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Review of  Grammatical Constructions

Reviewer: Wolfgang Schulze
Book Title: Grammatical Constructions
Book Author: Mirjam Fried Hans C Boas
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Linguistic Theories
Subject Language(s): French
Book Announcement: 18.323

Discuss this Review
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EDITOR(S): Mirjam Fried, Hans C. Boas
TITLE: Grammatical Constructions
SUBTITLE: Back to the roots
SERIES TITLE: Constructional Approaches to Language 4
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2005
ISBN: 9027218242 Pages: viii, 246 Price: U.S. $ 138.00
ANNOUNCED IN: http://linguistlist.org/issues/17/17-284.html

Wolfgang Schulze, University of Munich


The notion of (grammatical) 'constructions' figures among the most
prominent concepts in current linguistic thinking. Mirjam Fried, one of the
editors of the book under review, has nicely expressed the main goals of
Construction Grammar on the internet page
(http://www.constructiongrammar.org/), which I'd like to quote:

''At the heart of what shapes Construction Grammar is the following
question: what do speakers of a given language have to know and what can
they 'figure out' on the basis of that knowledge, in order for them to use
their language successfully? The appeal of Construction Grammar as a
holistic and usage-based framework lies in its commitment to treat all
types of expressions as equally central to capturing grammatical patterning
(i.e. without assuming that certain forms are more 'basic' than others) and
in viewing all dimensions of language (syntax, semantics, pragmatics,
discourse, morphology, phonology, prosody) as equal contributors to shaping
linguistic expressions.''

To the linguistic audience not trained in Construction Grammar, such a
description is at risk to remain rather opaque. Even if it is stressed that
(again quoting from the web page mentioned above) ''Construction Grammar is
a constraint-based, generative, non-derivational, mono-stratal grammatical
model, committed to incorporating the cognitive and interactional
foundations of language'', some people may still wonder what exactly is
meant by a 'construction'. A subsequent passage in the Construction Grammar
homepage gives a first idea:

''[L]anguage is a repertoire of more or less complex patterns --
constructions -- that integrate form and meaning in conventionalized and
often non-compositional ways. Form in constructions may refer to any
combination of syntactic, morphological, or prosodic patterns and meaning
is understood in a broad sense that includes lexical semantics, pragmatics,
and discourse structure. A grammar in this view consists of intricate
networks of overlapping and complementary patterns that serve as
'blueprints' for encoding and decoding linguistic expressions of all types.''

The crucial point is that in Construction Grammar, syntactic and prosodic
patterns are seen as forming a part of the formal inventory of language,
showing semantic (or functional) correlates just as it is described for
lexical or morphological items. If we start from the Saussureian dichotomy
of 'signifiant' and 'signifié' (producing the linguistic 'sign'), we can
thus claim that in Construction Grammar(s) such patterns have a meaning
(sign) resulting from the pairing of their formal expression (signifiant)
with a conceptual layer (signifié > semantics/function). Some other even go
so far to claim that any such pairing, be it lexical or syntactic,
represents a construction, e.g. Kuningas & Leino (2006: 302): ''A
construction is, briefly, a conventionalized combination of form and
meaning; it is any linguistic unit, no matter how big, as long as it is
conventionalized in the language. Every word is a construction, every
grammatical 'rule' or template is a construction, and so forth.''

This definition is somewhat amazing, because it includes both lexical and
structural types. I am not sure whether such a view is common ground among
the friends of Construction Grammar. At least Fried and Oestman (2004:18)
offer a narrower view: ''A construction is an abstract, representational
entity, a conventional pattern of linguistic structure that provides a
general blueprint for licensing well-formed linguistic expressions.”

