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Construction Grammar as Cognitive Structuralism: the interaction of constructional networks and processing in the diachronic evolution of English comparative correlatives


Following the Uniformitarian Principle, the Performance–Grammar Correspondence Hypothesis (PGCH; Hawkins 2004) predicts a directionality in language change: if the same content can be expressed by two competing structures and one of these is easier to process (see Hawkins 1999, 2004), then the simpler structure will be preferred in performance. Consequently, it will be used more often with a greater range of different lexical items, which increases its type frequency and ultimately leads to it being more cognitively entrenched than its alternative (see Hawkins 2004: 6). As an analysis of the diachronic evolution of the family of English comparative correlative constructions (the more iconic cause–before–effect C1C2 construction the more you eat, the fatter you get vs the less iconic effect–before–cause C2C1 construction you get the fatter, the more you eat) shows, however, the PGCH only played a secondary role in the genesis of this set of constructions. In this article, I will present a usage-based constructionist approach that allows researchers to reinterpret the classical Structuralist notion of gaps in the system as gaps in the mental constructional network. This type of Cognitive Structuralist analysis accounts for the presence of the less iconic C2C1 structure (and the absence of the more iconic C1C2 structure) in OE, the genesis of C1C2 structures at the end of the OE period as well as the processing effects predicted by the PGCH once both the C1C2 and the C2C1 constructions were in competition during the ME period.

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