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Review of  Radical Construction Grammar

Reviewer: Cristiano Broccias
Book Title: Radical Construction Grammar
Book Author: William Croft
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Semantics
Issue Number: 13.1516

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Cristiano Broccias, University of Genoa (Italy) and University of Pavia


Chapter 1. Syntactic Argumentation and Radical Construction Grammar

This chapter begins with a brief outline of the main claims made by
Radical Construction Grammar (which is defined as a theory of syntax,
cf. p.3): -- grammatical categories are not primitives but are
construction- specific. Much of modern syntactic analysis is based on
a vicious circle: constructions are used to define categories (cf. the
distributional method) and then categories are used to define
constructions. Croft uses lower-case names to indicate
categories/constructions that are non-language specific (e.g. relative
clause); capitalised forms are reserved for categories/constructions
which are language-specific (e.g. English Relative Clause). --
syntactic relations in constructions need not be posited. Only
meronomic or part-whole structures exist; -- constructions are the
basic units of syntactic representation; -- constructions are

The following sections introduce the notion of "construction"
(following Langacker 1987) and build on Dryer's (1997) proposal that
there is no universal inventory of grammatical categories and
relations. The notion of "construction" is applied to any grammatical
structure in keeping with the observation that there exists a
continuum between (what are traditionally called) syntax and lexicon
(cf. Table 1.3. on p.17). Constructions are (partially arbitrary)
symbolic units, that is pairings of form (which includes syntactic,
morphological, and phonological properties) and meaning (which
includes semantic, pragmatic, and discourse-functional
properties). Form is referred to as "syntactic structure", meaning as
"semantic structure". Constructions form a structured inventory
represented in terms of taxonomic hierarchies and may be compatible
with a usage-based or redundant model of grammatical
representation. Turning to grammatical categories such as Subject and
Direct Object, Croft demonstrates that atomic primitives such as
Subject and Direct Object cannot be assumed either cross-
linguistically or within a specific language. Consequently,
grammatical knowledge in Radical Construction Grammar is knowledge of
constructions, words, and the many-to-many mapping between words and
constructions. Syntactic categories are derivative of such grammatical
knowledge. In more detail, they "can be defined in two different ways.
They can be defined construction-specifically, as the class of fillers
of a particular role in a single construction. They can be defined
cross-constructionally, as the class of fillers that has an identical
distribution across the relevant roles for all constructions of a
language, or at least some specified set of constructions in the
language." (p.46)

The chapter concludes with a section devoted to Frequently Asked
Questions. Croft convincingly defends his proposal that constructions
are the primitive units of syntactic representation. Unfortunately,
the FAQs do not include what I suspect practitioners of Cognitive
Grammar would have very much appreciated, namely a subsection devoted
to illustrating the differences between Langacker's Cognitive Grammar
and Radical Construction Grammar (but see end of summary of Chapter 2

Chapter 2. Parts of Speech

The chapter begins with a critique of contemporary analyses of parts
of speech, which can be divided into two groups. On the one hand,
"lumpers" argue that major parts of speech (noun, verb, adjective) can
be conflated into one or two broader categories in some languages. On
the other hand, "splitters" (on the basis of a detailed examination of
distributional data) recognise "major parts of speech in every
language, and many minor ones as well." (p.65). In particular, Croft
assesses the work of "lumper" Hengeveld (1992). Croft stresses that
Hengeveld ignores the importance of semantic shift for lexical items
used in two different propositional act functions. For example,
English often uses the same lexical item either as Noun or Verb
(e.g. "study" in "The child studied at my house" and "I retired to my
study"), but we do not usually conclude that Nouns and Verbs are
conflated into a broader category in English. This is so because of
(systematic) polysemy between, say, a referential meaning ("study" as
a Noun) and an activity reading ("study" as a Verb). Further, lumpers
often ignore distributional evidence that does show different
behaviour for allegedly conflated parts of speech. Splitters, on the
other hand, give us no method for "deciding between parts of speech
and minor syntactic categories" (p.83); in other words, "[t]here is no
way to stop splitting" (p.78).