Here, again, the authors refer to the term 'blueprint' to denote the nature
of constructions with respect to linguistic expressions. 'Blueprint' should
not be confused with the use of this term in Universal Grammar traditions,
compare Kemmerer (in press): Universal Grammar includes ''a kind of
blueprint of the basic design characteristics of all natural human
languages''. Rather, the notion of blueprint in Construction Grammar comes
closer to what has been suggested in the framework of a 'Grammar of Scenes
and Scenarios' (GSS, Schulze 1998). Here, 'blueprints' are seen as an
essentially cognitive property:

''In GSS, 'scenes' (the cognitive layer of constructional types) are
regarded as a kind of cognitive blueprint that is activated in pattern
recognition. Hence, scenes do not share any real world properties, but
reflect the way in which real world experience is construed on the basis of
strongly idealized cognitive models or cognitive hypotheses. The blueprints
of scenes are thought to be part of the evolution of cognitive and
communicative behavior. Their basic structure is constituted by the
architecture of those cognitive domains that have been involved in the
emergence of scenic blueprint at all. It is assumed that there is a
functional iconicity between the neurophysiologic architecture of cognition
and the architecture of scenes: Scenes cannot be processed but within the
general frame of cognition. Their blueprints represent engrammatic
structures that are stored in long term memory. The input of a world
stimulus activates procedures of picturing or re-presenting such
engrammatic structures'' (Schulze 1999).

Turned into linguistics, we can say that blueprints reflect cognitive
blueprints (as described above) in terms of language specific ensembles of
constructions. Such a view, however, goes against what is sometimes posited
as for the nature of constructions. In their 'introduction' to the volume
under review, Boas & Fried (2005:2) maintain that ''the term 'construction'
is also a very traditional one, used loosely (...) as a descriptive label
that simply refers to a linguistic expression consisting of several parts,
i.e. something larger than a word”.

The authors stress that this usage is not what Construction Grammar(s) aim
at. Rather, constructions are seen as what is traditionally termed the
semiotic relation between form and concept. A specific (syntactic) type of
construction would accordingly be represented by 'construals', which are
more or less lexical-based. In my eyes, it is not fully clear whether all
adherents to Construction Grammar observe this distinction. Rather, I am
left with the impression that analyses related to the Construction Grammar
framework occasionally waver between these two poles. In addition, the
reader should note that the term 'construction' is also used (as in Radical
Constructivism) to denote the cognitive attitude towards an Outer World
stimulus that is 'construed' before being further processed (see e.g.
Schulze 1998, 2006). In sum, there are at least three ways to refer to the
term 'construction', which -- and this renders the polysemy even worse --
can even show up all together in a unified account of construction Grammar.
Hence, it is important to ask whether grammatical constructions (in the
strict sense) are emergent from and/or dependent on cognitive procedures.
Here, the most pronounced approaches are those of Embodied Construction
Grammar (e.g. Bergen, Chang & Narayan 2004) and Radical Experientialism
(RadEx, e.g. Schulze 2006)). Others, such as Cognitive Grammar (in the
sense of the Langackerian approach) just concentrate on the conceptual
layer of constructions, others again work with a rather conventional notion
of semantics. Some approaches render constructions as cognitively
entrenched, whereas others (e.g. the approach of Fluid Constructional
Grammar, see e.g. Steels 2005) allow spontaneous adjustments and individual

Another problem is raised by the following question: Are grammatical
constructions elementary building blocks of human language as posited by
Fried & Boas on the back cover of their book, are they themselves made up
of building blocks, or, do they reflect (on either level) parts of a whole
that would have descriptive primacy (as argued in part by Croft, 2001 and
more pronounced in Schulze, 2006)?

The relatively high degree of diversity among approaches to Construction
Grammar logically calls for constant updates of both current trends in CxG
(as Construction Grammar is conventionally abbreviated) and its
foundations. Even though the book under review has the line 'back to the
roots' in its title, this does not necessarily mean that we are dealing
with such an update. In order to capture the basic aspects of CxG, one
still has to assemble a relatively vast amount of literature, starting from
introductory articles such as Fried & Oestman (2004). Goldberg 2006 is
rather helpful, too. But what still is missing is (as far as I can see) an
unbiased and comprehensive presentation of the different constructional
approaches to language. The present book cannot fill this gap. It helps the
reader to understand how CxG works, but one should not expect a full
coverage of Construction Grammar issues.


Fried & Boas (2005) is a collection of articles, most of which have emerged
from papers given at the First International Conference on Construction
Grammar (held at Berkeley in April 2001). Unfortunately, some of the
prominent participants of ICCG-1 (e.g. Lakoff, Fillmore, Sag, and Zwicky)
did not contribute to the volume (Ivan Sag, for instance, gave a paper on
''Aspects of a theory of grammatical constructions'' that would have nicely
framed the current volume).

