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Constructions at Work The Nature of Generalization in Language

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1 Constructions at Work The Nature of Generalization in Language
By Adele E. Goldberg

2 About the author Professor of linguistics (Associated faculty in psychology) at Princeton University Ph.D. from UC Berkley

3 Construction grammar and generative grammar share:
-The idea that language is a cognitive (mental) system -The idea that there must be a way to combine structures to create novel utterances

4 Constructionist approaches are different from generative approaches because:
-constructionist approaches say when you study formal structures, you must take their semantic and discourse functions into consideration -constructionist approaches do not dismiss semi-regular and cross-linguistically unusual patterns as “peripheral” (generative approaches look only at the “core language”) -constructionist approaches say people are born with general cognitive processes that can be used to help them learn language—not knowledge that is specific to language (universal grammar)

5 What are constructions?
Definition: “learned pairings of form with semantic or discourse function” (p.5) **to constructionists, constructions are patterns that occur frequently and are predictable and patterns that are infrequent and unpredictable** Exception: Unification Construction Grammar

6 Examples of constructions:
    Morphemes   e.g. pre-, -ing Word        e.g. avocado, anaconda Complex word e.g. daredevil, shoo-in Complex word (partially filled)     e.g. [N-s] (for regular plurals) Idiom (filled)  e.g. going great guns, give the Devil his due Idiom (partially filled) e.g. jog <someone’s> memory, send <someone> to the cleaners Covariational conditional The Xer the Yer (e.g. the more you think about it, the less you understand) Passive Subj aux VPpp (PPby) (e.g. the armadillo was hit by a car)

7 Examples of argument structure constructions
1.    Transitive 2.    Intransitive Ditransitive (double object) Subj V Obj1 Obj2 (e.g. he gave her a flower; he bought her a book)

8 Verbs and argument structure constructions
One could “assume that the form and general interpretation of basic sentence patterns of a language are determined by semantic and/or syntactic information specified by the main verb” (6) Examples: give and put give requires 3 arguments: agent, recipient, theme : Chris gave Pat a ball     Put requires 3 arguments: agent, theme, location: Pat put the ball on the table     

9 Verbs and argument structure constructions, cont’d.
Verbs do not always have only one argument structure construction! Many verbs have different possible argument structure constructions Ex: “He sneezed” vs. “He sneezed his tooth right across town”       “We laughed” vs. “We laughed our conversation to an end” Ex: The verb slice “He sliced the bread” (transitive) “Pat sliced the carrots into the salad” (caused motion) “Pat sliced Chris a piece of pie” (ditransitive) “Emeril sliced and diced his way to stardom” (way construction) “Pat sliced the box open” (resultative) In all of these, the meaning of the verb slice does not change.  “It is the argument structure constructions that provide the direct link between surface form and general aspects of the interpretation”

10 Constructions with NO verbs
“many languages have constructions in which no verb is expressed at all.  These cases are prime examples of argument structure constructions, since their meaning cannot naturally be attributed to a (non-existent) verb.” Ex: Russian 1. Kirill            v  magazin Kirill-NOM to  store-ACC “Kirill goes/will go to the store” 2. Kirill iz magazina Kirill-NOM from store-GEN “Kirill just got back from the store” These show that argument structure constructions have meaning, the verb is NOT the only thing in the sentence that provides meaning. The argument structure constructions are independent of the verbs.

11 Examples of constructions
“an actual expression typically involves the combination of at least half a dozen different constructions” “What did Liza buy Zach?” a. Liza, buy, Zach, what, do constructions b. ditransitive construction c. question construction d. subject-aux inversion construction e. VP construction f. NP construction “no underlying levels of syntax, nor any phonologically empty elements are posited”!!!!!!

12 “Most construction grammars these days are usage-based”
“knowing [idiomatic expressions] is part of knowing a language, and clearly their specifics are not determined by universal principles but must be learned on an item-by-item basis” Examples 1. English “black eye” = German “blue eye” 2. English “sleep like a log” = German “sleep like a woodchuck or marmot” 3. English “think of oneself as God’s gift to the world”= French “believe oneself sprung from Jupiter’s thigh”

13 “Most construction grammars these days are usage-based” cont’d
“Since every linguist agrees that the ‘peripheral,’ difficult cases must be learned inductively on the basis of the input, constructionists point out that there is no reason to assume that the more general, regular, frequent cases cannot possibly be.” (p. 14)

14 Languages without ditransitive?
-Italian, French, Spanish, Persian English: He bought her flowers. French: Il lui a acheté des fleurs. Il a acheté des fleurs pour elle. Spanish: Él le compró flores.

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