Interdisziplinäres Zentrum für Kognitive Sprachforschung

Links und Funktionen



Abstract Porzel & Micelli

Formal Models of Construction Grammar: Usage, Gains, and Challenges

At present, natural language understanding systems are brittle, controlled, and restricted as they are not able to deal with most real natural language phenomena, as e.g. ellipsis, conversational implicatures, or language variation and change. In order to become robust, they ultimately need to be able to cope with such phenomena since any particular language - dialect, chronolect, sociolect, idiolect, or jargon etc., i.e. any solidified system of conventionalized form-meaning pairings - changes constantly (cf. Bybee, 1998) and even varies across domains, users, registers etc. Moreover, due to the fact that any natural language understanding system, which is based on some formal representation of that language’s grammar, i.e. a machine-readable representation of the grammar, will always only be able to represent a portion (or subset) of what is going on in any particular language at the present time, we need to find systematic ways of endowing natural language understanding systems with means of learning new forms, new meanings and, ultimately, new form-meaning pairings, i.e. constructions. We chose construction grammar as the most fitting grammar formalism as it fulfills our demands on such a formalism: it is – in a sense – designed for robustness and partial analyses – which should be obligatory if one has to deal with real natural language data. Since developing a grammar of any language manually is a labor-extensive, error-prone and even idiosyncratic process, this process should be – at least partly – automatized. In this talk, we present a formalism for construction grammar, i.e. Embodied Construction Grammar (ECG) (Chang et al., 2002; Bergen and Chang, 2002). ECG was developed within the EDU (EDU) and the Neural Theory of Language (NTL) project. It constitutes a formal and explicit model of construction grammar with its main application being on natural language understanding and later simulation. We will sketch out the formalism’s main primitives, operators and its present format. While other approaches consider language as completely independent from the organism which uses it, ECG claims that several characteristics of the user’s sensorimotor system can influence his or her language (Gallese and Lakoff, 2005). The needed dynamic and inferential semantics in ECG is represented by embodied schemas. These schemas are known under the term of image schemas in traditional cognitive semantics and constitute schematic recurring patterns of sensorimotor experience (Johnson, 1987). Since the current ASCII format of ECG is insufficient for building scalable NLU systems in the long run, we also discuss our attempt towards formalizing construction grammar, which results in an ontological model that combines two ontological modeling frameworks (Masolo, 2003; Gangemi and Mika, 2003; Guarino, 2006) and is endowed with a construction grammar layer (Micelli et al., in press) that adheres to the main ideas behind ECG.



Bergen, B., and Chang, N. (2002). Simulation-Based Language Understanding in Embodied Construction Grammar. Technical Report TR-02-004, Berkeley: ICSI.

Bybee, J. (1998). A functionalist approach to grammar and its evolution. Evolution of Communication 2.2: 249-278.

Chang, N., Feldman, J., Porzel, R., and Sanders, K. (2002). Scaling Cognitive Linguistics: Formalisms for Language Understanding. Proceedings of the 1st Int. Workshop on Scalable Natural Language Understanding, Heidelberg, Germany.

EDU: Even Deeper Understanding. (last access: 31/03/06).

Gallese, V. and Lakoff, G. (2005). The brain ́s concepts: the role of the sensory-motor system in conceptual knowledge. Cognitive Neuropsychology 21: 1 – 26.

Gangemi A., Mika P. (2003). Understanding the Semantic Web through Descriptions and Situations” In: Meersman R., et al. (eds.), Proceedings of ODBASE03 Conference. Berlin: Springer.

Guarino, N. (2006). Ontology Library. WonderWeb Deliverable D202, I STC-CNR, Padova, Italy. http:// (last access 04.04.2006).

Johnson, M. (1987). The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Masolo, C., Borgo, S., Gangemi, A., Guarino, N., and Oltramari, A. (2003). Ontology Library. WonderWeb Deliverable D18, I STC-CNR, Padova, Italy. documents/D18.pdf, 2003.

Micelli, V., Porzel, R., and Gangemi, A. (In Press). ECtoloG: Construction Grammar meets the Semantic Web. Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Construction Grammar (ICCG4). Tokyo, Japan.

NTL: Neural Theory of Language (last access: 31/03/06).