Hosted at the University of Birmingham and led by Dr. Florent Perek and Dr. Amanda Patten, the English Constructicon project aims to build a comprehensive constructicon of the English language, i.e. an inventory of grammatical constructions collected by following the principles of Construction Grammar theory (Goldberg 1995, 2005, Hoffman & Trousdale 2013).

In construction grammar, knowledge of a language is captured by constructions, defined as pairings of form with meaning at any level of complexity and generality, related in a network. This means that even common syntactic patterns, such as the so-called double-object construction (“NP V NP NP”, e.g. They gave Sarah a present) receive a semantic description, which constrains what lexical items can be combined with them, and the semantic contribution that they make to the sentence.

Our constructicon focuses in particular on constructions that describe the complementation of relational words like verbs and some nouns and adjectives. Our database takes the COBUILD grammar patterns, also developed at the University of Birmingham in the COBUILD lexicographic project (Francis et al. 1996, 1998), as its primary source of information about the possible syntactic constructions of English and the lexical items that can occur with them. The COBUILD patterns are described in terms of a hierarchy of constructions at varying levels of generality, paired with constructional meanings that are derived from a combination of information from the semantic groups described in the COBUILD patterns themselves, the semantic database FrameNet (https://framenet.icsi.berkeley.edu), and our own semantic analysis (Perek & Patten 2019).

Each entry in the English Constructicon contains detailed information about the form, meaning, and use of a particular construction. Formally, a construction is defined as consisting of a set of slots, i.e. the different phrases or words it is made of. Slots are given roles, i.e. labels that describe what the referent of the slot does in the general meaning of the construction. These roles are mentioned in the semantic definition of the construction.

Extensive lists of the lexical items used in each construction are provided in each entry, with authentic examples taken from a corpus. Lexical items are also listed with the FrameNet frame that they evoke, if available.

Our database also aims to record relations between constructions. At the moment, only the inheritance relation is implemented. For each construction, its entry specifies what construction it inherits from, and the constructions that inherit from it, called “sub-constructions”. Hence, it is possible to navigate the inheritance hierarchy of constructions, from more general constructions to more specific ones, and vice-versa. There is a particular type of sub-constructions that we call “phraseological constructions” and list separately. In addition to inheriting the form and meaning of their parent construction, these constructions display some idiosyncratic behaviour in their meaning or in the kind of words or phrases that can be used in them; some of them can be considered idioms in the traditional sense.

Francis, G., Hunston, S. & Manning, E. (1996). Collins COBUILD Grammar Patterns 1: Verbs. London: HarperCollins.

Francis, G., Hunston, S. & Manning, E. (1998). Collins COBUILD Grammar Patterns 2: Nouns and Adjectives. London: HarperCollins.

Goldberg, A. (1995). Constructions: A construction grammar approach to argument structure. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Goldberg, A. (2006). Constructions at work: The nature of generalization in language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hoffmann, T. & Trousdale, G. (eds.) (2013). The Oxford Handbook of Construction Grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Perek, F. & Patten, A. (2019). Towards an English Constructicon using patterns and frames. International Journal of Corpus Linguistics, 24(3), 354-384.