Construction (in neurocognitive linguistics)

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Looked at in relation to the lexeme, a construction is at the high end of a scale: There's the simple lexeme, the complex lexeme, the mutable lexeme, then the construction, in which two or more constituents are variable and have a wide range of values. The variable constituents are commonly called "syntactic categories".


We have as examples the "argument structure constructions" treated by Adele Goldberg (1995). Following Goldberg, we may identify these constructions:

  • intransitive motion: the fly buzzed into the room
  • ditransitive: he faxed Bill a letter
  • caused motion: she pushed the pencil off the table
  • resultative: they wiped the counter clean
  • conative: she kicked at Henry

According to Goldberg, "Constructions which correspond to basic sentence types encode as their central senses event types that are basic to human experience".

Another basic construction has very broad scope: the actor-action construction (so-called by Bloomfield (1933).

Narrowing the scope, consider the "way" construction, as in "he dug his way out of prison" and "she fought her way into the room". Consider also the expression "whether Californians can conserve their way out of the [energy] crisis", in which "way" is not construed as a patient to be conserved but as an element in a construction.

A vernacular-acquiring child may be presumed to start with a specific instance, say "push it away" or "push it off", acquired first as a lexeme, and then to make it mutable by substituting other constituents for one of these three. Later, he substitutes also for another consituent, and then for the third. At that point all three constituents have become variable, making the mutable lexeme a construction.


  • Lamb, Sydney M.. 2004. Language and Reality: Selected Writings of Sydney Lamb. London: Continuum.
  • Goldberg, Adele A. 1995. Constructions: A Construction Grammar. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Bloomfield, Leonard. 1933. Language. New York: Henry Holt.