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Confirmed Plenary Speakers for ICCG9:


Adele Goldberg
Princeton University

Plenary title: Subtle implicit language facts emerge from the functions of constructions

Abstract: Much has been written about the unlikelihood of innate, syntax-specific, universal knowledge of language (Universal Grammar) on the grounds that it is biologically implausible, unresponsive to cross-linguistic facts, theoretically inelegant, and implausible and unnecessary from the perspective of language acquisition. While relevant, much of this discussion fails to address the sorts of facts that generative linguists often take as evidence in favor of the Universal Grammar Hypothesis: subtle, intricate, knowledge about language that speakers implicitly know without being taught. This paper revisits a few often-cited such cases and argues that, although the facts are sometimes even more complex and subtle than is generally appreciated, appeals to Universal Grammar fail to explain the phenomena. Instead, such facts are strongly motivated by the functions of the constructions involved. The following specific cases are discussed: a) the distribution and interpretation of anaphoric one, b) constraints on long-distance dependencies, c) subject-auxiliary inversion, and d) cross-linguistic linking generalizations between semantics and syntax.



Jerome Feldman
International Computer Science Institute

Plenary title: (Construction) Grammar does not Suffice for NLU

Abstract: Natural Language Understanding (NLU) is a manifest goal for applied linguistics, but its theoretical importance is not as obvious. Integrated form-meaning pairs comprise the crux of Construction Grammar, but what is meaning?  Decades of work at ICSI/UCB has established that embodied semantics (ECG) is necessary, but we also know that it is not sufficient. Language is inherently contextual and underspecified. An isolated grammar theory or program can only provide schematic analyses (SemSpecs in ECG) that are inadequate for full NLU. The talk will describe our current work on building and testing NLU systems for particular domains, prototypically autonomous systems like robots or cars. This involves an ECG based analyzer that is largely task-independent and we assume that the context involves some application with a well-defined interface (API). A complete NLU product involves several additional components for defining and carrying out the NLU requirements of the domain. All of these components have universal “core” realizations plus mechanisms for extension. As a general principal, we suggest that NLU can be divided into broad considerations and those that are inherently contextual.

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Martin Hilpert
Université de Neuchâtel

Plenary title: Three open questions in Diachronic Construction Grammar

Abstract: Over the past few years, Construction Grammar has become an increasingly more popular theoretical framework for the analysis of language change (see for instance Noël 2007, Traugott and Trousdale 2013, De Smet 2013, Hilpert 2013, Petré 2014, Barðdal et al. 2015, Torrent 2015, Heine et al. 2016, amongst many others). In this talk, I will try to take stock of what has been done so far, identify common threads and recurring issues in the existing research, and, more importantly, point to questions that are currently unresolved and that, in my view, deserve the attention of future research efforts.
One such question concerns the status of constructions as mental representations of linguistic structure. Construction Grammar aims to describe speakers’ knowledge of language, and there have been exciting advances in usage-based constructional approaches that have linked frequencies from corpus data to the notion of entrenchment and other aspects of linguistic knowledge. Despite these advances, it is clear that historical corpora give us only a very rough idea of language use in the past. It is therefore an open question how confidently we can make statements about the linguistic knowledge of earlier generations of speakers, and whether this is actually the main goal of diachronic Construction Grammar.
A second interesting issue is the phenomenon that Traugott and Trousdale (2013) call constructionalization, i.e. the creation of a new node in the speaker’s mental network of constructions. With historical corpus data, it is of course possible to detect novelties in language use and to determine approximate dates for their emergence and spread. However, the concept of constructionalization itself could be criticized for evoking the Sorites paradox, i.e. the question how many grains of sand it takes to make a heap. Just after how many constructional changes exactly do we have a construction that counts as a new node? The term, as defined, asks us to think of a discrete threshold. Whether such a threshold exists is an open question.
The third question that I would like to address does not just concern diachronic Construction Grammar, but the field as a whole. It appears to be a largely unquestioned consensus that linguistic knowledge is to be modeled as an associative network in which there are nodes, i.e. constructions, and links between those constructions. Recently, Schmid (2016) has argued for a view in which knowledge of language exclusively takes the format of associations, which effectively reduces constructions to links between form and meaning. This proposal is not primarily motivated by theoretical parsimony, but rather by the aim of describing linguistic knowledge in inherently dynamic terms. It is clear that this idea has profound implications for the constructional study of language change, some of which I will try to explore.
It is clear that I cannot promise final, or even preliminary answers to these questions. It might even turn out that they are the wrong questions to ask in the first place. What I hope to do though is to start a discussion that will stimulate new and exciting research in diachronic Construction Grammar.

