Tag Archives: Construction Grammar

How Children’s Overgeneralizations in Construction Use Informs Second Language Acquisition and the Negotiation of Meaning

The acquisition of abstract grammatical constructions represents the maturation of a child’s linguistic productivity.  This productivity means that a child can take constructions that have already been learned and extend the application of the construction by using different words.

One way to identify if the child has utilized a new construction in a productive way is to look for overgeneralizations in the application of the construction.  For instance, things that sound like mistakes in a child’s speech might actually represent the analogical extension of a learned construction into new lexical territory to attempt to communicate something that the child understands, but which is outside of the acquired bank of constructions.  Children sometimes use intransitive verbs in a transitive construction.  While this overgeneralization of the transitive construction is ungrammatical, it does represent an attempt at productive use of learned lexical concepts in learned constructions.  Adults encountering overgeneralizations may be able to determine what the child is attempting to communicate as the actual utterance represents an encoding of a concept with the construction as the foundation of meaning with the intransitive verb as the domain of meaning.  “He falled me down” (Bowerman 1982, cited in Tomasello 2003) is an attested case which indicates that the child has not acquired the appropriate transitive verb to describe the situation of being knocked over, even though the child has acquired the transitive construction.

This is a strategy of innovation in conversation, and may have insight for second language acquisition; when a construction for a particular concept is known, but the lexical particulars are unknown, adapting lexical particulars that account for the general concept and using them in a known construction permits the fielding of the ill-formed utterance and enabling the negotiation of meaning to take place.

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Intention Directing, Self-Reporting, and the Transitive Constructions in Early Childhood Grammar (preschool, 2-5 years old)

Group of children in a primary school in Paris

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Since constructions are learned through usage, constructions are accumulated as individual entities that begin to form collections and these collections of constructions begin to exhibit type frequency.  I think that this type frequency represents an aspect of the nature of child conceptualization, and indeed, it enables the communication of conceptualization in relational behavior from early ages.  This post explores a little about my extension of Tomasello’s analysis of the abstract transitive construction from his book Constructing a Language.

Tomasello divides a list of verbs used in the transitive constructions into four categories: Having Objects, Moving or Transforming Objects, Acting on Objects, and Psychological Activities (150, Tomasello: 2003).  These are not productive constructions until around 3,5; at which point children begin to use the transitive construction with verbs outside of the list presented by Tomasello.  Children use the verbs to indicate Agent and Patient roles in the [Trans-SUBJ Trans-VERB Trans-OBJ] transitive construction.  Looking through the list of verbs presented in Tomasello’s text it is easy to see that children have subjective conceptualizations and are able to begin articulating these ideas.  Verbs like: mean, know, like, help, need, and want represent a complex internal awareness of the interface between the physical/objective world and the mental/subjective world.  This understanding of the descriptive functions of the transitive construction enable the child to foray into relational transactions that involve intention-directing and launch the child into participation in the social world with the means to assert their identity as communicative entities in conversation.  These constructions allow self-reporting of internal states and an articulation of desire that transcends the physical environment.  The child can now make declarations, but also utter imperatives regarding subjective concepts to effect changes in the concrete world.

Interestingly, the early abstract transitive constructions allow the child to place varying degrees of focus on the elements used in the construction.  This is a salience-determining skill that allows the child to manipulate meaning in relation to the Agent and Patient roles, which may be a precursor to learning other constructions like the Passive construction.  Additionally, the emergence of this ability may represent the manifestation of figure-ground distinctions in early child grammar.

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Constructional Islands and the Organization of Language in Child Language Acquisition

Wake Island is a volcanic island that has beco...

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When a child’s multi-word utterances are formed around a particular and limited set of linguistic items (either Nouns or Verbs), Tomasello (2003) terms them “Islands” to emphasize how their structured form clustered around a particular Noun or Verb.  Picture the Noun or Verb at the center of the island.  This is not evident in their other forms which might not be organized around a central lexical item.  So Tomasello claims that the Islands are the beginning elements of organization in an “otherwise unorganized language system” [117].  This reflects how children rely on instances and instance-specific manifestations (tokens) to begin forming the basis for mature adult constructions.  Since children are less able to generalize (as adults do when accessing construction types), they must begin to use specific instances, and upon collecting sufficient instances, begin to expand the territory of their constructional islands into full-on adult constructions.  This reflects the child’s ability to maximize frequency in a usage-based approach.  Their exposure to the centers of their constructional islands is not preprogrammed (as is claimed in a UG framework), but emerges from usage.

