last updated 17 June 2010

I am gradually bringing the articles up to date in line with the changes in WG since 2002. Meanwhile, please tell me how it could be made better - thanks.

Who wrote it, and for whom?

This encyclopedia is by Richard Hudson, who wrote it originally for second-year undergraduates at UCL who were taking his course on Word Grammar. That was in 1996, since when he revised it several times, most recently in 2002. He's now re-cycling it as part of the website supporting his 2010 textbook, An Introduction to Word Grammar. But it's really intended for anyone interested in either Word Grammar or English grammar or (better still) how English grammar looks when viewed through the lense of Word Grammar.

Why an encyclopedia?

The most general claim of Word Grammar (WG) is that knowledge is organised as a network of concepts which define one another. (Click "network" to go straight to the entry.) Not surprisingly, then, the same should be true of anyone's knowledge of any particular subject, including their knowledge of WG, and any presentation of that knowledge should take account of this fact.

An ordinary textbook presentation is misleading, because it assumes a much more orderly structure in which ideas can be lined up and introduced in order, one at a time and without presupposing any ideas later in the queue.

Unfortunately for all of us, both teachers and students, knowledge isn't organised so tidily: there is no obvious starting point, and wherever we start, we wish we could have started somewhere else as well. Is it best to teach history forwards or backwards? Should you start science in the simple but unfamiliar world of atoms, or in the complicated but familiar world of people, bodies, behaviour and so on?

The same is true of language structure, but more so because language is the area of human experience where the words 'system' and 'structure' are most clearly appropriate. For example, anyone who has tried to teach elementary grammar knows that you can't explain word classes without referring to grammatical functions, and vice versa.

The great advantage of an encyclopedia is that it does not try to organise knowledge sequentially; articles are arranged purely in alphabetical order, so the first entry is for Aardvark (not a basic notion in anyone's world view!). If the encyclopedia is electronic and works by cross-links, even the alphabetic order becomes irrelevant. At the same time, an encyclopedia is integrated, so that (in principle at any rate) all the entries should support each other: the entry for Aardvark refers to South Africa, which has its own entry, and so on.

When you use an encyclopedia, you don't begin at the beginning, as you might do with other books; you open it because you want to find out about some specific topic, so if you're lucky you will be able to go straight to the entry for that topic. You can solve your main problem if you can understand this entry, but it may in turn raise further sub-problems which send you off to other entries, and so on, until you reach the point where you need (or can take) no more.

So much for the familiar world of encyclopedias. The point of this discussion is that the same seems to be true of all the knowledge we have in our heads. It too is organised in entries ('concepts') each of which carries a certain amount of information; and this information is defined in terms of other concepts which in turn have their own entries and which can be found by following links - either alphabetic links or electronic links, according to how you are using the encyclopedia. There is no 'right' place to start in consulting your own knowledge any more than there is a right place to start an encyclopedia, as it all depends on your current needs.

From a pedagogical point of view, I hope this format will prove to be helpful to students as a resource that they can use when needed. The network structure is clearly not a suitable model for academic courses, because timetables and progression require a linear structure, but it is important for students to be constantly reminded of the network structure of what they are learning, because it is all too easy to believe that the aim of a course is to learn a list of isolated facts or skills. This is never so, least of all in the study of language. Rather, the student's job is to build facts and skills into a rich network in which every part supports and is supported by a few other parts. This is what we all mean by 'understanding'.

Having said all that, though, knowledge does show some clusters, though none of these have clear boundaries. This is at least as true of language as it is of other areas of knowledge, so we have traditional divisions of the subject: syntax, semantics, phonology and so on.

The nature of these divisions is one of the hot topics in current linguistics, so high linguistic theory actually meets pedagogy in an important way. How clear are the boundaries between different parts of language? And where are they? According to Word Grammar there are no 'natural' boundaries in language any more than there are natural divisions in the human body. (See the entry on modularity.) And just like an anatomy student, your aim should be to understand how all the bits fit together. It's all connections and relations, all the way down.

Good luck!

Some suggested entry points

Navigating round the encyclopedia

  • To find an article by name, click the name's first letter in the horizontal lis tin the top panel. A list of articles that start with that letter will open in the left panel. Find the name of the article you're looking for and click it to open it in the main panel. If you want to close the article list in the left panel, just click the red button at the top.
  • To follow links within open articles, just click them to open them within the main panel. To go back use the 'Back' button on your browser.


Thanks to all the following for comments and suggestions which have improved this encyclodedia since I wrote the first draft in 1996:

Paul Butcher, Ralph Campbell, Chet Creider, Yoshinari Fujino, Joe Hilferty, Kensei Sugayama, Michael Turner



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