LINGUIST List 13.1010

Fri Apr 12 2002

Diss: Cognitive Science: Johnson "Constructional..."

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  1. crj, Cognitive Science: Johnson "Constructional grounding"

Message 1: Cognitive Science: Johnson "Constructional grounding"

Date: Tue, 09 Apr 2002 21:02:37 +0000
From: crj <>
Subject: Cognitive Science: Johnson "Constructional grounding"

New Dissertation Abstract

Institution: University of California at Berkeley
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 1999

Author: Christopher R Johnson 

Dissertation Title: 
Constructional grounding: The role of interpretational overlap in
lexical and constructional acquisition

Linguistic Field: Cognitive Science

Subject Language: English

Dissertation Director 1: Charles J. Fillmore
Dissertation Director 2: George P. Lakoff
Dissertation Director 3: Dan I. Slobin
Dissertation Director 4: Eve E. Sweetser

Dissertation Abstract:

Adopting a constructional view of grammar, this dissertation addresses
the question of how one conventional linguistic sign--i.e. one lexical
unit or grammatical construction--can be 'based on'
another. Traditionally, based-on relations between signs are regarded
either as arbitrary results of historical change or as properties of a
stable system used by adults. This work proposes a third view. Using
longitudinal corpus data, it argues that certain signs are related
primarily through a dynamic process in early acquisition rather than
through static principles of the linguistic or conceptual system
instantiated in the minds of adult speakers. In this process, called
'constructional grounding', a sign that is relatively easy for
children to learn (the 'source' construction) serves as the model for
another more difficult sign (the 'target' construction), because it
occurs in contexts in which it exemplifies important properties of
that sign in a way that is especially accessible to children.

Three case studies are presented, each using seven longitudinal
American English corpora from the CHILDES archive. In the first study,
the source construction is the non-subject WH-question and the target
is a semi-idiomatic construction called the 'What's X doing Y?'
construction (e.g. 'What is this scratch doing on the table?'). In the
second study, the source is the deictic THERE-construction and the
target is the existential THERE-construction. In the third study, the
source is the normal visual sense of the verb SEE, and the target is
the metaphorical mental sense (e.g. 'Now I see your point.'). In all
three studies the data show the same tendency in the children's
productions: first they produce clear instances of the source
construction, then they produce overlap utterances that have the
formal and semantic-pragmatic properties of both the source and the
target construction, and only after this overlap stage do they produce
clear instances of the target construction. This tendency is
interpreted as indicating that children use the source constructions,
whose meanings are more intersubjectively available in simple
adult-child interactions, to 'bootstrap' the target constructions. The
conditions that enable this learning procedure are shown to be the
natural result of historical semantic change.

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