After his critique of lumpers and splitters, Croft moves on to
presenting his universal-typological theory of parts of speech. His
theory is based on the interaction of semantic classes and discourse
functions. Among discourse functions (or pragmatic/communicative
functions, see p.66) are the propositional acts of predication,
reference, and modification (which are defined on p.66). Predicative,
referring, and attributive constructions encode such functions (i.e.
they are propositional act constructions or structural coding
constructions, which can be divided into overt structural coding
constructions and zero structural coding constructions). Croft
hypothesizes that the typological prototypes of the referring,
attributive, and predicating constructions are the semantic classes of
objects, properties, and actions, respectively (as evidenced, for
example, by zero coding in those languages which allow it). These
semantic classes are only a small subset of the semantic classes of
words found in human languages and are defined in terms of four
semantic properties (relationality, stativity, transitoriness,
gradability). The terms nouns, adjectives, and verbs describe the
three discourse function/semantic class pairings alluded to above.
Typological evidence for his analysis comes from the theory of
typological markedness.

Croft contends that his (universal) theory parts of speech can be
represented as a (universal) conceptual space, that is "a structured
representation of functional structures [i.e. the points in conceptual
space] and their relationships to each other [i.e. the connections in
conceptual space]" (p.93), onto which a particular language's
categories can be mapped (as is illustrated for Japanese in Figure
2.2, page 95) thus obtaining a semantic map (see p.94). The
representation of conceptual space is governed by the Semantic Map
Connectivity Hypothesis (see p.96), which requires mapping onto a
connected region in conceptual space. It is also worth pointing out
that the conceptual space for parts of speech implies that properties
are intermediate between objects and actions and that modification is
intermediate between reference and predication.

Croft proposes that the universals of language are found in conceptual
structure and in general principles of form- function mapping such as
typological markedness (cf. p.105 and p.108 in Chapter 3). Among them
are the Structural Coding Map Hypothesis (which requires the marked
member to have at least as many morphemes as the unmarked member), the
Behavioural Potential Map Hypothesis (i.e. the equivalent of the
previous hypothesis although stated for inflectional categories), and
the Grammatical Category Structure Hypothesis (i.e. boundaries for
parts of speech are language-particular).

The last subsection of section 2.4 briefly comments on the relation
between Croft's theory of parts of speech and Cognitive Grammar. Croft
himself recognises that the two theories are compatible and concludes
that "[t]he difference ... is chiefly a matter of emphasis".

Chapter 3. Syntactic Categories and Semantic Relativity

Croft dismisses radical semantic relativism (i.e. syntactic structure
determines semantic structure and there is no universal conceptual
structure), by exposing its fallacious hidden assumptions. "The first
assumption is that syntactic differences across languages imply
semantic differences" (p.129). The fact, for example, that English
speakers say "I'm cold" and French speakers use the structure "J'ai
froid" (i.e. the verb "have" is used) does not necessarily imply that
a difference in conceptualisation (of the sensation of coldness)
holds. This might be the case if both structures were available to a
speaker in the same language. The second assumption is that there is a
one-to- one relation between form and meaning (i.e. monosemy). For
example, the fact that properties and bodily expressions can be coded
by using the same construction in English ("I am American" and "I am
cold") does not imply that they are conceptualised in the same
way. First, their syntactic behaviour may be different (cf. "I am
always cold" vs. "*I'm always America"), thus pointing at differences
in semantics. Second, polysemy is to be preferred to monosemy (and
homonymy), see also summary of Chapter 2 above. The third assumption
is that "linguistic analysis should minimize syntagmatic redundancy"
(p.120), whereas redundancy seems to be the normal case in
grammar. The fourth hidden assumption is that the meaning of
inflections, particles, etc. is universal, but "there is no a priori
reason to assume that the grammatical elements always are universal"
(p.125). Croft concludes the chapter by proposing a conventional
universalist position, that is an interplay between universality
(having to do with our being affected by common cognitive principles)
and relativity (categorisation can be affected by conventionalised
expressions of a language, as in the case of diverging spatial coding
for English and Korean children): "speaker behavior is affected both
by the universal conceptual space and the language-specific maps on
conceptual space" (p.131).

Chapter 4. Clausal Syntactic Roles ("Grammatical Relations")

Chapter 4 discusses "subject" and "object" as clausal syntactic roles
(i.e. fillers in a Clause construction). It offers a detailed critique
of the two roles as uniform categories both cross-linguistically (by
examining "accusative" and "ergative" languages) and within single
languages; it proposes that syntactic roles are construction-specific
and language-specific (as was already pointed out in Chapter 1).

