Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

New from Oxford University Press!


May I Quote You on That?

By Stephen Spector

A guide to English grammar and usage for the twenty-first century, pairing grammar rules with interesting and humorous quotations from American popular culture.

New from Cambridge University Press!


The Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages

Edited By Peter K. Austin and Julia Sallabank

This book "examines the reasons behind the dramatic loss of linguistic diversity, why it matters, and what can be done to document and support endangered languages."

Review of  Word Grammar

Reviewer: Valeria Quochi
Book Title: Word Grammar
Book Author: Kensei Sugayama Richard A. Hudson
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Subject Language(s): English
Greek, Ancient
Issue Number: 17.2842

Discuss this Review
Help on Posting
EDITORS: Sugayama, Kensei; Hudson, Richard A.
TITLE: Word Grammar
SUBTITLE: New Perspectives on a Theory of Language Structure
PUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd
YEAR: 2005

Valeria Quochi, Istituto di Linguistica Computazionale CNR Pisa, Italy, and
Dipartimento di Linguistica, University of Pisa, Italy

This book is a collection of 9 chapters by different authors, and presents
research done within the Word Grammar framework from different linguistic
perspectives: lexical semantics, morphology, syntax, and others. The aim is
to introduce the reader recent developments in the theory, and to
demonstrate how it can be applied to different languages and different
language facts. What ties these works together is the idea that the
dependencies between single words are fundamental for an understanding of
language. This recent version of the theory presents considerable
differences from the previous versions. The book is divided in two parts:
the first collects 7 contributions that apply the theory to a range of
phenomena and show its explanatory power; the second part addresses
theoretically key issues related to the notions of head and dependency, and
proposes significant innovations.


The Preface, by Kensei Sugayama, is an overview of the roots, history, and
theoretical basic notions of Word Grammar. Word Grammar (WG) is a
dependency theory of grammar that also includes ideas from cognitive
approaches to language. The Key notion in WG is the word-word dependency:
both syntax and semantics are built on this notion. WG is further defined
as a monostratal model of language that rejects the notion of Phrase
Structure. Language is seen as a network of knowledge which is part of
general cognition, and in which grammatical relations and functions are
represented explicitly. The preface also provides a detailed summary of the
contents of the book.

The first Chapter is a general introduction by Richard Hudson, the founder
of the theory. The chapter introduces the historical background and
subsequent developments of the theory, as well as its most important
tenets. WG is described as a general theory of language structure, which is
primarily concerned with syntax, but which also covers other areas of
linguistics, except phonology and language acquisition. The central unit of
analysis is the word, and sentence structure is represented in the form of
dependencies between single words. Words are also the basic
lexical/semantic units and the basic unit for contextual analysis. The
language network is seen as composed by emergent sub-networks, each
characterized by a distinct (set of) link(s). Links in the network are
classified and labelled, and are treated as second order concepts, which
means that they can be grouped into larger classes and can be learned
exactly in the same way as ordinary concepts. Section 4, discusses the
fundamental property of Default Inheritance. Inheritance hierarchies are
the only means of classifying concepts, since in WG feature structures are
not accepted. Multiple inheritance, additionally, allows for words to be
classified along different dimensions. Utterances in WG are also
represented as networks having the same formal characteristics as the
permanent cognitive network, but are temporary. Section 7, 8 and 9 are
devoted to the explanation of the sub-networks of morphology, syntax and
semantics respectively. Finally, issues related to processing matters are
discussed together with a brief introduction to the incremental parsing
system used to test the theory.

Chapter 2, by Creider and Hudson, deals with case agreement in Ancient
Greek and its implications for a theory of covert elements in WG. Previous
versions of WG rejected the notion of covert elements completely. This
analysis, instead, favours the introduction of empty elements in WG, in
order to deal with special situations of case agreement in Ancient Greek,
where a predicative adjective or a predicative noun agrees with the subject
of its clause, even if the subject is covert. This happens regularly in
infinitival constructions. A new notion of Null Element in WG is contrasted
both to the PRO-element of generative approaches and to the ''potential
subcat list'' of HPSG. Two sections are dedicated to the traditional
description of accusative and non-accusative subjects in Ancient Greek. The
traditional rule that infinitives in Ancient Greek have accusative subjects
is fully accepted. Case marking of infinitives in Ancient Greek is used as
a language fact that provides strong evidence in favour of the need of null
elements in WG: because morphological case is considered a purely
morpho-syntactic property, it is not possible to explain the data
postulating a subject argument in the semantic structure alone. There needs
to be a syntactic supporting subject. Finally, the WG account is shown as
preferable to other accounts, in that it makes use of the general machinery
available in the theory to account for the specific facts of understood
entities. In particular, the author shows how a particular attribute,
''quantity'', which is generally employed to account for how types are
realised into tokens in utterances, can account also for Null Elements in