The book comprises nine papers and an introductory section (by Hans C. Boas
and Mirjam Fried). There is a general index and an index of constructions,
which by itself is rather helpful because it immediately informs the reader
what is understood by (grammatical) constructions in the present volume
(e.g. Abstract Recipient, Causative-faire (French), Passive, Left
Detachment, or Switch Reference). Unfortunately, there is no general
bibliography: Each article has its own list of references, to the effect
that some references (such as those to Fillmore, Goldberg and others) show
multiple occurrences. The individual articles are of different size,
ranging from 17 to 33 pages. For sake of simplicity, let me reproduce the
Table of Contents:

Introduction (Hans C. Boas and Mirjam Fried) 1-9

I. Syntactic patterning

1. Definite null objects in (spoken) French: A Construction-Grammar account
(Knud Lambrecht and Kevin Lemoine) 13–55

2. From relativization to clause-linkage: Evidence from Modern Japanese
(Kyoko Hirose Ohara) 57–70

3. Argument structure constructions and the argument-adjunct distinction
(Paul Kay) 71–98

II. Syntax and semantics of verbs

4. The role of verb meaning in locative alternations (Seizi Iwata) 101–118

5. Verbal polysemy and Frame Semantics in Construction Grammar: Some
observations on the locative alternation (Noriko Nemoto) 119–136

6. A constructional approach to mimetic verbs (Natsuko Tsujimura) 137–154

III. Language variation and change

7. Integration, grammaticization, and constructional meaning (Ronald W.
Langacker) 157–189

8. Constructions and variability (Jaakko Leino and Jan-Ola Oestman) 191–213

9. Construction Grammar as a conceptual framework for linguistic typology:
A case from reference tracking (Toshio Ohori) 215–237

The volume is divided into three main sections each of which deal with a
central topic in CxG: 'Syntactic patterning' (three articles), 'Syntax and
semantics of the verb' (three articles), and 'Language variation and
change' (again three articles). The back cover of the book comments upon
this division as follows: ''By exploring the analytic potential and
applicability of this notion, the contributions illustrate some of the
fundamental concerns of constructional research. These include issues of
sentence structure in a model that rejects the autonomy of syntax; the
contribution of Frame Semantics in establishing the relationship between
syntactic patterning and the lexical meaning of verbs; and the challenge of
capturing the dynamic and variable nature of grammatical structure in a
systematic way. All the authors share a commitment to studying grammar in
its use, which gives the book a rich empirical dimension that draws on
authentic data from typologically diverse languages.'' It should be noted
that the data discussed in the volume do not qualify for a typologically
oriented presentation of CxG generalizations. Three languages are discussed
in more detail: English, French, and Finnish. Japanese is discussed in
basically two papers (Ohara and Tsujimura), Langacker touches upon Luiseño,
and Ohori (the sole paper that explicitly deals with typological issues)
gives rather selective data from Mohave (Hokan), Kiowa (Tanoan), Hua (East
Central Highlands, PNG), Haruai (East Highlands, PNG), Mparntwe Arrernte
(Pama-Nyungan), Koasati (Muskogean), Newari (Tibeto-Burman), and Old Japanese.

The first section ('Syntactic patterning') starts with an article by Knud
Lambrecht and Kevin Lemoine on 'Definite null objects in (spoken) French'.
The authors address a problem of what has been termed 'hot languages' in
the Generative Tradition, that is, languages with strongly overt coding
strategies, especially with respect to pronouns. More precisely, the
article deals with the question to which extent definite or 'markedly
indefinite' (Fillmore) objects in French can be represented as
null-objects. The authors recognize ''three semantic types of
null-instantiation'' (p.19): Indefinite Null-instantiation, Definite
Null-instantiation, and Free Null-instantiation. Strategies of
Null-instantiation are mainly a matter of inference (coming close to what
has been termed 'actant disguise' in GSS, see Schulze 1998: 457-470).
Lambrecht & Lemoine's classification of the corresponding constructional
types is extremely helpful, also because the classification is illustrated
with the help of a large number of examples from Spoken French. In
addition, the authors nicely demonstrate how a construction-based account
can explain cases of Null-instantiation without referring to a mere
syntactic approach. Their final observation is of considerable relevance:
''(...) the phenomenon has always existed in French but was pushed out of
the linguistic consciousness under the influence of normative grammar,
which considers it an unacceptable deviation from 'clarity' and 'logic'''
(p.50). It goes without saying that the same holds for quite a number of
other syntactic (or: more generally, linguistic) generalizations.