The lack of universal syntactic roles does not prevent Radical
Construction Grammar from finding universals of syntactic roles (such
as the participant role hierarchies, see below). In order to do so,
Croft identifies the well-known labels A (the "subject" of transitive
verbs), P (the "object" of transitive verbs), and S (the "subject" of
intransitive verbs) with semantic roles (or, more accurately,
participant role clusters). Croft also defines groupings (or sets) of
participant roles: A+S as nominative, S+P as absolutive, P as
accusative, and A as ergative. We can thus define a conceptual space
having (in)transitive events and participant roles as dimensions. Case
marking systems can be regarded as semantic maps for that conceptual
space (in accordance with the Semantic Map Connectivity Hypothesis).
Croft goes on to propose the following implicational universals:

"If a language has overt coding of the nominative set of participant
roles, then it has overt coding of the accusative set of participant
roles." (p.139), i.e. nominative < accusative ...

"If a language has overt coding of absolutive roles, then it has overt
coding of ergative roles." (p.141), i.e. absolutive < ergative ...

The two hierarchies are not only relevant for structural coding of
participant roles (i.e. case marking), but also for behavioural
potential (i.e. agreement).

Croft also analyses ditransitive verbs. He recognises the following
semantic roles (which are polysemous categories, that is participant
role clusters): P (the "object" of monotransitive verbs, see above), T
(the "theme" object of ditransitive verbs), and G (the "goal" object
of ditransitive verb). Finally, he defines the following sets of
participant roles: P+T as direct object, P+G as primary object, G as
indirect object, and T as secondary object. He can then move on to
propose the following implicational universals:

direct object < indirect object (p.144)

primary object < secondary object (p.145)

As was the case above, such hierarchies are relevant for both
structural coding and agreement.

Syntactic roles are not a unitary category within a language either,
as is demonstrated in section 4.3.1 through a critique of Anderson
(1976). Again, this does not prevent Croft from finding universals of
encoding of participant roles. In particular he proposes the Subject
Construction Hierarchy (coordination < purposive < relativization <
verb agreement < case marking), which can be represented in conceptual
space (in keeping with the Semantic Map Connectivity Hypothesis) by
using the two dimensions of foregrounding and topicality.

Chapter 5. Dependency, Constituency, and Linear Order

Chapter 5 begins the investigation of the internal structure of
constructions. Radical Construction Grammar dispenses with syntactic
relations (i.e. coded dependencies and collocational dependencies) by
showing that (a) collocational dependencies (such as "burst into
bloom" in "The trees burst into bloom") are the overt manifestation of
semantic relations and (b) coded dependencies (i.e. syntactic
relations evidenced, for example, by agreement) and constituency
cannot be defined unambiguously.

The notion of constituency is ultimately based on semantic relations
and Croft, following Langacker (1997), prefers to use the term
(formal) grouping. Formal grouping can be examined in terms of
contiguity/separation of elements in an utterance (e.g. "A guy [who I
hadn't seen since high school] came in" vs. "A guy came in [who I
hadn't seen since high school]"), occurrence of a grammatical unit in
a single prosodic unit, and unit of first-position self-repair (Fox
and Jasperson 1995). The conclusion is that Radical Construction
Grammar does away with a "unique abstract constituent structure"

Overtly coded dependencies are also problematic because, for example,
they imply the unambiguous identification of heads and dependents, but
the notion of syntactic "head" is also problematic, as is demonstrated
in Chapter 7. Croft proposes to classify overtly coded dependencies
semantically, dividing them into relational coded dependencies (i.e.
"relational morphemes encode the semantic relation between the
denotations of the elements they relate", cf. p.199) and indexical
coded dependencies (i.e. "indexical morphemes index the referent of
one of the members of a dependency", cf. p.199).

