Profilområdet grammatik samlar forskare som på olika sätt intresserar sig för språkets struktur.

Introducing Comparative Concepts

Kultur & språk

William Croft från University of New Mexico ger en öppen föreläsning om s.k. jämförelsebegrepp (comparative concepts) som verktyg för att jämföra konstruktioner i olika språk. Föreläsningen ingår i evenemanget ConstructiCon Alignment Workshop 2022.

8 dec 2022
09:30 - 11:00
C350 på Humanisten, Renströmsgatan 6, Göteborg

William Croft, University of New Mexico
Institutionen för svenska, flerspråkighet och språkteknologi

Introducing Comparative Concepts

Cross-linguistic comparison is challenging due to the great diversity of the morphosyntactic structures of grammatical constructions across language. This issue is central to typological theory, which seeks patterns across language diversity. As such, typological thinking about cross-linguistic comparison may be useful to alignment of constructicons across languages, the goal of this workshop.

Typologists have seen the need for comparative concepts since at least the beginning of modern syntactic typology (Greenberg 1966), although this term was not coined until Haspelmath (2010). From Greenberg onward, the primary type of comparative concepts were semantic, or more broadly, functional. Haspelmath argued for the need for comparative concepts that combined functional and formal traits. Croft (2014, 2016, 2022) identifies two types of “hybrid” comparative concepts. A construction is the set of all structures in any language that express a particular function. A strategy is the subset of all structures in any language that express a particular function using a particular form. 

Comparative concepts are hence different theoretical concepts from language-specific grammatical constructions and categories. There is skepticism over whether comparative concepts and language-specific
concepts are really that different. However, such skepticism is grounded in assumptions about the nature of language universals (the skeleton model), grammatical constructions (the building block model) and grammatical categories (the essentialist model), all of which should be discarded.

Comparative concepts and language-specific concepts do share an important element, namely function. Function is best understood as the combination of semantic content and information packaging (Croft 1991, 2001, 2022). Recognizing these two dimensions of function allow us to develop coherent typological theories of grammatical categories and constructions. 

Language-specific constructions can also be categorized in terms of their strategies. There are three broad categories of strategies. An encoding strategy is a particular morphosyntactic means for expressing a function, e.g. an inflected copula. A system of strategies is defined by similarities and differences between strategies of two or more constructions, e.g. ergative alignment. A recruitment strategy uses the form of another construction expressing a related function, e.g. a locational strategy to express presentation possession. All strategies are ultimately recruitment: a form is recruited for a new function, and then the source and target constructions diverge to become distinct encoding strategies (or part of a new system of strategies). Hence there is a continuum between different types of strategies.

William Croft, University of New Mexico.


Croft, William. 1991. Syntactic categories and grammatical relations: The cognitive organization of information. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Croft, William. 2001. Radical Construction Grammar: syntactic theory in typological perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Croft, William. 2014. Comparing categories and constructions crosslinguistically (again): the diversity of ditransitives [Review article on Studies in ditransitive constructions: a comparative handbook, ed. Andrej Malchukov, Martin Haspelmath and Bernard Comrie]. Linguistic Typology 18.533-51.

Croft, William. 2016. Comparative concepts and language-specific categories: theory and practice. Linguistic Typology 20.377-93.

Croft, William. 2022. Morphosyntax: constructions of the world’s languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Greenberg, Joseph H. 1966. Some universals of grammar with particular reference to the order of meaningful elements. Universals of Grammar, ed. Joseph H. Greenberg, 2nd edition, 73-113. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Haspelmath, Martin. 2010. Comparative concepts and descriptive categories in cross-linguistic studies. Language 86.663-87.


Föreläsningen ingår i evenemanget ConstructiCon Alignment Workshop 2022Workshoppen pågår 8-9 december på Humanisten, Renströmsgatan 6.