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Query:   Prefabricated Units
Author:  Tommy Wasserman
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Syntax

Summary:   Thank you for your ample respons. I would like to acknowledge those who
made these responses, namely :

Tomasz Wisniewski
Nicholas Sobin
S?le Harrington
Simon Musgrave
David Denison
Andy Wilcox
Martin Wynne
Emily Bender
Vivian Cook
Ocke Bohn
Stefan Th. Gries
Matthew Purver
Kerstin Fischer
Joe Hilferty

...of which responses the latter four have been of particular help for
me.

Below is a summary of some main points, a bibliography and comments.
Feel free to send me additional responses and comments (off-list):

Background
In the 1970's the question about how to store and process idioms was
very central because it was an exception to the, at that time, very
prominent generative paradigm. Idioms just do not seem to work that way
that you have a syntactic structure into which you insert the lexical
items in a second step. (The main reason for such an assumption is of
course that the prefabricated idiomatic strings are typically felt to be
formally fixed or invariable). Thus, it seems as if both larger units
are being stored plus the smaller components and their 'rules' or
patterns of composition.

Method and material
If we were to corroborate the above hyphotesis of prefabrication, we
could utilize a number of methods and arguments. One possible approach
would be a corpus-based examination, which would involve the search for
constituents of a prefabricated word formation and see whether (a) they
occur outside this formation or not, or perhaps (b) if they occur in
similar formations with some lexical/syntactic differences. The material
in this case would be the British National Corpus and a search software
such as SARA.

Another approach is to explore the possibility that people who are
involved in language teaching (e.g. in the third world) and who have
not been contaminated with the Western linguistic ideology, would use
different didactic methods, such as the phrase-book model (rather than
the grammar-lexicon model). This possibility rests on the more general
assumption that languages that are left alone develop in another
direction (more irregular) than those that have contact with other
language systems. It is a known fact that later learners of a particular
language have need of transparent, analytic structures while younger
learners do not. Then the hypothesis that children (or first-language
learners) learn expressions holistically seems to offer a more plausible
explanation of why relatively isolated languages tend to become more
irregular in structure, in that these grammatical irregularities will
not pose any problem to the first-language learner.

We could also choose to look at what goes on in a speaker (to-be) prior
to speech. Our everyday decisions to perform certain speech acts must be
based on some kind of assessment of the overall effect on the potential
audience of the act as a whole, i.e. we must somehow be able to
contemplate potential acts as wholes, including whole linguistic
expressions (read prefabriated units). However, it is not easy to figure
out what method to use in this connection.


Bibliography with comments

There's a recent book, Wray, Alison. 2001. Formulaic Language and the
Lexicon. Cambridge University Press, which gives a substantial review of
the subject over the past 30 years or so, as well as the author's own
models of formulaic language.

Many responders pointed to Construction-based syntax as relevant for the
subject (especially Fillmore). Here are some bibl. entries (provided by
Joe Hilferty):

Fillmore, Charles J. 1979. On Fluency. In: Charles J. Fillmore, Daniel
Kempler & William S-Y. Wang (eds.), Individual Differences in Language
Ability and Language Behavior, 85?101. New York: Academic Press.

_______. 1989. Grammatical Construction Theory and the Familiar
Dichotomies. In: Rainer Dietrich & Carl F. Graumann (eds.), Language
Processing in Social Context, 17?38. Amsterdam: North-Holland.

Kay, Paul. 1997. Words and the Grammar of Context. Stanford, CA: CSLI
Publications.

Kay, Paul & Charles J. Fillmore. 1999. Grammatical Constructions and
Linguistic Generalizations: The What's X Doing Y? Construction. Language
75(1): 1?33.

Cognitive linguistics

Lakoff, George. 1987. Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories

Reveal about the Mind. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Langacker, Ronald W. 1987. Foundations of Cognitive Grammar, vol. I:
Theoretical Prerequisites. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Tuggy, David. 1996. The Thing Is Is That People Talk That Way. The
Question Is Is Why? In: Eugene H. Casad (ed.), Cognitive Linguistics in
the Redwoods: The Expansion of a New Paradigm in Linguistics, 713?752.
Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Corpus-based studies and psycholiguistic research

Jackendoff, Ray. 1997. The Architecture of the Language Faculty.
Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Lieven, Elena V.M., Julian Pine & Gillian Baldwin. 1997. Lexically-Based
Learning and Early Grammatical Development. Journal of Child Language
24: 187-219.

McGlone, Matthew S., Sam Glucksberg, and Cristina Cacciari. 1994.
Semantic productivity and idiom comprehension. Discourse Processes
17:167-190.

Pine, Julian & Lieven, Elena V.M. 1997. Slot and frame patterns in the
development of the determiner category. Applied Psycholinguistics 18(2):
123?138.

Tomasello, Michael. 1998. The Return of Constructions. Journal of Child
Language 25: 431?442.

_______. 2000a. Do Young Children Have Adult Sytnactic Competence?
Cognition 74: 209-253.

_______. 2000b. First Steps Toward a Usage-Based Theory of Language
Acquisition. Cognitive Linguistics 11(1/2): 61?82.

_______. 2000c. The Item-Based Nature of Children's Early Syntactic
Development. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 4(4): 156?163.

And finally I will mention Ocke Bohn of Aarhus University since he
stated that analyses of learner speech that stress the importance of
formulaic speech are the
result of methodological artifacts. His article on the subject was
published in Linguistics 24 (1986), 185-202.

With kind regards

Tommy Wasserman, Sweden

LL Issue: 12.2487
Date Posted: 07-Oct-2001
Original Query: Read original query


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