Chapter 6. A Radical Approach to Syntactic Relations

In this chapter, Croft shows that "the only syntactic structure in
constructions is the part-whole relation between the constructions and
its elements" (p. 203). He begins by arguing that a model without
syntactic relations can account for effective communication. He then
moves on to demonstrate that "symbolic relations in a construction
grammar are not a notational variant of syntactic relations in a
componential model" (p.206). Even if one posited linking rules between
syntactic and semantic structures (i.e. no symbolic relations), one
would have to posit different linking rules for each construction,
thus ending up with a notational variant of construction
grammar. Further, syntactic structure does not always reflect semantic
structure iconically (as is shown, for example, for Possessor
Ascension, Quantifier Float, and Adverb Agreement); as a matter of
fact, syntactic structure can also reflect information structure.

In the following part of the chapter, Croft argues that syntactic
roles and syntactic relations are not notational variants. This is so
because syntactic relations "impose more structure on constructions
than syntactic roles. But there is strong evidence that the additional
structure is problematic, or - fatally - is simply not there" (p.221).
For example, if agreement markers indicate syntactic relations, how
can there be a syntactic relation if one of the elements is not
present (e.g. Spanish "esa moderna", "that modern one", which contains
the feminine singular agreement marker "-a" and where the intended
feminine singular controller "casa", "house", is not present)? Croft
rejects all possible (syntactic) solutions and concludes that
agreement can be treated as expressing a symbolic relation (that of
indexing the referent) rather than a syntactic relation.

In the last part of the chapter, Croft contends that "what appears to
be the coding of syntactic relations is in fact scaffolding [as is
defined by Langacker 1987: 452, 461] to help the hearer to identify
which element of the construction symbolizes which component in the
semantic structure of the construction." (p.238).

Chapter 7. Heads, Arguments, and Adjuncts

Chapter 7 discusses the notions of head and dependent (i.e. argument
and adjunct). In the first part of the chapter (Sections 7.1 to 7.5),
Croft proposes that "head" is not a syntactic notion, but must be
interpreted as a symbolic relation between a syntactic role and a
semantic component. In order to do so, he reviews criteria proposed
for headhood (in particular Zwicky 1985, 1993) and show that they are
problematic. Still, he argues that it is possible to define a
"dominant" element in a construction provided that we adopt a semantic
analysis. In particular, he builds on Zwicky's definition of semantic
head and Langacker's definition of profile determinant and proposes
the notion of profile equivalent:

In a combination X + Y, X is the profile equivalent if X
profiles/describes a kind of the thing profiled/described by X + Y.

>From his analysis follows, for example, that "phrases with articles
have two profile equivalents, the article and the noun" (p.258) and
that "clauses with auxiliaries have two profile equivalents, the
auxiliary and the verb" (p.258). Croft also suggests that "[i]f
inflectional categories relevant to a phrase or clause exist in a
language, then they are expressed on at least one of the profile
equivalents of the phrase/clause" (p.258). In order to account for the
fact that one of the two profile equivalents may seem to be dominant,
he proposes the following notion of semantic head:

A (semantic) head is the profile equivalent that is the primary
information-bearing unit [PIBU], that is, the most contentful item
that most closely profiles the same kind of thing that the whole
constituent profiles. (p.259)

Croft argues that grammaticalisation is sensitive to PIBU status in
that "[I]f there are two candidates for headhood [...], the one that
is not the PIBU will undergo grammaticalisation" (p.259), as is
illustrated in Section 7.5 by examining auxiliaries, articles,
numerals, quantifiers, classifiers, adpositions, complementizers, and

In Section 7.6, Croft proposes that the morphological distinction
between root and affix involves the notion of PIBU, but not the notion
of profile equivalent. In particular, the root is the PIBU. For
example, if we consider agent nominalizations, the agent-nominalizing
affix is the profile equivalent; however, in order to claim that the
root is the PIBU (which was defined above for those cases in which
elements share profiles), Croft proposes that "[w]hichever form is in
paradigmatic contrast with more elements is the primary information-
bearing unit" (p.270). It seems that non- alignment of profile
equivalence and PIBU status is the rule below the word level, contrary
to what happens above the word level.

The last section, Section 7.6, discusses the distinction between
argument and adjunct. Following Langacker (1987), Croft argues that
semantically such a distinction is a matter of degree. Further, he
shows that the syntactic criteria of obligatoriness and latency (which
are usually invoked to support the argument-adjunct distinction and
which he describes by using the single dimension of "instantiation")
are general properties of constructions, not of words that fill roles
in constructions.

