From idioms to sentence structures and beyond

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The paper will explore the theoretical scope of the concept “construction”, as envisaged in Constructional approaches to grammar. Starting from the Role and Reference Grammar notion of Constructions, as represented in “Constructional Schemas”, it will be argued that Constructional Schemas as representations of linguistic knowledge can be used not only for language specific constructions, but for the wide range of argument structure and sentence structure constructions as well. This will be exemplified by extensive discussions of two well known German construction types, which are the bekommen-passive, a passive three-place argument structure construction, and the bracket structure, which is a sentence structure pattern that forms the basis of many syntactic phenomena in German. It will be argued that the Construction in this sense is to be treated as a “grammatical object”, whose use is systematically constrained by context factors and also by lexical-semantic factors. The Constructional Schemas give an extensive representation of the constructions by providing the constraints of their use, the constraints for their recognition in a stream of speech or writing, their syntax, their semantics, morphology and pragmatics. The model of constructional schemas caters for real-time processing in a workspace. The notion of constructional knowledge for the processing of linguistic utterances is then taken a step further and expanded to include constructions whose use and functionality is not mainly based on grammatical knowledge, but rather on cultural knowledge. Some “idioms” do not “work” on their own, but require a very subtle mix of culturally acquired background knowledge and situational factors, and their use is deeply embedded in basic behavioural patterns in a society of speakers. I will introduce three speech act constructions, which do not exhibit the form-function correlation that is generally described for the linguistic realisation of illocutionary force, and explain their pragmatic effects by adhering to Dawkin’s notion of the cultural unit “meme” and Wittgenstein’s idea of “life form”.


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