Constructions at the Center: Theory and Resources for a Sign-Based Approach to Second Language Vocabulary

Project Details


At the center of second language vocabulary pedagogy stands its main character: the word. Thepurposes of the proposed project are to show serious limitations of this view of vocabulary and todevelop in its place an alternative approach which moves the focus of vocabulary away fromindividual words and toward lexicogrammatical constructions as the more useful central constructfor vocabulary learning and teaching. There are understandable reasons that second languagepedagogy has remained in the grip of a word-centered, modular picture of language despite itslimitations. One of these reasons is the current lack of accessible knowledge resources that placeconstructions at the center and that can support an alternative to conventional word-center pedagogy.Crucial to the feasibility of the proposed project, therefore, is the solid groundwork already laidcollaboratively by the PI over the past decade consisting of innovations in language knowledgeresources that put constructions at the center. The theoretical grounding and the breakthroughs indesign of these lexicogrammatical resources have made it possible now to envision well-resourcedpedagogies that place constructions at the center. We take constructions to be form-meaning pairingsthat are not wholly predictable from the meaning of their parts (Fillmore 1985; Goldberg 1995). Inother words, we take a Saussurean sign-based view of constructions (Sag, Boas, and Kay 2012).To make this view productive requires some means of operationalizing the elusive notion ofmeaning. For this we propose that the meaning of a form is best construed as the uses to which aform is put (Wittgenstein 1958; Firth 1957; Kilgarriff 1997, inter alia). We operationalize thisthrough a distributional view of use (Harris 1946; 1954; Miller and Charles 1991), and we exploitcorpora to identify constructions by means of their distributions. One of the fundamental barriers todeveloping pedagogies from such a view is the current lack of accessible knowledge resources thatreflect this view and could support a pedagogy based on it. There are no mature counterparts todictionaries, lexicons, and thesauruses that take the sign or the construction as its fundamentalorganizing unit. Thus, an accompanying central purpose of the project is to address this lack ofaccessible knowledge resources and to develop ways of incorporating sign-oriented resources into asign-based language pedagogy. These resources have been developed in collaborative research bythe PI over more than a decade of original research and development. The proposed project willtailor these resources to the needs of construction-centered classroom pedagogies.
Effective start/end date1/08/1731/07/18

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals


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