Chapter 8. The Voice Continuum

In Chapter 8 (and Chapter 9) Croft details the claim that
constructions are language-specific and that constructions can be
compared cross- linguistically in terms of their function. The latter
observation is what allows typologists to formulate language
universals. He illustrates this in Chapter 8 by analysing voice
(Active vs. Passive, Direct vs. Inverse) in different languages. He
considers the region of conceptual space (involving two-participant
events) with a partial ordering of the speech act participant (SAP)
status of A and P participants in the event (i.e. 1, 2 < 3; 1=speaker,
2=addressee, 3=other), along the horizontal and vertical dimension,
respectively. First, he gives a structural definition of the passive
type (cf. (3) on p.285) and the inverse type (cf. (6) on p.286). Then
he discusses basic and non-basic voice constructions for various
languages (Section 8.3) and draws semantic maps for them. He shows
that such constructions can vary with respect to every structural
property of the passive type and the inverse type; further, they also
interact with the SAP hierarchy. In sum, voice constructions seem to
vary along a continuum, from the active/direct type through the
indirect type to the passive type (see Table 8.4). We can compare
voice constructions cross-linguistically by considering a
multidimensional space defined by the functionally grounded syntactic
categories of agreement, case marking, coding of A(gent) and
P(atient), and morphological marking of V(erb). We thus obtain a
syntactic space for voice constructions, which Croft illustrates (see
Figure 8.13) by using only the two dimensions of A coding and P
coding. Croft observes that the syntactic space for voice
constructions can be mapped onto the conceptual space for voice (see
Figure 8.1). He proposes that the maps conform to the following
language universal:

"If there is a contrast between a basic and non-basic voice [...],
then the semantic map of the basic voice will include the upper right
corner of the conceptual space in Figure 8.1, and the semantic map of
the nonbasic voice will include the lower left end corner of the
conceptual space in Figure 8.1" (p.315).

Croft points out that the SAP hierarchy stands for topicality (or
salience) and extends the newly defined A and P dimensions so as to
include intransitive situation types (Figure 8.16). Finally, he
contends that the typologically least marked SAP alignment is 1/2 ? 3
and "hence is the typological prototype for the transitive
(active/direct) construction." (p.318). The typologically most marked
SAP alignment is 3 ? 1/2.

Chapter 9. The Coordination-Subordination Continuum

Chapter 9 analyses the form and function of complex sentences. They
can contain verbs that are either identical to main clause verbs (the
relevant clauses are called "balanced") or verbs that are different
from main clause verbs (they are "deranked"). He argues that complex
sentence types can be described by resorting to a conceptual space
which is illustrated as a rectangular having as its points (starting
from the upper left corner and moving clockwise) complex figure,
figure-ground, figure-ground and e-site elaboration, and e-site

Croft argues, building on the work of Talmy (e.g. Talmy 1978) and
Reinhart (1984), that the perceptual distinction between figure and
ground characterises adverbial subordination (e.g. "After Tom
resigned, all hell broke loose"). He points out (p.333) that figure
does not correspond to "important information" or "focus of attention"
and, similarly, ground does not stand for "given" or "presupposed". On
the other hand, coordinate constructions (e.g. "The vase fell and
broke", which is an example of a C(onsecutive)-chain, and "The sun was
shining and the birds were singing", which is an example of a
S(imultaneous)- chain), as is implicit in Wierzbicka's (1980)
analysis, are based on the construal of two events as a single
whole. Of course, this is possible if some link or common denominator
(e.g. a causal or temporal one) exists between the two (in accordance
with the principle of continuation in Gestalt psychology). Still, it
is possible that either the figure-ground or complex construal becomes
conventionalised in a language (as is cross- linguistically common for
conditionals and comparatives). The important point here is that "the
conventional expression may not share the construal of its source
construction" (p.341). This is also the case when coordinate and
adverbial subordinate clauses grammaticalize into deranked structures
(see p.346).

Langacker's notion of e-site elaboration - a dependent concept has a
salient substructure that is elaborated by another concept; such a
substructure is called e-site and the elaborating concept is the
autonomous concept in the relation - is also important for complex
sentences. "Complements are [...] examples of e-site elaborations by
the "subordinate" clause" (p.346) and "a relative clause elaborates an
e-site of the main clause event because it describes the referent more
specifically than the head noun does" (p.347). This characterisation
captures the similarity between complements and relative clauses.
Further, Croft proposes that relative clauses are figure-ground
constructions (see Section 9.3.2). On the other hand, he points out
that complements are neither figure-ground configurations nor complex
figure constructions (see Section 9.3.3).

