What Is Lexicogrammar?

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Lexicogrammar is a term used in systemic functional linguistics (SFL) to emphasize the interdependence of — and continuity between — vocabulary (lexis) and syntax (grammar).

The term lexicogrammar (literally, lexicon plus grammar) was introduced by linguist M.A.K. Halliday. Adjective: lexicogrammatical. Also, called lexical grammar.

"The advent of corpus linguistics," notes Michael Pearce, "has made the identification of lexicogrammatical patterns much easier than it once was."(Routledge Dictionary of English Language Studies, 2007).

Examples and Observations

  • "Vocabulary and grammatical structures are interdependent; so much so that it is possible to say with some justification that words have their own grammar. This interdependency of lexis and grammar is evident everywhere in language. For example, lexical verbs have valency patterns: some verbs can be used with a direct object (I made some oven gloves), or with both a direct object and an indirect object (The government awarded them a pay rise), others need no object at all (The Colonel was laughing)." (Michael Pearce, The Routledge Dictionary of English Language Studies. Routledge, 2007)
  • "The heart of language is the abstract level of coding that is the lexicogrammar. (I see no reason why we should not retain the term 'grammar' in this, its traditional sense; the purpose of introducing the more cumbersome term lexicogrammar is simply to make explicit the point that vocabulary is also a part of it, along with syntax and morphology)." (M.A.K. Halliday, "Systemic Background," 1985. On Language and Linguistics. Continuum, 2003)
  • "[A]ccording to systemic functional theory, lexicogrammar is diversified into a metafunctional spectrum, extended in delicacy from grammar to lexis, and ordered into a series of ranked units." (M.A.K. Halliday, Halliday's Introduction to Functional Grammar, 4th ed., revised by Christian M.I.M. Matthiessen. Routledge, 2013)
  • "[L]exico-grammar is now very fashionable, but it does not integrate the two types of pattern as its name might suggest — it is fundamentally grammar with a certain amount of attention to lexical patterns within the grammatical frameworks; it is not in any sense an attempt to build together a grammar and lexis on an equal basis...
    "Lexico-grammar is still firmly a kind of grammar, laced, or perhaps spiked with some lexis." (John Sinclair, Trust the Text: Language, Corpus, and Discourse, edited with Ronald Carter. Routledge, 2004)

Lexicogrammar and Semantics

"Just as lexis and grammar are considered to form a single stratum, Halliday considers that the lexicogrammar is not a separate system or 'module' apart from semantics, but is rather an underlying component of the meaning-making system of a language. The stratum of semantics is thus not thought of as an abstract or logical structure, but rather as the medium through which humans use language to interact in their social and cultural context. A consequence of this is that the language, and in particular the lexicogrammar, is structured by the expressive and communicative functions it has evolved to convey." (Christopher Gledhill, "A Lexicogrammar Approach to Checking Quality: Looking at One or Two Cases of Comparative Translation." Perspectives on Translation Quality, ed. by Ilse Depraetere. Walter de Gruyter, 2011)

Lexicogrammar and Corpus Linguistics

"Generalizations on the structure of language tell us little about how people actually use the language, and consequently how a language really is. The patterns of structural and lexical behaviour are not revealed by the linguist's introspection or from a few examples chosen to fit the pattern. This is the conclusion that increasingly is being drawn from a growing body of linguistic research on large computer corpora or databases. It is only when we come to investigate a language from samples of millions of words of running text that we can really begin to understand how words and structures behave and interact...

"A theory of language or a model of a particular language...has to account for use as attested by corpus linguistic research. If such a theory purports to give rise to language description, it must have the potential to incorporate the vagaries and idiosyncrasies of lexicogrammatical behaviour and the cryptotypical phenomena which are uncovered by the observation of language use on a significantly larger scale." (Gordon H. Tucker, The Lexicogrammar of Adjectives: A Systemic Functional Approach to Lexis. Continuum, 1998)