Usage-Based Linguistics

Instructor(s): Suzanne Kemmer and Michael Barlow

Usage-based Linguistics encompasses a variety of perspectives sharing the view that grammar is not only a system for producing and understanding language, but is also shaped by those processes during linguistic interactions. While the field of Linguistics is moving towards a usage-based paradigm, there remain a variety of ways of interpreting the relation between usage and grammar. Some theories such as LFG have taken a usage turn; others, notably Construction Grammar and Cognitive Grammar, are more fundamentally usage-based. A principle aim of the course is to gain a deeper understanding of the notion of what it means to be a usage-based linguistic theory. We will investigate language in use, focusing on the units of grammar and their frequency as revealed via corpus analysis (software and corpus provided). Readings and class discussions will relate empirical methods and theoretical perspectives. Topics include:

  • Collocations, constructions, and corpora;
  • Frequency and its relation to grammar;
  • Grammaticalization and the emergence of constructions;
  • Social dimensions in syntactic/constructional variation.


  • 1 reading per week;
  • 2 assignments (1 corpus search and analysis;
  • 1 squib defining a problem in usage-based linguistics and specifying kind and source of data required to solve it).

One course in linguistic theory (any)