After having shown that complex sentences exhibit a continuum between
coordination and subordination (because of the connections that can be
established in the relevant conceptual space), Croft shows that "the
domain of complex sentences also represents a continuum in syntactic
space, in at least three dimensions: deranking, embedding, and clause
fusion" (p.354). The deranking syntactic space can be reduced to a
single dimension, the Deranking Hierarchy. Further, Cristofaro's
(1998) Subordinate Clause Deranking Hierarchy (i.e. (97) on p.359)
allows us to link syntactic space with conceptual space (in similar
fashion to the syntactic-conceptual mapping for voice in the preceding
chapter): deranking can be seen as radiating outwards from the
typologically unmarked main clause type (see Figure 9.7). The
Subordinate Clause Deranking Hierarchy has probably to do with
semantic integration (i.e. the degree of interconnectedness of two
situations), as is also the case with embedding and clause fusion.

Chapter 10. Syntactic Theory and the Theory of Language

The last chapter summarises the main points argued in the book. It
also states that Radical Construction Grammar is a theory of syntax,
not a theory of language. Croft devotes much of the chapter to
summarising the theory of language he has put forward in his book
"Explaining Language Change: An Evolutionary Approach".


This is a very important book. It gathers intra- and inter-linguistic
evidence that point at the centrality and relativity of the notion of
construction; it presents an in-depth discussion of grammatical
relations thus revealing problematic hidden assumptions; it argues for
universality on the basis of our common cognitive processes but also
recognises the importance of language as a system capable of
influencing grammatical codification; it shifts the focus of attention
to the notion of function. Moreover, Croft weaves his ideas and
critical analyses into a coherent picture that exposes the
contradictory foundations of much of modern linguistic theory
(viz. the circularity of syntactic argumentation). For all these
reasons, Croft's book is a must-read for all those interested in
grammatical theory and typology.

There are, however, some points I would like to comment on. The length
of the following subsection, compared to the previous paragraph, does
not imply by any means that I am retracting from my very positive
evaluation of the book. Rather, I am going to dwell on some issues
which I hope might be of some use in a new edition of this important

1) Compatibility and lexical semantics

I think that an explicit comparison between Croft's Radical
Construction Grammar and Langacker's Cognitive Grammar would be much
needed. To be sure, Croft's syntactic theory is radical in the sense
that it questions the basic assumptions of formal analyses and rejects
its primitives by showing that syntactic categories are not unitary
either cross-linguistically or inter-linguistically. Nevertheless, it
seems that Croft's theory is compatible with Langacker's Cognitive
Grammar (see end of p.6 and Section 2.4 for example). If the two
theories are indeed compatible, could we not regard Radical
Construction Grammar as an application of Cognitive Grammar to
typological analysis? In other words, is Radical Construction Grammar
a "new" theory with respect to Cognitive Grammar? Of course,
differences between the two Grammars do exist, but it remains to be
shown whether they are substantial.

Consider the notion of "subject" for instance . In Cognitive Grammar,
"subject" is regarded as a universal notion ultimately based on the
(perceptual) distinction between trajector and landmark by being
defined as the clause-level trajector (i.e. the schematic definition
of subject). On the other hand, Croft denies the existence of the
notion of "subject" as a universal concept. This however has to do
with the fact that Croft approaches the notion "subject" by using a
bottom-up approach (i.e. distributional facts) and does not rely on a
(schematic) semantic characterisation. Hence, we can conclude that the
same label "subject" is used to refer to different notions by the two

