it Decoding idioms: uninterpretable, and also arbitrarily conventionalized (kick the bucket)

6 9.2 The problem of idioms, cont’d.
Grammatical idioms – parsable by syntactic rules, but semantically irregular (X blows X’s nose) (both encoding and decoding idioms can be grammatical) Extragrammatical idioms – cannot be parsed by syntactic rules (by and large)

7 9.2 The problem of idioms, cont’d.
Substantive idioms – lexically filled, all elements are fixed and nothing can be grammatically altered (It takes one to know one) Formal (aka schematic) idioms – have at least one slot where appropriate items can be filled in (X blows X’s nose)

8 9.2 The problem of idioms, cont’d.
With pragmatic point – idioms that are used in certain pragmatic contexts (See you later) Without pragmatic point – not limited to use in certain pragmatic contexts (all of a sudden)

9 9.2 The problem of idioms, cont’d.
There is yet another way to categorize idioms: Unfamiliar pieces unfamiliarly arranged (kith and kin) Familiar pieces unfamiliarly arranged (all of a sudden) Familiar pieces familiarly arranged (tickle the ivories) – lexically and syntactically regular but semantically irregular

10 9.3 Idioms as constructions
Construction are basically idioms that have slots that can be filled with a bit more freedom than substantive idioms (where some or all of the words are fixed) – they are schematic idioms. Case study: let alone – semantics and syntax of this construction is complex and not predictable from general rules. It is also part of a family of related constructions (cf. Lakoff’s there constructions, IT-clefts, Wierzbicka’s give a, take a, have a) Schematic idioms are often language-specific

11 9.4 From constructions to construction grammar
The fact that constructions join syntactic and semantic interpretations means that they are incompatible with a modular/componential model of grammar. Note that it is NOT the case that there is a discrete division between substantive idioms and schematic idioms – most idioms allow some variation with very few or only one fixed component (let alone), some allow a LOT of variation, and some don’t have ANY fixed components (like the resultative construction)

12 9.4 From constructions to construction grammar, cont’d.
Let’s look at the resultative construction Sort of related to verb-particles He hammered the nail in He hammered the board smooth He sneezed the napkin off the table He dropped the napkin off the table He dropped the napkin off It’s just one small step between a schematic idiom and ALL constructions!

13 9.4 From constructions to construction grammar, cont’d.
Collocations: these are constructions that are compositional, but in a limited way: toasted bread vs. roasted meat. However, even “noncompositional” idioms often obey some compositional rules: spill the beans instantiates a Verb + Object phrase. Constructions are “idiomatic” in some ways: NP be Adj (cf. Hannah is smart) is a construction that requires the copula be and an adjective – semantic interpretation: Adj symbolizes an atemporal relation, copula symbolizes a process that Adjs must be combined with in order to be predicated.

14 9.4 From constructions to construction grammar, cont’d.
“…semantic interpretation rules can be provided for any schematic construction describing the most general syntactic structures of the language. In other words, all syntactic expressions, whatever their degree of schematicity, have rules of semantic interpretation associated with them…”

15 9.4 From constructions to construction grammar, cont’d.
“…the difference between regular syntactic expressions and idiomatically combining expressions is not that the former are ‘compositional’ and the latter are ‘noncompositional’. Instead, the former’s rules of semantic composition are more general and the latter’s rules…are more specialized… …the concept of a construction can be generalized to encompass the full range of grammatical knowledge of a speaker.”

16 9.4 From constructions to construction grammar, cont’d.
So syntax and semantics are a unified whole, and can be accounted for as constructions What about morphology? We see similar phenomena in morphology too – morphemes like cran in cranberry that are as “idiomatic” as kith in kith and kin. Some morphemes are more schematic than others. What about the lexicon? The lexicon differs only in degree from constructions. Words have their own syntactic profiles.

17 9.4 From constructions to construction grammar, cont’d.
Where does all this lead us? There is a uniform representation of all grammatical knowledge, in the form of constructions There is a continuum that encompasses both syntax and lexicon

18 9.4 From constructions to construction grammar, cont’d.
What is a construction grammar? A construction can be atomic or complex A construction can have parts that are bound or free Any or all of the parts may be substantive or schematic All constructions are pairings of a syntactic and morphological/phonological form with a meaning, including pragmatic meaning

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