Constructionist approaches to individual grammars

(This call has now ended. The programme of the workshop will be posted here soon.)

Peter Petré (

Language is inherently a communal phenomenon. Wittgenstein showed that private languages are incoherent (1953: §243). Yet language also only exists in the unique minds of individuals. The central question to this workshop is how usage-based theories of grammar, and particularly constructionist approaches, can best model the the linguistic relations between idiosyncratic language and alignment to the community flow.

               Cognitive construction grammar has been put forward as a psychologically plausible model of language knowledge of individuals. Support comes from child language acquisition research (Tomasello 2009), experiments (Goldberg 2006), as well as neurology (Allen et al. 2012, Pulvermüller et al. 2013). And yet most studies still model constructions at the level of the community only. While this may be inevitable in most corpus-based studies, it calls into question the ontological status of such aggregate models, and what they are supposed to represent.

               This workshop wants to look at the interaction of individual and communal language use from different perspectives, and how to make this interaction more explicit in a usage-based theory. We particularly invite morphosyntactic work from sociolinguistics, historical linguistics, language acquisition or psycholinguistics, but other angles are also welcome.

               Language acquisition & psycholinguistics: Cognitive linguistic work has shown that speakers acquire grammars that are significantly different from each other (Dabrowska 2012). What kinds of idiosyncracy, and to what degree, are possible in adult language before recurrent communicative problems arise? How far can non-canonical associations, such as those apparent in blends (e.g. De Smet 2013), be stretched before becoming ‘private language’? Frequency is another concept that is underrepresented in constructionist models. More frequent patterns are more easily accessible, and hence will be more readily used. But frequency can be both internal (self-priming, as in idiosyncratic filler words) and external. Do these two types of frequencies represent different types of knowledge?

 (Historical) Sociolinguistics & Historical linguistics: Grammars not only differ across individuals, they also change with time. How does an individual’s linguistic knowledge evolve and interact with that of their peers? Do we need to assign primacy to communities of practice (change/linguistic structure, only ‘exists’ if enough members adopt a usage) or to individuals (who will only adopt/innovate if their respective grammars are ‘ready’). Is competition of inter-individual variants different from intra-individual competition? Also, does the (lack of) intra-individual change represent (lack of) participation in a communal shift, age-grading effects, or is it mostly a matter of personality? Can we set up similarity measures of constructions and groups of constructions between individuals? To what extent could such similarity measures help us understand who adopts innovations? Older language users for instance have highly entrenched routines, and are less likely to adopt innovative language. Is this mostly a matter of item-based entrenchment? Or is there also a relationship with how they have organized their grammar as a network – which may help in explaining exceptions? And how can we represent such ‘distances’ between individual grammatical traits in a general usage-based model of language?


Dabrowska, Ewa. 2012. Different speakers, different grammars: Individual differences in native language attainment. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism 2.3 (2012): 219-253.

De Smet, Hendrik. 2013. Change through recombination: blending and analogy. Language Sciences 40. 80-94

Tomasello, Michael. 2009. Constructing a language. Harvard university press.

Allen, K., Pereira, F., Botvinick, M., & Goldberg, A. E. 2012. Distinguishing grammatical constructions with fMRI pattern analysis. Brain and Language, 123(3), 174-182.

Goldberg, Adele E. 2006. Constructions at work: The nature of generalization in language. Oxford University Press.

Pulvermüller, Friedemann, Bert Cappelle, & Yury Shtyrov. 2013. Brain basis of meaning, words, constructions, and grammar. In Thomas Hoffmann & Graeme Trousdale (eds.), The Oxford handbook of construction grammar. Oxford: OUP.


Abstracts for theme session papers (20 mins talk plus 10 min. discussion) have to be submitted to the general conference email (see below). The abstracts will be evaluated and selected by the general scientific committee, not by the theme session organizers.

Guidelines for abstract submission

The length of each abstract should not exceed 500 words, not including references. Abstracts must be submitted electronically to the following address:  Abstracts will be reviewed anonymously and therefore must exclude all references to the author(s).

Important Dates

Submissions start : September 1, 2017
Deadline for reception of abstracts : December 1, 2017
Notification of acceptance : February 1, 2018
Program announcement : March, 2018
Early registration deadline : April, 2018