Chapter 3, by Sugayama, proposes a WG analysis of Japanese null complements
of transitive verbs, through a contrastive analysis of two cases: the
English 'eat' and the Japanese 'taberu'. The claim is that the current WG
analysis of English understood objects of transitive verbs like 'eat' is
not suitable for Japanese verbs like 'taberu', because there is a semantic
difference in the suppressed object between the two languages. Sugayama
claims that this semantic difference is not adequately represented in the
theory and proposes the introduction of an additional rule to the grammar
of Japanese that would account such linguistic facts. The author gives a WG
standard description and representation of the English transitive verbs
like 'eat', and then an analysis of the Japanese translation-equivalent
verbs with the proposed necessary innovation. From a semantic perspective,
English and Japanese transitive verbs differ in the behaviour of their null
object complements. While in English an understood object of 'eat'-like
verbs must be unknown to the speaker, therefore indefinite, the understood
object of Japanese 'taberu' must be known to the speaker. Object
complements in fact are freely and regularly omitted in Japanese, as long
as they are definite. The proposed innovation to WG is, thus, the
introduction of two nodes for the concepts of definiteness and
indefiniteness, which are then be appropriately linked to the referents of
null objects.

Chapter 4, again by Sugayama, the English 'be to' construct from a WG
perspective. The main claim is that the verb 'be' in the construction is a
''non-prototypical'' instance of a modal verb, that the sense of the 'be+to'
construction is determined by the sense of the infinitival clause that
follows, and that the 'be+to' construct is not a lexical unit because there
is a syntactic and semantic gap between the two elements. The fact that the
construct may have both epistemic and non-epistemic readings is accounted
for in WG by representing the verb 'be' as both an instance of the lexical
verb 'be' and an instance of 'modal verb'; this allows it to inherit
properties from both. The sense of the construct is said to derive from the
sense of the following infinitive clause, although a core sense for the
construct can be identified independently of it. The very nature of the
event, however, is determined by the clause that follows the verb. Evidence
that supports the claim that 'be+to' is not a lexical unit: the
separability of the two elements, the possible omission of 'to' in question
tags, and the fact that no phonetic fusion appears to take place (cfr.
'ought to', 'want to'). The advantage of the WG analysis proposed here is
that it assigns the same syntactic and semantic structure to both epistemic
and non-epistemic readings: 'be' is the syntactic and semantic head of the
construct and functions like a raising verb, and 'to' and the infinitive
clause are represented as its sharer dependents, i.e. dependents that share
their subjects with it.

In Chapter 5, Jasper Holmes attempts to formulate an adequate account of
linking which exploits the machinery of WG, without the need to stipulate
subcategorization representations. The main assumption is that the meaning
of verbs alone is not sufficient to determine semantic structure; context
also plays an important role. In this approach, linking rules are seen as
generalizations over correspondences between syntactic and semantic
relationships. Therefore, linking rules will link classes of syntactic
dependency relations with classes of semantic associations. To explain and
show to potentiality of this account the author describes and represents
the behaviour of various examples of the English double object syntax and
of the equivalent constructs in German. Three linking rules that account
for the mappings to the three main syntactic arguments (subjects, direct
objects and indirect objects) are presented and discussed. One of the major
consequences of this analysis is that syntactic dependencies have meanings,
and that these meanings serve to constrain the possible combinations of
syntactic elements and to determine the interpretations of compositional
structures. The second part of the paper is dedicated to the presentation
of an Event-Type Hierarchy and its fundamental role in linking. Correlated
with this topic, is also the importance and nature of thematic/semantic and
argument roles. Two kinds of semantic associations are, thus, distinguished
in this approach: Participant Roles and Argument Roles. Participant Roles
carry thematic content and are an open-ended class; Argument roles are more
schematic and limited, and are determined by the force-dynamic properties
of the event to which they are associated. These are the associations that
characterize the semantic sub-network.

