Construction grammars: Cognitive grounding and theoretical extensions

Construction grammars: Cognitive grounding and theoretical extensions. Ed. by Jan-Ola Östman and Mirjam Fried. (Constructional approaches to language 3.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2005. Pp. 324. ISBN 9027218234. $138 (Hb).

Reviewed by Sandra Cristina Becker, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais

Inherently tied to Charles Fillmore’s theorizing, construction grammar (CG) has reached a consistent status grounded in the idea that grammar is an inventory of constructions. Considered here the primary unit of grammar, a construction is a grammatical pattern whose form-meaning pairings have different degrees of productivity and complexity. Devised in part to counteract the reductionist views of syntax and semantics, CG has integrated approaches that characterize much of the current research on language and mind.

Written in a clear and engaging style, this book brings together nine papers that constitute an interesting report on the view that social and linguistic interactions are intrinsically underpinned by cognitive processes. The contributions are grouped in two parts that respond to distinct questions. The first part addresses theoretical issues that were extended from the original assumptions of CG. Conversely, the second part focuses on different versions of the theory, bringing up distinct ‘construction grammars’.

In their introduction to the volume, Jan-Ola Östman and Mirjam Fried present the tenets of CG and delineate its cognitive dimension. Their account of the dawn of CG provides the reader with consistent historical background. Additionally, the authors address interesting issues that highlight CG’s increasing importance in the linguistic research world.

Part 1 begins with a paper by Adele Goldberg, who provides a welcome contribution on argument realization, supporting the importance of the notion of construction in her analysis. In Ch. 3, Laura A. Michaelis brilliantly explores coercion through the lens of the construction-based model. Jaakko Leino brings the connections between syntactic and semantic structures into focus in Ch. 4. He explores the relation between cognitive grammar and CG. Ch. 5 constitutes a ‘prolegomenon’ proposed by Östman. The author argues in favor of taking discourse specificities into consideration to provide a holistic account of CG’s cognitive foundation.

The shift toward the usage-based approach in CG has inspired the development of several corpus-based methodologies of constructional analysis. Some such members of the CG family are described in the second part. Benjamin K. Bergen and Nancy Chang present the embodied construction grammar in Ch. 6, and turn the spotlight toward the notion of embodied schemas. In Ch. 7, Urpo Nikanne discusses constructions within the conceptual semantics approach, exploring the links between conceptual and syntactic levels of representation. In Ch. 8, Jasper W. Holmes and Richard Hudson provide the reader with a brief introduction to word grammar (WG) and examine the similarities and divergences between WG and CG. Particularly interesting is the contrast between the ‘vanilla’ versions of CG and the radical construction grammar proposed by William Croft in Ch. 9.

At the heart of all of the studies in this volume is the need to see constructions as a basic unit of grammar. Altogether, the insights presented provide a useful platform for discussions in the field of the cognitive and constructive nature of grammar. Therefore, it makes available an excellent and well-structured debate recommended for students as well as scholars with an interest in linguistic analysis.