Word Grammar (WG)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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Word grammar is a general theory of language structure which holds that grammatical knowledge is largely a body (or network) of knowledge about words.

Word grammar (WG) was originally developed in the 1980s by British linguist Richard Hudson (University College London). 

See the observations below. Also see:


  • "[Word Grammar theory] consists of the [following] generalization: 'A language is a network of entities related by propositions.'"
    (Richard Hudson, Word Grammar. Blackwell, 1984)
  • Dependency Relations
    "In WG, syntactic structures are analyzed in terms of dependency relations between single words, a parent and a dependent. Phrases ​are defined by dependency structures which consist of a word plus the phrases rooted in any of its dependents. In other words, WG syntax does not use phrase structure in describing sentence structure, because everything that needs to be said about sentence structure can be formulated in terms of dependencies between single words."
    (Eva Eppler, "Word Grammar and Syntactic Code-Mixing Research." Word Grammar: New Perspectives, ed. K. Sugayama and R. Hudson. Continuum, 2006)
  • Language as a Network
    "The conclusions so far, then, are more or less uncontroversial:
    • Language is a system of interconnected elements.
    • Language is conceptual in the sense that it is 'in the mind,' even if there is also a sense in which it is 'in society.'
    [T]he idea of language as a conceptual network actually leads to new questions and highly controversial conclusions. The words network and conceptual are both contentious. We start with the notion of language as a network. In WG, the point of this claim is that language is nothing but a network--there are no rules, principles, or parameters to complement the network. Everything in language can be defined formally in terms of nodes and their relations. This is also accepted as one of the main tenets of cognitive linguistics."
    (Richard Hudson, Language Networks: The New Word Grammar. Oxford University Press, 2007)
  • Word Grammar (WG) and Construction Grammar (CG)
    "The central claim of WG is that language is organized as a cognitive network; the major consequence of this claim is that the theory eschews part-whole structures such as are central in Phrase Structure Grammar.  Phrases are not basic to WG analyses and so the central unit of organization within WG is the dependency, which is a pairwise relationship between two words. In this respect, the theory is different from Construction Grammar (CG), because WG has no level of analysis which is larger than the word and the (pairwise) dependency which associates two words. . . .
    "There are, however, some key points of similarity between WG and CG: both theories assume a symbolic relationship between the units of syntax and an associated semantic structure; both theories are 'usage based'; both theories are declarative; both theories have a structured lexicon; and both theories exploit default inheritance."
    (Nikolas Gisborne, "Dependencies Are Constructions: A Case Study in Predicative Complementation." Constructional Approaches to English Grammar, ed. by Graeme Trousdale and Nikolas Gisborne. Walter de Gruyter, 2008)