Constructions all the way everywhere: Four new directions in constructionist research

From Construction Grammar(s) to constructionally informed linguistics

Some ten years ago, Adele Goldberg summarized one of the basic tenets of constructionist approaches to language - viz. the view that the whole of grammar consists of a structured network of conventionalized form/meaning-pairings - in the often-quoted catchphrase “It’s constructions all the way down!” (cf. Goldberg 2003: 223, 2006: 18). An important part of what presently goes on in the field of cognitive linguistics, broadly construed, could in the same vein be described informally as “It’s constructions all the way everywhere”. Indeed, linguistic research on a broad variety of language phenomena seems to be increasingly informed by constructionist ideas about the organization of grammar and the nature and acquisition of grammatical knowledge.

While construction grammar was intended as a theory that would account for the entirety of language right from the start, it can be observed that, until fairly recently, the majority of existing work in its various strands was concerned with the elucidation of the syntax and semantics of selected complex (in the sense of “multi-word”) constructions from present-day standard English or the present-day standard variety of another language. The seminal publications of the 1980s and early 1990s on the formal and semantic idiosyncrasies of by-now notorious bits and pieces of the grammar of present-day standard (American) English strove for completeness in that they gave centre stage to grammatical patterns which were deemed too “peripheral” to merit linguistic attention in mainstream generative grammar (e.g. Fillmore, Kay, and O’Connor 1988 on the let alone construction, Lakoff 1987 on the presentational there-construction) and/or in that they did not solely focus on the formal properties of the investigated constructions but also, crucially, on their semantics (e.g. Goldberg 1992, 1995 on the semantics of the ditransitive construction and other argument structure constructions). In this way, the emerging family of constructionist approaches immediately cast its net wider than was customary in the then-dominant grammatical theories. However, while the groundbreaking work laid by the above- mentioned and other early studies is not to be underplayed or minimized, it can also be observed that there is more to accounting for the “entirety” of language than doing away with the core/periphery distinction and adopting a holistic approach to grammar and meaning. Sure enough, the investigation of “idiosyncratic” or otherwise noteworthy bits of contemporary grammar remains a worthwhile enterprise in its own right, which can potentially lead to new insights on the network structure of the grammar and as such is central to the constructionist agenda. Still, if construction grammar truly wants to develop into an overall theory of language, it should address a variety of other questions and issues as well, ranging from issues related to the cognitive representation of constructions, over issues of lectal variation in the properties of constructions and the structure of the constructicon, to topics as diverse as the emergence of constructions and constructional meaning (both ontogenetically and phyloge- netically), the validity of constructions for cross-linguistic comparison, the role of constructions in interaction and dialogue, et cetera, et cetera. And, in fact, it has. In recent years, construction-based linguistics has been expanding to other domains and methodologies and important progress has been made in several of the above-mentioned domains - as is evident also from the breadth of coverage of the papers included in the recent handbook by Hoffmann and Trousdale (2013), to give just one example.

The present volume is comprised of 11 original research articles which represent and illustrate such emerging new research directions in construction-based linguistics, and which are organized into four complementary sections, viz. (i) methodological advances, (ii) construction morphology, (ii) variation and change and (iv) interaction. About half of these papers originated in a workshop on ‘The construction grammar of Dutch’ held in Leiden, the Netherlands on March 2526, 2011 and co-organized by the Leiden University Centre of Linguistics (LUCL) and the Ghent University Linguistics Department. The other papers were solicited by the editors in order to further reinforce the thematic coherence of the volume as well as to broaden its language focus. In the next sections, we proceed to a detailed overview of the contents of the four sections, taking care to position each of the four selected sub-fields in the wider context of the extending scope of constructionist approaches.

Before we move on, however, it should be stressed that this increase of scope in construction grammar could just as well be described as a process in which various other branches of linguistics have started incorporating constructionist ideas and terminology. Construction grammar has never been a single unified framework. As is well-known, there rather is a family of constructionist approaches - several different construction grammars, so to speak - which share certain key ideas, most prominently including the symbolic view of syntax and the concept of stored form/meaning-pairings as constituting the basic units of grammatical organization, but which also display substantial mutual differences (see, e.g., Goldberg 2003, 2013; Croft and Cruse 2004; Ostman and Fried 2005; Langacker 2005 for discussion). In addition, there are many scholars whose work is informed by these foundational constructionist views on grammar but who would not necessarily dub themselves construction grammarians, let alone commit themselves to any of the well-established strands of construction grammar, such as Berkeley Construction Grammar (Fillmore 1988; Fried and Ostman 2004), Cognitive Construction Grammar (Goldberg 1995, 2006), Radical Construction Grammar (Croft 2001), Sign-Based Construction Grammar (Sag 2012), and so on. The papers in this volume are all constructionally informed in important respects, but they display different degrees of adherence to constructionist formalism and use a variety of notational styles.

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