Similarly, it is not clear to me if Croft's definitions of profile
equivalent and semantic head (see Chapter 7) imply a "radically"
different view from Langacker's profile determinant other than a
difference in emphasis. One may also add the observation that Croft's
definitions do not rest on explicitly articulated notions (e.g. what
is the difference between the notions "to profile" and "to describe"?,
what does "a kind of thing" mean technically? what is a "constituent"
in the definition of semantic head?). In some cases, genuine contrasts
seem to exist. For instance, Langacker seems to rely much more on
"lexical" polysemy than Croft. Just to make an example, Langacker
(1999) analyses cases such as "I washed the car" vs. "I washed the mud
off the car" as involving two lexical variants of "wash", thus
proposing that "wash" is polysemous. However, other cases similar to
the latter example seem to involve constructional rather than lexical
semantics (thus possibly lending support to Croft's proposal
concerning the primacy of constructions). Consider "She frightened an
admission out of him" and "She kissed the anxiety away from him",
where the "removal" interpretation probably does not depend on the
verbs' being polysemous but on the type of construction into which
such verbs are inserted (i.e. a "removal" construction). Hence, the
interaction between lexical semantics and constructional semantics
should also be worth addressing within Radical Construction
Grammar. In sum, as I pointed out in my summary of Chapter 1 above, a
FAQ along the lines of "What are the main differences between Radical
Construction Grammar and Langacker's Cognitive Grammar?" would be a
useful addition (especially for those familiar with the latter

2) Meaning: Why not a radical semantics?

The second point (which is related to the first) involves the role of
meaning in Croft's theory. He explicitly states (see end of p.62) that
"one of the reasons why this book is half the length of its nearest
counterparts ... is that the latter volumes (especially Langacker's)
discuss semantic issues at greater length than I do
here. Nevertheless, it possible to discuss - and resolve- fundamental
issues in syntactic theory without presenting a full-fledged semantic
theory...". Although Croft's theory is a syntactic theory (cf. p.3),
meaning is what it ultimately rests upon. Hence, one would expect a
more detailed explanation of the underlying semantic assumptions
despite his disclaimer. This is especially so because some assumptions
may not be clear to the reader. A couple of examples will suffice.

On p.87, Croft states that the semantic classes of objects, properties
and actions "are defined in terms of four semantic properties", namely
relationality, stativity, transitoriness, gradability. Does this imply
that such semantic properties can be defined or assumed as unitary
concepts (i.e. they don't exhibit a prototype structure for example)?
Why do these properties suffice? In other words, why does a radical
investigation have to involve syntax only and not semantics as well?

Although the distinction between the act of predication and that of
modification (see p.66) is intuitively clear, how can we be sure that
it is always possible to neatly distinguish between the two (and the
same holds good of the act of denotation vs. the act of modification)?
Consider the sentence "John lives poorly". Which is the predicating
element in this sentence? Does the verb "live" ascribes something to
the referent? Intuitively, what is predicated of John here is that he
seems to be in a state of poverty. Further, Croft states that in
Hengeveld's analysis (see Chapter 2), "the semantic difference between
"big" [property] and "big one" [object] is considered to be irrelevant
by Hengeveld". Still, is such conceptual difference psychologically
relevant or salient to the conceptualiser? What does such a difference
consist of in more detail?

Similarly, is it always possible to distinguish between an object and
a property? For example, "happiness" is regarded as the property word
"happy" being used as a referring expression. Would this line of
reasoning mean that "beauty" (vs. "beautiful") is an object word? And
if this is so, why is the notion of "beauty" primarily an object and
"happiness" primarily a property?

Developing his universal-typological theory of parts of speech, Croft
states (p.88) that object and property words can be used as predicates
as in "That is a cypress" and "That cypress is big". Does this mean
that the words in question bear the whole burden of the semantics of
the construction(s)? Is it not the case that such words are used not
as predicates, but in a predicate-construction (i.e. their function is
always the same, but such function does not correspond to that of the
whole sentence)?

In sum, since semantic analysis and conceptualisation are crucial in
Radical Construction Grammar, perhaps some notions should be discussed
in much more detail. This is also related to the need to show what
cognitive processes are relevant to grammatical organization and
whether such processes might also be relative (i.e. some languages use
only a subset of possible processes).