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Ronald Langacker
University of California, San Diego

Plenary title: Trees, Assemblies, Chains, and Windows

Abstract: For describing grammatical organization, metaphors based on a variety of source domains—including trees, networks, chains, paths, and windows—all appear to have some validity. In Cognitive Grammar they pertain to facets of assemblies, where semantic and phonological structures are connected by relations of symbolization, composition, and categorization. Assemblies have a temporal dimension; consisting in sequenced processing activity that runs concurrently on different time scales, they involve both seriality and hierarchy. In their hierarchical aspect, they are comparable to constituency trees, and in their connections, to dependency trees. Assembly elements, which can be characterized at any level of specificity, are connected in both syntagmatic and paradigmatic relations. A person’s linguistic ability comprises a vast assembly of conventional units, a portion of which are activated as part of the transient assembly constituting a particular expression. Lexicon and grammar effect the implementation of semantic functions—affective, interactive, descriptive, and discursive—which emerge with varying degrees of salience depending on their symbolization by segmental, prosodic, and other means. Assemblies thus make possible a unified approach to processing, structure, function, and use.

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Sabine De Knop
Université Saint-Louis

Plenary title: From Construction Grammar to embodied construction practice

Abstract: In recent years, foreign language pedagogy has recognized the need to focus (i) on larger meaningful sequences of words (Wong Fillmore 1976; Nattinger & DeCarrico 1992; Wray 2002; Ellis & Cadierno 2009; Gonzalez Rey 2013;) and (ii) further on communicative goals (Nunan 1991; Widdowson 1992; Savignon 2000). Difficulties in the learning process of a foreign language result from the conceptual and constructional differences between expressions in the native and foreign language. Teaching materials often propose a lexical approach with an unstructured set of constructed examples. 
In Goldberg’s (1995 & 2006) Construction Grammar (CxG) larger meaningful sequences are constructions, i.e. entrenched form-meaning mappings resulting from generalization and schematization. The Construction Grammar model has a number of assets for foreign language teaching (FLT) and learning (FLL).
1. With the postulate of meaningful schematic templates, CxG makes it possible to establish a structured inventory of abstract constructions with prototypical exemplars and inheritance links between the constructions’ instantiations. This will be illustrated with the inventory of German constructions with the preposition bis (‘up to’, ‘until’).
2. The L2-templates must then be practiced so that they can become entrenched. CxG focuses on non-compositional sequences of words which are similar to chunks. A methodology based on chunking (Ellis 2009: 147) fosters a “cognitive restructuring in the mind of bilinguals” (Athanasopoulos 2009: 92) or a “rethinking for speaking” (Robinson and Ellis 2008; Ellis and Cadierno 2009: 125).
3. But to be proficient in a foreign language also means to use new words in constructions. Learners can be asked to extend the use of new lexical units as slot fillers into constructional patterns. This will be exemplified with the use of German posture and placement verbs in the caused motion and the corresponding intransitive construction (see Ellis and Ferreira 2009).
4. Because CxG offers a more holistic approach, it allows to describe similar constructions in different domains, either literal or phraseological, like for instance with ditransitive phraseologisms (De Knop 2016). But having learned a vast number of constructional templates of a language does not automatically imply that the learner can produce L2-constructions and their instantiations in a creative way. Therefore, the CxG model must be enriched with further insights from Cognitive Linguistics which claims that conceptual categories and their linguistic expressions are the result of embodied processes (Lakoff 1987). The talk will make some suggestions for interactive activities which can foster ‘embodied teaching and learning’.

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ThomasHerbstThomas Herbst
Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg

Plenary title: Restricting the Rights of Linguists