last changed 21 November 2009
(Fairly) new: Richard Hudson. 2007. Language Networks. The new Word Grammar. Oxford University Press.
Forthcoming: Richard Hudson. 2010. An Introduction to Word Grammar. Cambridge University Press.
Historical background to Word Grammar
Word Grammar is a theory of language structure which Richard
(= Dick) Hudson has been building since the early 1980's. (From now
on, `I' = Dick Hudson.) It is still changing in detail, but the main ideas
are still the same. These ideas themselves developed out of two other theories
that I had tried: Systemic Grammar (now known as Systemic
Functional Grammar), due to Michael Halliday, and then Daughter-Dependency
Grammar, my own invention. My first book was the first attempt to write
a generative (explicit) version of Systemic Grammar (`English Complex Sentences:
An introduction to Systemic Grammar', North Holland, 1971); and my second
book was about Daughter-Dependency Grammar (`Arguments for a Non- transformational
Grammar', Chicago UP, 1976). As the latter title indicates, Chomsky's transformational
grammar was very much `in the air', and both books accepted his goal of
generative grammar but offered other ideas about sentence structure as alternatives
to his mixture of function-free phrase structure plus transformations. In
the late 1970's I abandoned Daughter- Dependency Grammar (in spite of a
rave review by Paul Schachter in Language 54, 348-76!) partly because of
a preoccupation with sociolinguistics (which led to a textbook in 1980),
and partly in order to explore various general ideas that didn't come together
into a coherent `theory' until about 1982. This was Word Grammar, first
described in the 1984 book `Word Grammar'. Since then the details have been
worked out much better, and there is now a workable notation.
The main ideas of Word Grammar
Here are the main ideas, together with an indication of where they came
- It presents language as a network of knowledge, linking concepts
about words, their meanings, etc. - e.g. the word "dog" is linked to the meaning `dog', to the form /dog/, to the word-class `noun', etc. (From Lamb's Stratificational Grammar, now known as Neurocognitive Linguistics)
- If language is a network, then it is possible to decide what kind of network it is (e.g. it seems to be a scale-free small-world network) - this is the province of graph theory, which has generated a large number of studies of language networks.
- It is monostratal - only one structure per sentence, no transformations.
(From Systemic Grammar)
- It uses word-word dependencies - e.g. a noun is the subject of a
verb. (From John Anderson and other users of Dependency
Grammmar, via Daughter Dependency Grammar, a reaction against Systemic
Grammar where word-word dependencies are mediated by the features of
the mother phrase.)
- It does not use phrase structure - e.g. it does not recognise a noun
phrase as the subject of a clause, though these phrases are implicit
in the dependency structure. (This is the main difference between Daughter
Dependency Grammar and Word Grammar. I don't know where it came from.)
- It shows grammatical relations/functions by explicit labels - e.g.
`subject' and `object'. (From Systemic Grammar)
- It uses features only for inflectional contrasts that are mentioned in agreement rules - e.g. number
but not trense or transitivity. (A reaction against excessive use of features
in both Systemic Grammar and current Transformational Grammar.)
- It uses default inheritance, as a very general way of capturing the
contrast between `basic' or `underlying' patterns and `exceptions' or
`transformations' - e.g. by default, English words follow the word they
depend on, but exceptionally subjects precede it; particular cases `inherit'
the default pattern unless it is explicitly overridden by a contradictory
rule. (From Artificial Intelligence)
- It views concepts as prototypes rather than `classical' categories
that can be defined by necessary and sufficient conditions. All characteristics
(i.e. all links in the network) have equal status, though some may for
pragmatic reasons be harder to override than others. (From Lakoff and
early Cognitive Linguistics , supported
by work in sociolinguistics)
- In this network there are no clear boundaries between different areas
of knowledge - e.g. between `lexicon' and `grammar', or between `linguistic
meaning' and `encyclopedic knowledge'; language is not a separate module of cognition. (From early Cognitive Linguistics - and the facts!)
- In particular, there is no clear boundary between `internal' and
`external' facts about words, so a grammar should be able to incorporate sociolinguistic facts - e.g. the speaker of "sidewalk" is an American.
If you're a real beginner in linguistics, you might like to look at a free on-line introduction to linguistics by Michael Gasser which takes a cognitive and functionalist view that I feel comfortable with.
WG for graduate linguists
Books about WG
- Gisborne, Nik (forthcoming in 2010?) The event structure of perception verbs
- Trousdale, Graeme (forthcoming in 2010?) English Sociolinguisics.