Chapter 6 by Eva Eppler is an attempt to account for English-German
code-mixing data within the framework of Word Grammar. The chapter starts
with a brief introduction to code-switching/code-mixing studies, and
reviews the major approaches based on phrase structure grammars to the
phenomenon. The main claim here is that such approaches are not adequate
enough to account for intra-sentential syntactic code-mixing phenomena
because they are too restrictive, and don't account for her data. The study
presented is done on a bilingual corpus of English/German spontaneous
speech transcriptions and combines both quantitative (distributional) and
qualitative analysis of intra-sentential code-mixing of subordinate clauses
of cause ('because-' and 'weil' clauses). WG is claimed to be a more
suitable framework because it rejects the notion of constituent structure.
The word-word dependencies, instead, are preferred because they allow
putting less restrictive constraints on the type of mixing
allowed/disallowed in a language. Another advantage of WG is that it also
has the possibility of integrating sophisticated sociolinguistic
information about speakers within the network. Since code-mixing is
strongly influenced by social factors, this characteristic is particularly
appealing. The choice to analyse subordination of cause is motivated by the
interesting contrast in word order presented by the two languages under
investigation. The results obtained support the null hypothesis: that is,
mixed codes seem to conform to the grammar of the language to which they

In chapter 7 Maekawa confronts three different grammatical frameworks with
the analysis of linear order asymmetries between main and subordinate
clauses in wh-interrogatives, namely Word Grammar, Constructional Head
Phrase Structure Grammar (HPSG), and Linearization-based HPSG. His study
favours this last approach. All the three approaches are discussed in some
detail, and in each case a very brief introduction to the theory-particular
machinery for handling word order is given. Then a set of problematic cases
of wh-interrogatives is analysed under the three approaches. The reasoning
is that both WG (Hudson 1990, 2005) and Constructional HPSG (Ginzburg and
Sag 2000) have some weaknesses in accounting for extraction/topicalization
data, whereas Linearization-based HPSG provides a neat explanation for the
English data. The claim is that the weaknesses shown by the first two
frameworks strongly depend on their assumptions about grammatical structure
and their machineries for dealing with word order. Linear order in such
approaches is tied to the combinatorial structure, and this is claimed to
prevent an adequate account of certain discontinuities like those found in
topicalized wh-interrogatives. Linearized HPSG, instead, provides a
straigntforward account of those facts because, through the attribute
DOMAIN, linear order is kept separated from combinatorial mechanisms and
local trees.

In Chapter 8 Rosta claims that two different types of heads need to be
recognized in syntactic structure, namely Structural heads and
Distributional Heads. The distinction is needed in order to properly
account for a number of data in which the distribution of a phrase is
determined not by its head, but by one of its dependents. This behaviour is
called ''hypocentricity'' by the author. After a definition of the two
notions of structural and distributional heads, Rosta analyses various
English hypocentric constructions: that-clauses, extent-operators and other
adverbials like 'just' and 'only', pied-piping, degree words, attributive
adjectives, determiner phrases, the 'type-of' construction, ''inside-out''
interrogatives. Such analyses are used to introduce and discuss the
proposed innovations to the theory, in particular, the modification of the
notion of dependency relation and the introduction of empty categories. The
advantages of these innovations are also discussed in relation to the
treatment of adjuncts, subject relations in conjoined predicates, and
complements. Given the wide range of language fact that show the same
behaviour, hypocentricity is held to be pervasive in language, and
therefore, the new version of the theory seems necessary. The new theory is
claimed to be simpler, in that it reduces the range of mechanisms fot
representing syntactic structure, but is still consistent with the basic
tenets of the original version. In this revision syntactic structure is
seen as a network of words linked by unlabelled branches, forming a tree;
and additional supportive links are needed to deal with discontinuities in

Chapter 9 by Gisborne addresses the theoretical notion of subject
dependency, and argues in favour of a three-way distinction in
subject-dependency types. The paper focuses on the analysis of the
so-called Locative Inversion data, and claims that in such cases the
subject properties are split between the locative- and the noun phrase.
First, the main properties of subjects as discussed in the literature are
reviewed, and some of those properties are retained as useful diagnostics
of subjecthood. Semantic Role, argumenthood of intransitives and
co-reference are the three diagnostics considered the most useful general
diagnostics, while subject-auxiliary inversion, agreement and extraction
are held to be the most critical diagnostics for English. Then, the author
thoroughly reviews Bresnan's (1994) LFG account of locative inversion data.
Such data is taken as evidence of the fact that in locative inversion
constructions several subject properties can be found both on the locative
complements and on the theme noun phrase. The distinction in three types of
subject proposed in the LFG account is also judged useful for an adequate
description of the fact, and therefore the author proposes a revision of
the theory of Word Grammar in this sense. The problem of standard WG is
that it has only one domain of structure, i.e. the dependency relations,
and only one type of subject dependency. Instead, the analyses previously
presented demonstrate the need to have at least three types of subjects--
lexical, syntactic and morphologic subjects--by virtue of the different
properties that characterize them. The WG account is, finally, claimed to
present more advantages with respect to LFG in that it posit a simpler
structure: while LFG treats the distinction within 3 domains of structure,
WG deals with them in one single domain.


