LINGUIST List 5.190

Sat 19 Feb 1994

Sum: Fuzzy Grammar

Editor for this issue: <>




Date: Mon, 07 Feb 1994 20:13:14 FUZZY GRAMMAR
From: <>

*** r e p l i e s t o F U Z Z Y G R A M M A R i n q u i r y ***

Last week I posted a request for information on developments in nondiscrete or
"fuzzy" grammar, and got an overwhelming response. My thanks to all who
contributed, whose recommendations are summarized below.

Wenchao Li
Middle Common Room, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University


 From: (Randy Allen Harris)

The labels common from the seventies for this work (notably "squishy
grammar" and "fuzzy grammar") are in disrepute, but a goodly portion of the
work done under the label "Cognitive Linguistics" is similar in spirit.
See, in particular, George Lakoff's _Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things_
(Chicago, 1987).

There is a brief discussion of fuzziness in my _Linguistics Wars_ (Oxford,
1993) which you might want to look at, not for any sense of definitiveness
(it's quite brief and it's for a lay audience), but for additional
seventies references.

You might also want to get on COGLING, the cognitive linguistics list, and
post your query there. (Information follows.)

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 Randy Allen Harris

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 From: Henk Wolf <>


If you're interested in theories on degrees of nouniness, etc., you should
Comrie, B. (1989), Language universals and linguistic typology, Oxford:
He discusses a lot of so called continuums in language, 'fuzzy' degrees of
subjecthood, nouniness, adjectiveness, etc.
| /// Henk Wolf \\\ |
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 From: Edith A Moravcsik <>

Dear Wenchao,

There was a lot written on natural categories and fuzzy grammar in
the 80s and 90s. One place where you could look is the following
collection of papers:

 Corrigan, Roberta, Fred Eckman, Michael Noonan (ed). l989.
 LINGUISTIC CATEGORIZATION. Amsterdam/Philadelphia; Benjamins.

Best wishes, Edith Moravcsik (


Sender: Herb Stahlke <>

Fuzzy grammar is a topic that I am interested in as well. I've done
some work on serial verbs in West Africa and find the attempts to
distinguish among types of verbs on categorial grounds to be
unsatisfying. The distinctions among verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and
prepositions appear to be rather more matters of degree than of kind.
I would be interested in exploring this further with you if you'd

Herbert F. W. Stahlke, Ph.D., Associate Director (317) 285-1843
Consulting and Planning Services (317) 285-1797 (fax)
University Computing Services
Ball State University, Muncie, IN 47306


 From: Evan "S." Smith <>

 Wenchao Li:

 My 1982 dissertation (never published) was RELATIVE AS AND THAT; A
 STUDY IN CATEGORY CHANGE, which discussed category fuzziness, esp.
 complementizers, relatives, etc., to soem extent. If this sounds like
 what you want, the dissertation would be available at the Indiana
 University Library, Bloomington, IN 47405 USA. Or message me, and I
 can photocopy some of the bibliography and mail it to you.

 Evan Smith



In the 60s, Bolinger did the best work on fuzzy grammar (or gradience)
that I know of:

Bolinger, D. (1961) "Syntactic Blends and Other Matters." _Language_ 37.

Bolinger, D. (1961) _Generality, Gradience, and the All-or-none_.
The Hague: Mouton.

In a recent book on apposition I wrote, I treat the category of apposition
as gradient, and cite a number of examples of constructions on the gradient
between apposition and complementation, modification, coordination, and
what Matthews (_Syntax_ CUP, 1981) calls peripheral elements:

Meyer, C.F. (1992) _Apposition in Contemporary English_. CUP.

Hope this information is useful.

Charles Meyer

 ************* -

 From: Bruce Nevin <bnevinLightStream.COM>

Zellig Harris talks about graded membership in the set of sentences in
many writings from 1968 on, and touches on it as early as in the well
known 1957 paper in _Language_. He also talked about the corollary
problem with grammatical categories. That's evidently where Ross got his
ideas, as Harris' student. For three references among many, see Harris:

1968. _Mathematical Structures of Language_

1969. Report and paraphrase, TDAP 79. Repr. in 1970, _Papers in
 structural and transformational linguistics_.

1992. _A theory of language and information_.

The issue is discussed somewhat in my paper on Harris's work in the last
issue of _Historiographia Linguistica_ (appeared last August).

 Bruce Nevin


 From: Bill Labov <>

 In answer to your question about fuzzy grammar and continuity, I think you
might want to take a look at the long series of publications of the NWAVE
conferences. Here are some publications, which included in the early years
papers by Ross on Squishes:

C.-J. Bailey and R. Shuy (eds.), New Ways of Analyzing Variation in English.
Washington, DC: Georgetown U. Press. 1972.

