Construction Grammars

keywords: NLP, AI, Reasoning

  • Sign-based Construction Grammar
  1. There is a cline of grammatical phenomena from the totally general to the totally idiosyncratic.
  2. Everything on this cline is to be stated in a common format, from the most particular, such as individual words, to the most general, such as principles for verb position, with many sub-regularities in between. That is, there is no principled divide between "lexicon" and "rules."
  3. At the level of phrasal syntax, pieces of syntax connected to meaning in a conventionalized and partially idiosyncratic way are captured by constructions.

Productive and semi-productive constructions

Toolkits and constructions

Organization and indexing of lexical material

Constraints, preferences

Qualia, dot objects, co-composition

(Autonomous semantics)

Phrase and sentence meanings are composed from the meanings of the words plus independent principles for constructing meanings, only some of which correlate with syntactic structure. Moreover, some syntactic structures express elements of meaning (not just arrangements of elements) that are not conveyed by individual words.

Words (10,000s)

Fixed expressions

a. all hands on deck

b. Any friend of yours is a friend of mine.

c. faster than a speeding bullet

d. weapons of mass destruction

e. Can't Buy Me Love

f. The Grapes of Wrath


a. kick the bucket

b. take NP to task [note: discontinuous]

c. son of a gun

d. down in the dumps

Noncanonical utterance types

a. PP with NP: Off with his head! Into the trunk with you!

b. How about X? How about a cup of coffee? How about we have a little talk?

c. NP+acc Pred? What, me worry? Him in an accident? John drunk? (Akmajian 1984)

d. NP and S One more beer and I'm leaving. One more step and I shoot. (Culicover 1972)

e. Scores The Red Sox 4, the Yankees 3.

f. The more ... The more I read, the less I understand. (McCawley 1988, Culicover and Jackendoff 1999)

Syntactic nuts


Names of geographic features

Focus reduplication (SALAD-salad)

N-P-N dollar for dollar, face to face

Smooth transition from idiosyncratic structures to very general principles

  1. VP idiom - no variables: [VP [V kick] [NP [Det the] [N bucket]]]
  2. VP idioms with variable: [VP [V take] NP [PP [P to] [NP task]]]
  3. [VP V [NP pro's head] [Prt off]]
  4. VP structure with more variables: [VP V (NP) (PP)]
  5. Head parameter for VP: [VP V ....]
  6. X-bar theory: [XP ... X ...]