The conception of constructions as complex signs
Emergence of structure and reduction to usage
Generally, construction based approaches to grammar consider constructions to be pairings of form and meaning and thus as a kind of signs, not essentially distinct from words and other lexical items. Granting this commonality, Langacker (2005) criticizes other varieties of constructional approaches for using the notion ‘grammatical form’, and for not reducing the properties of grammar to the more fundamental and minimal notions of sound, meaning, and symbolic links between these two. While such a reduction is definitely worth pursuing, if only for reasons of general scientific interest, the abstract forms postulated in Cognitive Grammar (schematic sound patterns) are so general that they represent ‘any sound’, which threatens the very basis for the assumption that constructions are a kind of signs. I will argue that a usage-based view of sign-formation (Keller 1998), allows us to understand how the recognition of an element as belonging to a particular class of elementary signs can come to function as a signal for a specific linguistic environment (a construction), and produce a level of structure (categories of more elementary signs and relations between them) intermediate between sound and meaning that has its own (emergent) properties, which can still be reduced to more basic phenomena of processing and language use.
Published online: 11 June 2009
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