R. Fasold and R. Shuy (eds.), Analyzing Variation in Language. Washington,
D.C.: Georgetown University Press. Pp. 162-183. 1973.

D. Sankoff & H. Cedergren (eds.), Variation Omnibus. Alberta: Linguistic
Research. Pp.169-176. 1981.

R. Fasold and D. Schiffrin, (eds.), Language Variation and Change. Orlando:
Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich. 1989.

You also might want to take a look at the journal "Language Variation and
Change" published by Cambridge U. Press.

As far as applications of the Zadeh fuzzy grammar formalism, the only case
Iknow of is a book by Willett Kempton on denotation, which used fuzzy sets to
look at pottery terms and their application to objects, a field of work that
appears in the first reference given above, and in

Labov, William 1978. Denotational structure. Papers from the Parasession on the
Lexicon. Chicago Linguistic Society. Pp.,220-260.

The object of all this work is to make boundary conditions the focus of
attention, rather than assuming discrete categorical boundaries.


 From: "B.Aarts" <>

Dear Wenchao Li
The notion of fuzzy grammar is more 'politically correct' as
it were in circles of traditional grammar/descriptive grammar
Other terms used: gradience/cline (in addition to squish).
You may find relevant discussion eg in Quirk et al's
_Comprehensive grammar of the English Language_ (See under
gradience) and in grammars and books by T. Givon.
Also try the following:
Bolinger 1961 Syntactic blends and other matters, Lg 37, 366-81
Quirk Descriptive grammar and serial relationship, 1965, Lg 41, 205-17

The notion of prototype is also relevant
See Comrie 1981, Language universals and lg typology, Blackwell
Crystal 1967, Word classes in English, Lingua 17, 24-56

>From a historical angle see Hopper and Traugott, _Grammaticalization_
CUP 1993

I hope this will be of use
Yours sincerely,

(Dr) Bas Aarts
English Department
University College London


 From: robert westmoreland <>

You might be interested in a book by PH Matthews called simply _Syntax_.
It's put out by Cambridge Univ Press as part of their Cambridge Textbooks
in Linguistics series. I don't remember the date. Just about everything in
Matthews' view is continuous or non-discrete.
--Robert Westmoreland


 From: "David D. Palmer" <dpalmersnake.CS.Berkeley.EDU>

Dear Wenchao Li,

I saw your inquiry about fuzzy grammars on linguist.

In the spirit of fellow Berkeleyans G. Lakoff and L. Zadeh, I have been
working with a computational model of fuzziness as it applies to corpus
analysis. Specifically, I have been working with "fuzzy" part-of-speech
categories. I treat a word's POS as a series of probabilities based
on its occurrence in a corpus in different POS categories. Using degrees
of "nouniness" and "verbiness", as you write, facilitates corpus
analysis by not requiring a discrete POS categorization. I have
obtained encouraging results applying this concept to sentence boundary

David Palmer



Quite a large amount of work has been done on 'fuzzy grammar' in
the last decade. Some major works have come out that you can consult.
I recommend the following:

Givon, Talmy. Syntax: A Functional/Typological Introduction.
Vols. I and II, John Benjamins, 1984 and 1990.

Lakoff, George. Women, Fire and Dangerous Things: What Categories
reveal about the mind. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1987.

Langacker, Ronald W. Foundations of Cognitive Grammar, Vols.
I and II. Stanford U Press, 1987, 1991.

Langacker, Ronald W. Concept, Image, and Symbol: The
Cognitive BAsis of Grammar. Mouton de Gruyter, 1991.
(a more accessible introduction to his works, with several
illustrative applications)

There is a whole body of work out there of diverse nature
that goes under the rubrics of 'functional linguistics' and
also 'cognitive linguistics'. The latter is the focus of a
professional organization, the Internat'l Cognitive LInguistics
Assoc., which is headquartered in Brussels and publishes a
quarterly journal, 'Cognitive Linguistics'.

There is also an electronic bulletin board called 'funknet',
which Talmy Givon mediates. To subscribe, e-mail him
--oh, I'm sorry, I don't remember his address. If you are
interested, write back to me and I'll pass it on. There is
also a cognitive linguistics net out of San Diego. I can get
the address for that too, if you want.

There are plenty of other authors to read. Names I can mention
are Len Talmy, Joan Bybee, Eve Sweetser, Gilles Fauconnier,
and many many more.

I hope you enjoy exploring this variety of linguistics (it's the
kind I do, so I'm a little biased). Oh-- closer to home,
try Dick Hudson at the U of London.

Good luck!