Kyoko Hirose Ohara ('From relativization to clause-linkage') addresses a
superficially 'special' problem of Modern Japanese syntax: What is the
relation between Internally Headed Relativization (IHR) and certain types
of concessive bi-clausal sentences. Unfortunately, the glosses of the first
example of an IHR construction (p.57) frequently referred to throughout the
text includes an irritating flaw (here 'no' is glossed NOM(inative) instead
of N(o)M(ina)L(i)Z(er), just as 'ga' is glossed the other way round). Ohara
first argues that we have to deal with two different constructional type
(IHR and concessive bi-clausal sentences). Both share the basic
architecture of having a referentialized verb-based phrase (indicated by
'no') being followed by the case marker 'ga' (NOM) or 'o' (ACC). But both
constructions differ as for features of coreferentiality and 'case
matching' (p.60). The author illustrates the divergent properties of the
two constructions before turning to the question of whether the
constructions are related in a diachronic sense. Here, she refers to
constructional reanalysis in order to show that ''the concessive
construction arose as a result of reanalysis of the IHR construction''
(p.66). The crucial point is that the complex 'no ga' / 'no o' are said to
have been reanalyzed as conjunctions (roughly = 'whereas'). This goes
together with a well-known semantic shift, namely, that from 'temporal
sequencing' to 'logical sequencing'.

In his article, Paul Kay turns to 'argument structure constructions and the
argument-adjunct distinction'. This highly technical treatment concentrates
on the question whether a unification-based or monotonic constructional
approach to argument structure or a Goldbergian, non-monotonic approach
(Goldberg 1995) should be favored in order to account for instance for the
shift of prepositional NPs to argument-like structures in English, e.g.
'the boss promised me a raise' < 'the boss promised a raise to me'. It
should be stressed that the problem discussed by Kay is strongly shaped by
the architecture of English. The language has lost the 'Dative' as a
morphological category (merging with the accusative as shown by personal
pronouns like 'me' and 'us'). All the examples given by Kay on p.71 are
rendered for instance in German by the Dative case. Hence, from a
functional point of view, the riddle can simply be solved by claiming that
in English, there is a diachronically motivated, entrenched way of coding
the 'Indirect Objective' (be it in argument or adjunct function) by means
of a placement rule: If two unmarked (or, pronominally marked by the
oblique case) NPs follow the verb, the first one is in IO function, whereas
the second is in O function. In other words: a post-verbal NP is formally
polysemic, leading to the third type of Dative-Accusative alignment
('neutral' as opposed to Primary or Secondary Objects, for these see Dryer
1986). From a purely synchronic view that starts from verbal semantics,
Kay's proposal to analyze the given basic construction together with its
three maximal subconstructions importantly helps to classify verbal
arguments/adjuncts in terms of Abstract Recipient Constructions. In a
second section, the author discusses the question of ''inherent arguments,
added arguments and adjuncts'' (p.86). He carefully illustrates the relevant
Argument Structure Constructions and draws the reader's attention to the
fact that sometimes, we do not have to deal with constructions as such, but
rather with what has been termed 'pattern of coinage' by Fillmore.

The second section of the book ('Syntax and semantics of verbs') starts
with Seizi Iwata's article on 'the role of verb meaning in locative
alternations'. Again we have to do with a problem that is immediately
related to the diachronic development of English morphosyntax (not
addressed by the author). In earlier stages of English, there had been a
functionally 'active' preverb be- (< *bi- ~ English 'by' < *'bi:) the
function of which was to render a (often locative) prepositional NP as part
of the argument-frame of a then transitive verb (> Objective). Whereas a
given Objective is put into the periphery. This process is occasionally
termed be-Diathesis or Direct Object Diathesis. Although there are residues
of this preverb in English, many such verbs have lost the be-preverb
without, however, losing the diathesis itself. In other words: A
morphosyntactic diathesis has turned into a syntactic diathesis, compare
English and German:

(1) John loaded bricks onto the wagon.
Johann lud Ziegel auf den Wagen.

