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last updated 12 April 2008
This 25-page summary of Word Grammar has (at last) been published in the Handbook of
Cognitive Linguistics, edited by Hubert Cuyckens and Dirk Geeraerts (Oxford
University Press, 2007: 509-542). The first draft was written in May 2001, and this revision
was written in July 2003.
The main claim of WG is that language is a conceptual network. The paper
explains this idea and draws various general conclusions:
- the language network supports spreading activation although it is
itself fully declarative;
- it allows degrees of 'entrenchment' of links (rather than nodes);
- it is 'open' to links with other parts of the total conceptual network,
rather than modular; but there are sub-networks with relatively dense
- it defines concepts entirely by their links to other concepts, so
labels are redundant.
A subsidiary claim is that the conceptual network includes 'isa' relations
(for classification) which support multiple default inheritance. This
too has various general consequences which are explained:
- default inheritance explains prototype effects without involving 'fuzziness'
in the concepts themselves;
- experience is classified by applying the Best Fit principle which
selects the best global fit;
- spreading activation narrows the search for alternatives which must
be considered either in applying default inheritance or in applying
the Best Fit principle;
- relationships can themselves be classified in an 'isa' hierarchy.
The paper draws more specific consequences for the main areas of language:
- the lexicon is not distinct from the grammar;
- morphology, both inflectional and derivational, is a network of morphological
functions (e.g. 'stem'), words, word classes and morphemes;
- syntax is a network of dependencies among individual words;
- lexical semantics is a network of concepts in which 'linguistic' and
'encyclopedic' are not distinguishable;
- compositional semantics is a network of concepts which combines those
of lexical semantics with the dependencies of syntax;
- sociolinguistic information is a network which combines words and
- processing involves activation of the network;
- learning involves expansion by making token nodes permanent.