3) Typological data

Not being a typologist, I am not in a position to judge the
extraordinary wealth of data Croft presents. Still, I have some doubts
about the examples presented in Section 6.2.1, which aim to show that
elements linked by a so-called syntactic relation - such a notion is
rejected by Croft - are not necessarily linked semantically. Croft
reproduces an example from Tzotzil whose English gloss reads "I'll
turn its [the soup's] pot face down. [i.e. the pot that the soup was
cooked in]" (see example (2) on p.209); the important point is that
the original verb's object is "the soup" and not "the pot". Croft
writes (p.209) that "Since the soup is already cooked and out of the
pot, it is implausible to assume that the soup is affected by someone
turning face down the pot it was cooked in." However, more examples
like this would be needed to conclude that this is indeed the
case. Couldn't this be a case of what Langacker calls profile/active
zone asymmetry (i.e. the expression we use actually refers to
something else, e.g. "I'm in the telephone book" talking, of course,
of my telephone number)? Similarly, an example from Tsakhur poses a
very interesting problem (see (7) on p.211). The relevant bit is
glossed as "Ibrahim-Pasha quietly took the handbag and went away". The
point is that the Adverb "quietly" agrees with the Absolutive NP
"handbag", which does not make much sense semantically. Nevertheless,
this seems to be the case if we rely on the English translation
"quietly" since handbags cannot be "quiet". But couldn't one think of
a scenario where the handbag (by being moved) produces some kind of
noise (e.g. by coming into contact with the surrounding furniture) and
hence describe the scenario in which no noise occurs as involving a
"quiet" handbag? To put it differently, a more detailed semantic
analysis of the language(s) in question is needed which does not
simply rely on English translations.

4) Syntax and other definitions

Croft describes his theory as a theory of syntax (see p.3). Later on,
however, (see p.17) he writes "[C]onstruction grammar's great
attraction as a theory of grammar-not just syntax..." and on p.26 he
states, for example, that the Ditransitive construction [SBJ DITRVERB
OBJ1 OBJ2] does not specify the order of elements. An explicit
definition of what he regards as "syntax" might be needed. It seems to
me that such a term is used in more than one sense, having to do both
with word combination (cf. Table 1.3) and, more generally, with form
(as opposed to meaning) (cf. p.3, where syntax is taken as a synonym
for "grammatical structures that are assumed to be represented in the
mind of a speaker"). In sum, a glossary of many of the concepts
introduced throughout the book (especially because of its length and
complexity) might be useful to the reader (cf. the very useful
glossary in Langacker's "Foundations of Cognitive Grammar").

5) Psychological evidence

The final point I would like to raise has to do with psychological
evidence. Croft explicitly claims that he is dealing with "grammatical
structures that are assumed to be represented in the mind of a
speaker". Hence, psychological evidence for this claim should be
included in the book. In some cases, such evidence is strongly needed.
For example, Croft argues that his grammatical model (which dispenses
with syntactic relations in the sense of formal analyses) is
compatible with successful communication (see Chapter 6). However, his
arguments are not based on actual experiments carried out with
speakers but rest on conceptual plausibility.

I conclude my review by listing some typos.

p.13 description of example (7): "Null Noun Phrase in Infinitive
Complement "controlled" by Main Clause Subject". The null NP is
controlled by the Main Clause Object.

p.27, tenth line from the bottom, 'gammar' should be 'grammar'

p.49, first line, "a set of features each of which in essence indexed
whether ..." should read "a set of features each of which is in essence
indexed whether ..."

p.74, tenth line from the bottom: (31), not (85)

p.91 (definition of behavioural potential), no. (85), second line:
"that it is found..." for "then it is found ..."

p.129, penultimate line of section 3.3.: 'unversality'

p.139 brackets missing around 11 and 12 in the line separating the
actual examples

p.153 comma not full stop after "Wardaman", second line above example

p.163, (88) to be replaced with (87)

p.184 "English predicated adjective construction", capitals needed,
second line above (16)

p.191 (37a) not (36a)

p.209 the abbreviation PF is not included in the abbreviations list

p.214 "given", not "give", second line above (14)

p.217 (22a-d), not (21a-d), last line of the page and third line from
the bottom of the page

p. 274 right bracket needed for (see Section 9.2.2

p.290 explication, not expli-cating, penultime line of Section 8.2

p.357 (87)-(89), not (86)-(89)

p.368 (References) Aissen ... "... structure", not "structurei"


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Cristiano Broccias holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Pavia (Italy). This academic year he has been teaching English Language at the University of Genoa (Italy) and Pavia. He is currently revising his Ph.D. thesis "The English Change Network" and looking for a post for next year. His research interests include Cognitive Linguistics and the grammar of contemporary English (especially "change constructions").