(2) John loaded the wagon with bricks.
Johann be-lud den Wagen mit Ziegeln.

It is this diathesis that is termed 'locative alternation' by Iwata. In
order to capture the semantics of this alternation from a purely synchronic
point of view, the author distinguishes two meaning levels of verbs:
L(exical Head) meaning and P(hrasal Level) meaning. L-meaning is said to
represent the meaning of a verbal head per se (p.104), whereas P-meaning is
conveyed by the syntactic frame associated with a given head. The author
illustrates the relevance of this distinction with respect to a number of
English verbs such as 'pack, 'trim', and 'roll'. Accordingly, L-meaning,
itself embedded into complex lexical networks, fuses with constructional
meaning, which show different results in case the fusion process involves
different types of constructions. Admittedly, I have difficulties following
Iwata with respect to the assumption of L-meaning. An alternative would be
to claim that 'verbs' (or, in a cognitive sense, relations) are
prototypically framed by syntax, or, to use more appropriate terms, are
prototypically embedded into a specific (often very general or 'abstract')
constructional type. This comes clear from the fact that we cannot
'understand' understand verbal relations without considering at least very
rudimentary referential entities involved in the event image that again is
expressed by the verbal relation (e.g. Schulze 2006). Cognitive Grammar à
la Langacker goes in the same direction (though slightly different),
compare the following quote from Langacker's article in the same volume:

''If a verb has any construction-independent meaning at all, this only
arises by further abstraction from the more specific senses it assumes in
the particular constructions that spawn it (...)'' (p.162).

Noriko Nemoto article on ''Verbal polysemy and Frame Semantics in
Construction Grammar'' addresses mainly the same problems as those ones
discussed by Kay and Iwata. The author opts for a stronger incorporation of
Frame Semantics into CxG approaches in order to prevent these approaches
from overgeneralization. Accordingly, ''a frame-based description of verbal
polysemy may be used to explain a range of argument structures associated
with a verb in a constructional approach'' (p.133).

In her contribution 'A constructional approach to mimetic verbs', Natsuko
Tsujimura aims at evaluating two current hypotheses concerning the
'location' of multiple verb meaning: Projectionism (Rapapport Hovav & Levin
1998) that claims that verbal polysemy is basic and call for individual
syntactic patterns, and Construction Grammar that argues in favor of the
emergence of polysemy due to the interaction of lexical and constructional
semantics. The choice of mimetic verbs in order to approach this task is
especially interesting because such mimetic verbs are said to lack a
''decomposable semantic representation'' (p.147), or, to put it into simple
terms, they ''lack a clear definition of their 'meaning''' (p.145).
Accordingly, ''global information spread throughout a sentence including the
number of NPs and their grammatical functions, animacy of the subject, and
verbal morphology'' (p.148) finally helps to constitute the specific meaning
of a mimetic verb. This hypothesis comes close to what Blending Theory in
Cognitive Linguistics suggests (if we include blends of alleged lexical
meaning and constructional meaning). The strength of the paper is
undoubtedly given by the choice of highly marked data (mimetic verbs),
which underlines the methodologically well thought-out analysis.

