LING 490: English Grammar: A Cognitive Approach

Course Aims and Objectives

This course provides students with a solid foundation in the grammar of English, prominently including the ways in which it interfaces with semantics-pragmatics — as discussed, especially, in the cognitive linguistic approach to grammar, i.e. construction grammar. Yet the module is not restricted to this theoretical framework. Instead, we will explore its research questions, analyses and methods in relation to those representing the more traditional, generative (Chomskian) alternative. A basic tenet of the cognitive (and more broadly speaking: functional) approach is that English grammar (and indeed the grammar of any language) is a tool for effective communication. This leads to an analysis of grammatical structures in terms of, and as to some extent motivated by, their meanings. We will see that this perspective is very different from the generative approach, where grammar is studied more or less in isolation from meaning, i.e. as pure structure. Towards the end of the module some recent applications of the theory of cognitive linguistics are discussed.

Course Content

The introductory lecture provides a brief overview of, and historical background to, the differences between cognitive approaches to (English) grammar and the generative model. Each lecture in weeks 2 through 8 focuses on an aspect of English grammar (e.g. word classes, grammatical functions, the passive). The focus in each lecture is on cognitive approaches to these phenomena, but in order to throw those into theoretical relief some comparison with generative grammar is also offered. The final two lectures are devoted to applications of cognitive linguistics, such as dialect variation (cognitive sociolinguistics) and language teaching.


A 5,000 word written assignment.

Recommended Reading

Biber, D., Johannson, S, Leech, G., Conrad S. & Finegan, E. (1999). Longman grammar of spoken and written English. New York: Longman.
Boers, F. & Lindstromberg, S. (2006). Cognitive linguistic applications in second or foreign language
instruction: rationale, proposals, and evaluation. In G. Kristiansen, M. Achard, R. Dirven, F.J. Ruiz de Mendoza Ibáñez (Eds.), Cognitive linguistics: current applications and future perspectives (pp. 305-355). Berlin/NY: Mouton de Gruyter.
Croft, W. (2001). Radical construction grammar. Syntactic theory in typological perspective. Oxford: OUP.
Dixon, R.M.W. (2005). A semantic approach to English grammar. Oxford: OUP.
Goldberg, A. (2006). Constructions at work: the nature of generalization in language. Oxford: OUP.
Hilpert, M. (2014). Construction grammar and its application to English. Edinburgh: EUP.
Hollmann, W.B. (2013). Constructions in cognitive sociolinguistics. In T. Hoffmann & G. Trousdale (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of construction grammar (pp. 491-509). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Huddleston, R.R. & Pullum, G.K. (2005). A student’s introduction to English grammar. Cambridge: CUP.
Langacker, R.W. (2008). Cognitive grammar: a basic introduction. Oxford: OUP.
Taylor, J.R. (2002). Cognitive grammar. Oxford: OUP.


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