Mirjam Fried

Construction Grammar and Language Change 

Working out “mistakes” in grammatical patterning: feature-based reorganization of constructions 

The goal of this talk is to address some of the newly raised issues in sorting out the relationship between constructions and grammatical change, including the merit of possibly differentiating (as suggested by Smirnova 2011) between ‘constructional change’ and ‘constructionalization’ (e.g. Trousdale  2010, Traugott & Trousdale 2010, Rosenbach 2010, Fried in press) as distinct types of change involving constructions. It is becoming a generally accepted fact that grammatical change originates in the interaction between a particular item and a concrete environment in which it is used. The interaction helps shape the kind of change that eventually results and questions surrounding the nature and limits of grammatical change often involve recategorialization, whether we focus on its synchronic or diachronic manifestations (in the sense of differentiating between gradience and gradualness, cf. Aarts 2007). I will argue that emphasis on the ‘holistic’ dimension of constructions should not lead us away from examining and identifying also the impact of construction-internal micro-changes that interact in definable ways with the construction as a whole. I will demonstrate this by comparing the alignment of regularly and irregularly formed participial stems in Old Czech with the same set of syntactic patterns (clausal vs. adnominal constructions). The development illustrated by this material shows that the irregular forms are not just random mistakes or a case of allomorphy; instead, both formation types are sensitive to roughly the same set of features in developing specific functional preferences (secondary predicate vs. adnominal modifier), but each ‘compensates’ for the mismatch between its morphology and each syntactic function in a characteristically different way. This investigation leads to a (preliminary) typology of changes that all consist in form-function re-alignment of various kinds, including at least the following possibilities: shifts in constructional affiliation of an item which may have previously belonged to a different construction; the tightening of collocational preferences into a more schematic combination; feature-based micro-changes inside an existing construction, giving rise to a new configuration of features. Moreover, the study of seemingly non-systematic tokens on the margins of regular paradigms can lead to a richer understanding of the processes language users employ in working out novel combinations, which in turn may manifest themselves in the reorganization of a given grammatical system.


Mirjam Fried received her PhD in Linguistics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1995, as a student of Charles Fillmore. She is currently the Chair of the Linguistics Department at Charles University in Prague, but she also taught at several American universities (UC Berkeley, University of Oregon, Princeton University).

Her research focuses on capturing the cognitive and functional aspects of grammatical structure. She’s been one of the leading proponents of the constructional approach, developing the representational potential of so-called Berkeley-based Construction Grammar into new areas of research, such as the integration of conventionalized interactional features in grammatical generalizations. Her most recent research has focused on questions of variability and change, especially in her pioneering work on bringing together Construction Grammar and grammaticalization research, in which she explores the possibilities of representing the gradualness and the discourse-based nature of grammatical change. But she has also published on a wide range of topics in synchronic linguistics, particularly in morphology and morphosyntax (case marking, diathesis, categoriality, the role of pragmatics in grammar, issues in spoken grammar, the relationship between lexical meaning and grammatical patterning, the relationship between grammar and spoken interaction). Her work draws primarily on Czech material (Old and Modern) but includes writings on other languages as well (Kannada, Turkish, Lithuanian). She has also co-authored the only general introduction to Construction Grammar that is available to date.

She is also involved in substantial amounts of editorial work with focus on constructional and cognitive research. In addition to serving as one of the Associated Editors for Cognitive Linguistics, she is the co-founder of the book series Constructional Approaches to Language at John Benjamins and was one of its co-editors till 2012. She’s also the co-founder and currently the Co-editor-in-Chief of the journal Constructions and Frames, which is now in its fifth year, and she is also behind the conference series International Conference in Construction Grammar (ICCG): she co-organized the very first gathering in Berkeley in 2000 and most recently chaired the organizing committee for ICCG 6 in Prague in 2010.