- Hudson, Richard (forthcoming in 2010) An Introduction to Word Grammar.
- Hudson, Richard. 2007: Language Networks. The new Word Grammar.
- Sugayama and Hudson (eds) 2006: Word Grammar. New perspectives on a theory of language structure
- Ninio, Anat. 2006:Language and the learning curve: A new theory of syntactic development.
- Holmes, Jasper. 2005: Lexical properties of English verbs.
- Hudson, Richard. 1998: English Grammar (Routledge). A very elementary text in the same series as `Word Meaning'. It takes students through all the basic structures of English, using WG ideas and notation but with very little discussion of the theory itself. By the end of the one-term course, students can do a partial syntactic analysis of virtually every word in any English text.
- Hudson, Richard. 1996: Sociolinguistics (2nd edition; Cambridge University Press). An undergraduate textbook covering the whole of sociolinguistics,
but from a very WG perspective (which nobody seems to have noticed!).
- Hudson, Richard. 1995: Word Meaning (Routledge) A very elementary introduction to lexical semantics for first-year undergraduates, but it uses a lot of WG ideas (and notations).
- Hudson, Richard. 1990: English Word Grammar (Blackwell) A more ambitious attempt to integrate these ideas with ideas about default inheritance and processing, and to build a wide-coverage grammar of English. Considered pretty tough by students! 400+ pages, now out of print. For more information and downloadable material, click here.
- Hudson, Richard. 1984: Word Grammar (Blackwell) First attempt to think through the consequences of abandoning phrase-structure in favour of dependency structure. A research monograph, rather dated now.
Perhaps the most accessible source of detailed information is the Encyclopedia of English Grammar and Word Grammar, which is about 140
pages single-spaced including diagrams and can be used in hypertext mode.
It includes a sample analysed text (the first 100 words from Stephen Pinker's
`Language Instinct'), which illustrates the analytical system described
in the encyclopedia. I can supply a free paper copy just of the diagrams
if these won't print on your system.
Another fairly accessible site is the set of handouts for a course on Dependency Grammar (especially WG) that I gave in August
2000 at a summer school for research students (ESSLLI). Somewhat longer
but at a lower level is the teaching material for the last undergraduate course on WG that I taught.
The following are short introductory articles about WG.
- Hudson, R (2004) Word Grammar (5000 words for the 2nd edition of the Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics)
- Hudson, R (2003) Word Grammar (5000 words for the forthcoming Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics)
- Hudson, R (2002) Word Grammar (a 30-page introduction).
- Hudson, R (2000) Word Grammar. Draft of a very short article for the second edition of the Oxford International Encyclopedia of Linguistics.
- Hudson, R. (1994) Word Grammar. In R. Asher (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, Pergamon Press, 4990-3. (With a 1997 postscript)
- Hudson, R. and Van Langendonck, W. (1991) Word Grammar. In F Droste and J E Joseph (eds.) Linguistic Theory and Grammatical Description. Benjamins, 307-336.
Full WG bibliography
Most of the other publications are research articles.
- Those by me can be
found via my home
page, and the recent ones can be downloaded.
- Those by Anat Ninio are available on her website.
- There is a full
bibliography (not up to date, unfortunately) which can be downloaded.
The WG list and discussion group
We have a collective email existence: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can subscribe
to this list on the
JISCMAIL web site for the WG list. If you have problems, email either me or And
Rosta, who set the list up and runs it.
Sometimes the debate seems almost non-stop - if this worries you, be
assured that it will die down eventually, and meanwhile you're very welcome
to join in.
Alternative theories and web sites
There are a dozen or so theories of language in general, and of grammar
in particular (and even more particularly, of syntax with or without semantics).
As explained in the outline of the main ideas, most of the ideas in WG can
be found in other theories, though no other theory offers this particular
combination. For those who want to explore alternatives, here is a list
of what I see as the main alternatives to WG. Where the theory concerned
has a web site I supply a cross-link. (Please tell
me of any web-sites that I've omitted.)
Tools for using WG (and other) networks
Networks are too complicated to work by hand, so we need software tools. So far (mid 2005) we have two:
- WGNet++ - displays a network on screen and allows you to edit it and explore it. Built 2002-4, no longer developing.
- Babbage - a growing suite of software for exploiting a network (WG or other) using spreading activation, default inheritance and binding. (For access, apply to me.)