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What does Soulwax’s website, DJing, & Construction Grammar have in common?

Soulwax’s website extends an invitation for viewers to participate in DJing as they explore the website.  From my first exposure this has been an amazing experience.  The intuitive guided navigation doubles as a loading of the clips so that your browser cache holds the clip for later manipulation in the mixing.  If you patiently experience each of the clips instead of navigating away from the site, you will get the chance to mix the video loops and beats by clicking your mouse. Continue reading

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Constructions Are “Objects” that Emerge from Patterns of Usage

Construction Grammar is like DJing electronic music.  This is what I mean: in the same way that electronic music is kind of object-oriented in that it takes elements from different pieces of music (loops) and combines the different loops so that they begin to form a new cohesive piece of music, language embodies this principle in its essential nature: we take different pieces of language (constructions) and combine them to form new cohesive utterances.  Constructions in this sense are “Objects”. Continue reading

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Correction about the Goldberg Book in CogLing 100 book list…

I got a comment today on the CogLing 100 Book List page from a person with a slightly suspicious email address that I didn’t want to publish, but the content of the comment was very appropriate and I wanted to post that comment content and my response:


Great list! It’s very balanced across different approaches and viewpoints.

I just wanted to point out a few corrections:

1. Lexical Semantics (#8) was written by Cruse, not Croft.
2. Adele Goldberg did not write a book called Cognitive Linguistics (#17). I think you mean Constructions: A Construction Grammar approach to argument structure.
3. Taylor’s Linguistic Categorization is listed twice (#19 and #57).

Also, I think Croft’s Radical Construction Grammar should be on this list.

My response:

Thank you! I did some of this list from memory, which explains the Croft/Cruse mix-up…also, according to Routledge.com, Adele Goldberg is the editor for a series volume called Cognitive Linguistics [http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415574938/] due out June 2011. Although I haven’t read it, I included it because the length of the book suggests that it will be a definitive work…not to mention the fact that it is full of primary readings from major theorists in CogLing.

Thanks for catching the duplicate Taylor entry, I changed #57 to the Goldberg book you suggested.

As for Croft’s Radical Construction Grammar, I have added it as #101.

Thanks for helping me make these corrections!

– R

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CogDef #1 (cognitive definitions)

I have several friends who are strict Generativists/Formalists and I want to start a little series that summarizes information about topics that sometimes get muddled up in cross-theoretical discussions.  This is the first in the series.

In the Cognitive Enterprise semantics drives the modeling in grammar (which is why it is a functional model). Grammar does not strictly mean syntax, as formal theories assume, but entails the entire package of language. Here is how we break down the approaches to semantics and syntax:

  1. Cognitive Semantics is used as a lens to view the conceptual structure and conceptualization
  2. Cognitive Grammar is used to view the cognitive principles that give rise to linguistic orientation
  3. Construction Grammar is used to view the units that emerge from cognitive semantics & comprise the grammar.

Going back through Evans & Green I found that I had written these definitions in the margin of page 49, hopefully they are clear.


Evans. V. & Green. M. (2006). Cognitive Linguistics, an introduction, LEA

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Lady Gaga Is Her Own Black Box

Sorry about the obtuse title, I don’t know how to name this odd post that integrates multiple concepts that tangentially relate.  Hopefully the ambiguity of description entices you to read.

It seems to me, that because Cognitive Semantics is constructional rather than compositional, it is suited for integration with Object Oriented Philosophy.

This statement might get some negative reactions, but I am learning, so, bring on the criticism.

Here is why I think Constructions are better suited for OOO than a strict Compositional approach: at the level of a relation between two hierarchies, concepts which construct do not need to regard the hierarchical levels as boundaries which must be maintained, in other words, a hierarchical element on level 5 in hierarchy A does not have to match across hierarchies to another hierarchical element on level 5 in hierarchy B. Continue reading

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