Jo Rubba
U of Montana

 ************* -

 From: Michael Smith <>

In reply to your note on the Linguist List today you should be aware of
the great amount of work done over the last decade in the framework of
cognitive grammar as developed by Ronald Langacker (UC San Diego) and
George Lakoff (Berkeley), among others (including their many students and
former students, of which I am one of Langacker's). Langacker's theory of
fundamentally assumes the notion of prototype categories, which produce
the sort of effects mentioned in your note. You might want to consult
Langacker's 2-volume monograph _Fundamentals of Cognitive Grammar_
(Stanford University Press: Vol. 1 1987, Vol. 2 1991), as well as his
shorter anthology _Concept, Image, and Symbol: The Cognitive Basis of
Grammar (Mouton de Gruyter, 1991). Lakoff's _Women, Fire, and Dangerous
Things_ (University of Chicago Press 1987) represents his formulation of
grammar based on principles of
prototype categorization as developed by Rosch in the 1970's. Of course,
you should also consult Rosch's work on categorization, as well.

I hope this may be of some help to you. Suffice it to say that there has
indeed been a lot of work done with such notions over the last several
years and the cognitive linguistics movement continues to grow.

Best regards,

Prof. Michael B. Smith
Department of Linguistics
Oakland University
Rochester, MI 48309

 ************* -

 From: Price Caldwell <tpc1Ra.MsState.Edu>

Mr. Li, I suggest you contact Paul Hopper with your question.

 Paul Hopper
English Department
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Or see his article,

Hopper, Paul J. and Sandra A. Thompson. 1985. "The Iconicity of the Universal
Categories 'Noun" and "Verb'." In Haiman, 1985.

Haiman, John, ed. 1985. Iconicity in Syntax. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John

It criticizes the absoluteness of the categories in a very interesting way. I
think the argument suggests that grammatical categories are derived from the
needs of discourse rather than ontological givens; and therefore fuzzy as

All very interesting stuff. I also do work that supports that. I'd be
interested in your thoughts on the matter.

--Price Caldwell


 From: (Martin Haspelmath)

One place to look is the following book:

Dressler, W. & Mayerthaler, W. & Panagl, G. & Wurzel, W.U. 1987.
Leitmotifs in Natural Morphology. Amsterdam: Benjamins. (especially
Mayerthaler's chapter)

Mayerthaler claims that Rene Thom's catestrophe theory allows a
mathematical modeling of discontinuity effects in gradient phenomena. But
it is rather sketchy in that book.

Many functionalists think of linguistic categories as gradient and fuzzy,
cf. such works as Comrie 1988 (Language universals and linguistic
typology), Givon 1984-90 (syntax), Langacker 1987-91 (Foundations of
Cognitive Grammar), Lakoff 1987 (Women, fire and dangerous things). See
also the textbook account in John Taylor's 1990 Linguistic Categorization

The issue has never been addressed by the dominating paradigm in
linguistics, the Chomskyan school. They assume without argument that
categories are clear-cut, and that gradience has no place in linguistic
theory. Due to the enormous prestige of Chomsky and numerical weight, they
can get away with that although there is overwhelming evidence for
fuzziness. but of course, fuzziness is hard to deal with if you think of human
language as being like a programming language. Conectionist thought is
only very gradually beginning to have an impact in theoretical linguistics.

Martin Haspelmath,
Free University of Berlin

 ************* -

 From: "S. Zyngier" <ZYNGIERBRLNCC.EARN>

Have you come across Joanna Channell's work on vague language? She
does not necessarily deal with vague categories, but tries to describe
what she calls vagueness in language. As for my own work on stylistic
patterns, I have described what I call vagueness by modality as an
important effect in literary works, especially in stream-of-consciousness
writing. If you are interested, let me know and I will send you the

GAVEA - 22451-040
TEL.(RESIDENCE) (55)(21) 259-0521
FAX: (55)(21) (246-6572)

 ************* --

 From: Penny Lee <> (Penny Lee)

Dear Wenchao,
I should think you would find all the work of the cognitive linguistics
group of interest. Look up Ronald Langacker, Eve Sweetser, Len Talmy, Mark
Johnson, and Mark Turner as well as Lakoff. Good luck.
Penny Lee.
(Dr P. Lee, School of Education (SSS), Flinders University, GPO Box 2100,
Adelaide, SA 5001. Australia. Phone 08 201 2059. Fax 08 201 2634).

 ************* -

 From: SAVINI <>

Dear Wenchao

I have a couple of references for you on fuzzy grammar which I will
send to you next week once I have collected them. What immediately
comes ot mind though is a book by John Taylor published by Clarendon
Press entitled Linguistics categorization. In addition, I wrote a
thesis, submitted in 1991, entitled " On the (non)discreteness
of categories with special reference to affix categories in
Afrikaans". Briefly, I argued that affix categories are not
discrete, but rather consist of most, less and least typcial members.
 I can give you more details if you so wish.

With best wishes

Marina Savini-Beck
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