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Of absent mothers and peculiar daughters: the constructional network of English NPN constructions

Culture and languages

Seminar within the research area Linguistic structures, Department of Languages and Literatures. All interested are welcome!

21 Jan 2021
13:15 - 14:30
Online via Zoom

Lotte Sommerer, University of Vienna
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Seminar language:English
institutionen för språk och litteraturer


This paper analyzes symmetric NPN constructions (e.g. day to day, face to face, step by step) qualitatively and quantitatively by examining data from the Corpus of Contemporary American English (Davies 2008-). The constructions’ frequency and productivity, as well as their extension potential (i.e. modification, complementation) is investigated (e.g. by conducting collostructional analysis). In terms of theoretical modeling, the paper takes a Usage-based, Cognitive Construction Grammar approach (UCCxG) and sketches the constructional network of this constructional family, postulating various constructional templates on different levels of specificity– among others – the existence of the following subtypes [CNsg,timei after CNsg,timei]Cx (e.g. day after day, night after night), [CNsg,measurementi by CNsg,measurementi]Cx (e.g. inch by inch, step by step,) or [CNsg,bodyparti to CNsg,bodyparti]Cx (e.g. skin to skin, shoulder to shoulder). It will be discussed how these templates are vertically and horizontally connected to each other. Ultimately, it is argued that in a usage-based model which strives for cognitive plausibility it is not always feasible to postulate the entrenchment of an abstract overarching schema (i.e. a ‘mothernode’) like [CNi P CNi]Cx or even [N P N]Cx high up in the network. It is unlikely that speakers abstract such a general schema in a bottom-up acquisition process for this family. Rather, the NPN group is a constructional family characterized by many sister ties and by the absence of mother nodes from which information can be inherited.