Research Topic

Defining Construction: Insights into the Emergence and Generation of Linguistic Representations

About this Research Topic

One of the principle objectives of formal linguistic inquiry strives to attain a better understanding of the structural design of human language, its emergence in our species, and its relation to other cognitive abilities (i.e., working memory, processing expectations, etc.). The integration of linguistic inquiry into the larger realm of cognitive science has led to a reappraisal within and across various related disciplines of the nature of linguistic representations. Within this enterprise, one concept that has attracted a lot of attention is the observation that some linguistic knowledge does not relate to individual items, but rather to combinatorial properties.

This has manifested in three distinct ways in the recent literature. Under one view, Hauser et al.’s notion of a significantly reduced Narrow Faculty of Human Language was the cornerstone of numerous proposals within the generative tradition of a computational system that externalizes linguistic output. According to this notion, traditional ‘parameters’, once thought to guide language acquisition during formative stages, are externalized from the Narrow Faculty of Human Language. Approaches that adopt the principle tenets of this architecture are commonly referred to as neo-constructionist to express the intuition that linguistic properties are derived within a configuration, and not just lexically stored.

An alternative view shares many of the same basic intuitions as the theory put forward by Hauser and colleagues. Models rejecting syntactocentrism also invoke the notion of construction to define licit, well-formed representations of linguistic knowledge. On yet another view, constructions are the by-product of more general chunking processes, where structural representations of various sizes are paired with semantic and pragmatic meaning.

Both definitions of the concept of constructions and the principles that govern their generation and well-formedness display a notable amount of similarities (at least superficially), while at the same time, noticeable, foundational differences also exist. These shared and contrasting properties have yet to be analyzed, discussed, and debated in any systematic way, across theories and beyond the more superficial technical implementations favored in each particular proposal. This Research Topic aims to address this gap in the literature in the hopes of advancing a more nuanced understanding of the status and properties of constructions in human language, and the constraints responsible for determining their well-formedness. Contributions to this project should align themselves with the following themes, and those that engage in a comparative discussion of cognitive and generative notions of construction are highly encouraged:

Phylogenetic emergence of constructions: How did constructions develop phylogenetically in our species and how do these constructions differ in size and function from others found in animal communication?
Definition of constructions: How are constructions defined in the human mind? Ontologically, how do constructions emerge in individuals?
Defining & constraining constructions: What constitutes a licit construction? How are they constrained? What motivates these constraints? To what extent can cyclic units such as barriers or phases be called upon to define constructions?
Probabilistic constructions: How do these competing notions of construction fare in probabilistic models?
Constructions in comprehension: What does the assumption of constructions at the representational level mean for predicting processing behaviors? How are constructions accessed and represented during real-time processing?
Multilingual constructions: Are constructions in multilingual grammars unique from monolingual grammars? If so, how does the existence of these constructions impact these more general debates?


Keywords: Cognitive Linguistics, Generative Linguistics, Evolution of Language, Language Processing, Bilingualism


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

One of the principle objectives of formal linguistic inquiry strives to attain a better understanding of the structural design of human language, its emergence in our species, and its relation to other cognitive abilities (i.e., working memory, processing expectations, etc.). The integration of linguistic inquiry into the larger realm of cognitive science has led to a reappraisal within and across various related disciplines of the nature of linguistic representations. Within this enterprise, one concept that has attracted a lot of attention is the observation that some linguistic knowledge does not relate to individual items, but rather to combinatorial properties.

This has manifested in three distinct ways in the recent literature. Under one view, Hauser et al.’s notion of a significantly reduced Narrow Faculty of Human Language was the cornerstone of numerous proposals within the generative tradition of a computational system that externalizes linguistic output. According to this notion, traditional ‘parameters’, once thought to guide language acquisition during formative stages, are externalized from the Narrow Faculty of Human Language. Approaches that adopt the principle tenets of this architecture are commonly referred to as neo-constructionist to express the intuition that linguistic properties are derived within a configuration, and not just lexically stored.

An alternative view shares many of the same basic intuitions as the theory put forward by Hauser and colleagues. Models rejecting syntactocentrism also invoke the notion of construction to define licit, well-formed representations of linguistic knowledge. On yet another view, constructions are the by-product of more general chunking processes, where structural representations of various sizes are paired with semantic and pragmatic meaning.

Both definitions of the concept of constructions and the principles that govern their generation and well-formedness display a notable amount of similarities (at least superficially), while at the same time, noticeable, foundational differences also exist. These shared and contrasting properties have yet to be analyzed, discussed, and debated in any systematic way, across theories and beyond the more superficial technical implementations favored in each particular proposal. This Research Topic aims to address this gap in the literature in the hopes of advancing a more nuanced understanding of the status and properties of constructions in human language, and the constraints responsible for determining their well-formedness. Contributions to this project should align themselves with the following themes, and those that engage in a comparative discussion of cognitive and generative notions of construction are highly encouraged:

Phylogenetic emergence of constructions: How did constructions develop phylogenetically in our species and how do these constructions differ in size and function from others found in animal communication?
Definition of constructions: How are constructions defined in the human mind? Ontologically, how do constructions emerge in individuals?
Defining & constraining constructions: What constitutes a licit construction? How are they constrained? What motivates these constraints? To what extent can cyclic units such as barriers or phases be called upon to define constructions?
Probabilistic constructions: How do these competing notions of construction fare in probabilistic models?
Constructions in comprehension: What does the assumption of constructions at the representational level mean for predicting processing behaviors? How are constructions accessed and represented during real-time processing?
Multilingual constructions: Are constructions in multilingual grammars unique from monolingual grammars? If so, how does the existence of these constructions impact these more general debates?


Keywords: Cognitive Linguistics, Generative Linguistics, Evolution of Language, Language Processing, Bilingualism


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

15 July 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

15 July 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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