The third section of the volume concerns 'Language variation and change'.
It starts with a contribution by Ronald W. Langacker, entitled
'Integration, grammaticization and constructional meaning'. First, the
author compares his version of Cognitive Grammar with the standard version
of Construction Grammar (referring mainly to Goldberg 1995). He mentions
twelve features shared by both approaches, but also uses the occasion to
emphasize the differences. In a second step, Langacker describes some
''basic notions of Cognitive Grammar'' (pp.164-172) useful especially for
those who haven't yet explored this approach. Langacker then turns to the
question of 'conceptual integration'. The author starts from the assumption
that ''component structures should (...) be thought (...) as overlapping
fragments of the composite conception artificially extracted from the whole
for purposes of linguistic symbolization'' (p.172). Constructions reinforce
conceptual integration and ''[t]ighter conceptual integration is
characteristic of elements considered grammatical (As opposed to lexical)''
(p.172). Langacker illustrates this point with the help of so-called
'Direct object construction with body-part nouns' and features of agreement
said to represent ''extensive conceptual overlap'' (p.176). The more a
(former) lexical element becomes 'grammaticized' (or: in typological terms,
grammaticalized) the more conceptual integration becomes relevant: Its
''conceptual overlap with co-occurring structures tends to represent a
greater proportion of [its] content (even the totality)'' (p.178). The
analysis of English 'do' and of the development of a quotative marker
towards a complementizer in Luiseño helps to illustrate this claim.

Jaako Leino and Jan-Ola Oestman turn to the question to which extent CxG
should account not only for regularities as such, ''but also for tendencies
of grammatical organization'' (p.191). Their paper is entitled 'Construction
and variability'' and turns the readers attention to Finnish. The authors
start from the assumption that language is by itself defined by ''constant
change'' (p.192). Accordingly, CxG has to account for variation in order to
''understand of how linguistic units behave'' (p.193). This view is nothing
new if we look at e.g. Diachronic Typology or strongly diachronic or
variation-oriented frameworks of Cognitive Linguistics (compare the claim
in Radical Experientialism that language is (among others) defined by its
history and the sum of synchronic variations, be they conventionalized or
idiosyncratic, see Schulze 1998, 2006). The authors refer to some kind of
prototypicality hypothesis in order to make variation describable. Again,
the reader is sensitized to the question of whether variation is an
expression of distinct patterns (here: constructions), or emerge as some
kind of 'options' with respect to a generalized pattern/construction. The
authors strongly argue in favor of the second option, illustrating their
claim with the help of a corpus based frequency analysis of alternations in
the case frame of some Finnish perception verbs. They then turn to
'discourse patterns' as another motive for variation, before addressing
'metaconstructions' emerging from analogy. Here, Leino and Oestman
convincingly argue that ''a grammar should not only be an inventory of
constructions as generalizations over expressions, but a grammar must also
include generalizations over constructions -- what we call
metaconstructions'' (p.206). Metaconstructions (or: co-variant
constructions) thus ''capture analogical relationships between several pairs
of constructions'' (p.207). An example quoted by the authors would be the
variation of a standard transitive pattern ([S:nom V X] in their terms)
showing up in terms of an existential construction ([X V S:par] (par =
Partitive)). [[S:nom V X] - [X V S:par]] would represent the
metaconstruction. Note that the representation of these(sub)constructions
is not fully sufficient to license corresponding expressions: In [S:nom V
X] the verb has to agree with S, whereas in [X V S:par], the verb shows
exophoric (deictic) agreement (3sg), at least from a diachronic point of view.

The final paper of the volume is Toshio Ohori's contribution on
''Construction Grammar as a conceptual framework for linguistic typology''.
The aim of the paper is to show that ''CxG is in principle compatible with
the desiderata of linguistic typology, and (...) that typological studies,
in turn, will enrich CxG in significant way'' (p.215). Personally, I do nut
fully understand why the problem of whether CxG can be compatible with
linguistic typology is given at all: Sure, most CxG related analyses are
strongly oriented towards data of individual languages (focusing perhaps
too strongly on English), but this does not necessarily mean that CxG would
not qualify for cross-linguistic issues. It should be stressed that
linguistic typology isn't a framework as such, but rather a methodological
pathway towards the revelation of generalizations. Still, it is a myth to
assume that linguistic typology is nothing but a purely inductive approach:
Even what is known as Basic Linguistic Theory, the standard descriptive
layer of many approaches in linguistic typology (see Dixon 1997) has an
inherited deductive component. Hence, we may claim that CxG is an option
for providing the inductive layer of linguistic typology with a
theoretically well-formulated deductive shell. While CxG is just one option
that competes with other approaches, let it be a generative formula. The
main point is that the deductive layer should be able to account for any
type of observable linguistic variance, be it synchronically or
diachronically. With respect to CxG this means that CxG should be flexible
enough to overcome its strong language-specific orientation. Likewise, CxG
should perhaps adopt the notion of metaconstructions (as suggested in Leino
& Oestam's paper in the present volume) in a cross-linguistic sense. Such
metaconstructions should then be analyzed in terms of their inherent
flexibility and transcendent motivation, be it on the conceptual layer (as
done e.g. in Cognitive Grammar) or on the experiential layer (as done e.g.
in Radical Experientialism, or, turned into linguistic typology, in
Cognitive Typology (Schulze (in preparation)). Ohori's paper undoubtedly
helps to contribute to this perspective. The author discusses the
phenomenon of switch-reference in a variety of languages. Space does not
allow going into the details of this interesting analysis: Still, the
reader is strongly advised to assimilate it in all its details to see how a
CxG-based approach tries to account for a variety of phenomena related to


