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Word Grammar

Richard Hudson

last updated 12 April 2008

Bibliographical information

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 internal connections;
  • 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 social categories;
  • processing involves activation of the network;
  • learning involves expansion by making token nodes permanent.