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Word Grammar

A workshop on Word Grammar with Prof Dick Hudson

On Thursday May 23 2013, Prof Dick Hudson visited us at Cardiff University to explain a bit more about Word Grammar generally and to tackle a few issues that we’ve been working on in our own research. The slides from parts of this are available on Dick’s website here.

It was very interesting and I learned a lot – I love sessions like this that really make you think and make you challenge your own ideas about theory, representation and practice. I found Word Grammar quite compatible with my own interests in systemic functional linguistics and in cognitive linguistics. I first heard about Word Grammar years ago when I was living in France. I was interested in dependency approaches to grammatical theory. Word Grammar strikes me as the most accessible.

As explained in the workshop, Word Grammar makes the following claims:

  • Language is just ordinary knowledge applied to words
  • This means that language is a mental network
  • The nodes in this network are conceptual; i.e. they are concepts and can been seen as atoms
  • The concepts are defined by their links to other concepts
  • The organisation of the network (concepts) is by ISA hierarchies.

Word Grammar is a usage based account of language, where the network is built out of episodic memories. It makes a distinction between tokens, which are ad hoc creations, and types, which are stored. Since tokens have distinct properties, they are treated as distinct concepts. In this sense, tokens are affected by context.

There is much more to be said about all of this of course! If you are interested, then have a look at Dick’s website where you will find many resources including papers and links to his books.

In terms of my own interests, I have been working on the problem of what I’ve been calling ‘p-items’ (prepositions, particles etc.) and the workshop was particularly helpful in developing my thinking on this. As Dick pointed out in the workshop, different syntax tends to express different meaning. However, he also added a very important point and this is that synchronic properties reflect diachonry. We discussed the case of AROUND, which etymologically is rooted in a PREP + NOUN construction (ON + ROUND). There are quite a few modern ‘words’ like this that seem to maintain their preposition function in some instances/uses and their noun function in others. So AROUND seems to be a kind of flexible word (type) that can be used in a PREPOSITION slot (e.g. around the pole) and in a NOUN slot (e.g. He is around cf He is home or He is here). So I’ll be looking to see if Word Grammar can help me finish off my paper on p-items that is long overdue!