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Cognitive Linguistics

Editor-in-Chief: Newman, John

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Alternation-based generalizations are stored in the mental grammar: Evidence from a sorting task experiment

Florent Perek,
  • Albert-Ludwigs Universität Freiburg & Université Lille III
  • :
Published Online: 2012-07-17 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cog-2012-0018


According to constructional approaches, grammar consists of an inventory of symbolic pairings of a syntactic form with an abstract meaning. Many of such so-called constructions can be perceived as having highly similar meanings: such pairs have been discussed under the name of alternations, especially in the domain of argument structure, for example the widely documented dative alternation (e.g. John gave Mary a book vs. John gave a book to Mary). This paper explores what status such pairs of constructions can be given in construction grammar, on the basis of a sorting task experiment.

Construction grammar traditionally recognizes generalizations of a common syntactic form over semantically similar sentences, but the status of higher-level generalizations of a common meaning over syntactically different forms is rarely discussed. In our study, we devised a sorting task that subjects could resolve by relying on generalizations of either of these two kinds. We find that subjects rely on alternation-based generalizations more often than purely constructional ones in their sorting behavior. We suggest these results show that generalizations of a common meaning between formally different constructions are plausible categories stored by speakers and should be given more attention in construction grammar research.

Keywords: construction grammar; argument structure; alternations; generalizations; sorting task

Received: 2011-07-18

Accepted: 2012-03-31

Published Online: 2012-07-17

Published in Print: 2012-08-28

Citation Information: . Volume 23, Issue 3, Pages 601–635, ISSN (Online) 1613-3641, ISSN (Print) 0936-5907, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cog-2012-0018, July 2012

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