This volume is an interesting collection of articles that illustrate CxG
'at work'. Addressing the domains of syntactic patterning, verbal syntax
and semantics, as well as questions of language variation and language
change, the book covers main issues of current debate in grammatical
theory. Still, as has been said above, the book surely is not what the
subtitle seems to promise ('Back to the roots'). It does not ''jettison
everything (here in the sense of recent proposals) and start from scratch'',
as Langacker has described his motivation to develop Cognitive Grammar
(p.157 in the same volume). Hence, the volume is not suited to those who
wish to learn about the basics of CxG. The highly diverse instantiations of
CxG presented in the book render it difficult for CxG-beginners to find
answers to some of the basic questions related to this framework. In this
sense, the volume addresses mainly linguists who already have a solid
knowledge of CxG. For these, the book offers some kind of kaleidoscope of
CxG thinking and methodology.

Naturally, the many extremely detailed studies give rise to arguable
hypotheses and generalizations. These may emerge from both intrinsic
counter-arguments and arguments related to concurrent, but nevertheless
affine frameworks, such as Grammaticalization Theory, Cognitive Linguistics
(in general terms), Metaphor Theory and Cognitive Semantics, or Cognitive
Typology. Perhaps, it is one of the very few shortcomings of the volume
that it does not consider in more details such alternative explanatory
perspectives. Here, the main concern seems to be to set apart CxG from
Syntax Theory.

Another problem arises from the fact that CxG does not include a common
notational practice. In their Introduction, the editors argue in favor of
this representational diversity, claiming that the CxG model is an
''enterprise in extracting relevant structures and categories from the data
patterns at hand'', but not an ''exercise in accommodating predetermined
formal structures consisting of predetermined abstract variables'' (p.3).
This may be true, but sets the CxG enterprise at risk for developing in
terms of a basically interpretative model, with the consequence that the
reader has to extract the common denominators from the (partly)
idiosyncratic interpretations. The current heterogeneity in 'applying' CxG
is -- in my eyes -- a typical reflex of a model in its 'early stage',
involving a greater variety of allo-models. These allo-models of CxG tend
to specialize in very elaborated questions, often related to English or
another 'major' language. Time will show whether the CxG practitioners will
once strive towards a (more) unified account that would be reflected --
among others -- in a adequate notational convention. But this presupposes
that CxG opens itself towards a broader debate concerning methodological
issues (touching upon, e.g., the role of diachrony, language acquisition,
corpus linguistics, etc.) and theoretical issues (e.g. the question of
induction and deduction, and the question of the ontology of
constructions). Such a discourse should not be confined to CxG
practitioners, but should include representatives of the many concurrent
explanatory models of language currently (and formerly) on the market.


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Wolfgang Schulze is the Head of the Institute for General Linguistics and
Language Typology at the University of Munich. His main research topics
include Language Typology, Cognitive Typology and Radical Experientialism,
Historical Linguistics, language contact, the languages of the (Eastern)
Caucasus and Inner Asia, and 'Oriental' languages. Among others, he
currently works on a 'Functional Grammar of Udi' and on a comprehensive
presentation of the framework of a 'Grammar of Scenes and Scenarios' in
terms of 'Cognitive Typology' and 'Radical Experientialism'.