The book as a whole gives an interesting insight into the state-of-the-art
Word Grammar framework and the possible fields of application other than
syntax. The contribution by its founder is valuable, in that it puts the
theory into perspective and projects it into the future challenges of the
language science field. The chapter dedicated to the introduction of empty
elements in syntax is very interesting and courageous, considering that it
goes counter to previous claims of strict adherence to the facts, and WG's
nature as fully surfacist theory. Although the analysis is fascinating, the
issue remains controversial, and though the argumentation is well
structured and supported, it is still not fully convincing.

Chapter 3 on the treatment on Null Complement in Japanese provides an
interesting solution for the Japanese facts. However, it is not so clear
how and why the definiteness parameter would be set differently for
different languages, or why it should be systematically overridden in
English. Moreover, the argumentation on the advantage of WG for verb final
languages with free word order, because of the final position of the head
of all dependencies is not very clear and seems to suggest that for
languages with different characteristics a WG approach is not advantageous.

Chapter 4, on the 'be+to' construction is an interesting attempt to account
for both syntactic and semantic features of a construct; however, it shows
a few weaknesses, and all in all does not seem very convincing. The
examples brought to support the claim look like newspaper headlines, and
therefore most probably elliptical or hyperbolic sentences, where the 'be'
element could be said to be understood. The diagrams are often difficult to
read, and the explanations provided are sometimes not very helpful.

The same problems with diagrams and explanation are also present here and
there in chapter 5, on linking in WG. The chapter is however very
interesting, for it treats such an important area of linguistics. However,
it seems a WG 'translation' of a Construction Grammar approach to linking
(Goldberg 1995, 2002). Of particular interest is the criteria on the basis
of which the two different types of roles are distinguished, which also
exploit the force-dynamic properties of events.

Chapter 6 on code-mixing is a difficult paper to follow. The terminology
used is not clearly defined and the basic notions on code-mixing are not
well explained. Section 3 in particular seems not very well structured: the
author continuously mixes theoretical motivations with the methodology and
with part of the analysis.

Chapter 7 is well structured and interesting in the comparison between
three approaches on exactly the same data. The introduction to the basics
of the theories, esp. of HPSG, however, is only sketchy. Therefore, the
chapter is difficult to understand in details for anybody with no previous
knowledge of HPSG.

Chapter 8 presents considerable modifications to the theory, and, although
it claims to stay close to the original tenets, the outcome looks far from
current WG. The idea of distinguishing between structural and
distributional heads is stimulating, but the elimination of dependency
types and the introduction of ''supporting'' relations that would account for
hypocentricity appear controversial.

Chapter 9 also deals with theoretical issues, related to the very notion of
subject relation. The proposed innovations to the theory are motivated by
evidence coming from an LFG analysis of split-subject in locative inversion
constructs and other recent studies. The distinction into three types of
subject in the WG analysis, however, seems to force the linguist to make
decisions as to whether a particular phenomenon is syntactic, lexical or
morphological, which is often controversial.


Bresnan, J.W. (1994) 'Locative Inversion and the Architecture of Grammar'.
Language, 70, 72-131.

Ginzburg, J. and I.A. Sag (2000) Interrogative Investigations. Stanford: CSLI.

Hudson, R. A. (1990) English Word Grammar. Oxford: Blackwell.

--- (2005) Word Grammar.

Valeria Quochi is a Ph.D. Student in Linguistics of the University of Pisa,
Italy. She graduated in English and German Language and Literature at the
University of Pisa. Among her interests are Computational lexicography,
cognitive, data-driven approaches to language, the syntax-semantic
interface. She is currently working on the acquisition of semi-productive
constructions in Italian, from a constructional perspective.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0826486452
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 256
Prices: U.K. £ 75.00
U.S. $ 150.00