Functional discourse grammar

Functional Grammar (FG ) is a linguistic theory, which was developed in the late 1970s by Simon Cornelis Dik in Amsterdam, explicitly. Than counter-model to the standard model of transformational grammar of Noam Chomsky After the death Diks 1995, the theory was developed primarily by its employees Kees Hengeveld and is still very close in its present form the original formulation. Since 2004, the theory is extended under the name Functional Discourse Grammar (FDG ) by Kees Hengeveld and especially Lachlan Mackenzie ( Hengeveld & Mackenzie 2008).

  • 7.1 advantages
  • 7.2 weaknesses

Central assumptions about language

The central assumption about language is its diks earmarked character as a means of communication. Dik thus focuses on the function of language at the center. In this sense, the term Functional Grammar can be seen: a linguistic model, which assumes the function of language, instead of its external form. With this central assumption Dik calls for a departure from the earlier frequently used heuristic reduction of the suppression of pragmatics. Specifically, however, does not mean the general pragmatics in terms of speech acts and language as action in the treatment of pragmatics in Dik, but the area of ​​discourse pragmatics, essentially, the ratio of the information structure of a linguistic expression to its realization, as in the treatment of Topik and focus ( Dik 1991:267 ff.)

The grammar formalism described by Dik is pragmatics based in this sense. The next most important linguistic level is from Diks view the semantics that even influenced by pragmatics, in turn, has an influence on the syntax. An example of such an influence of the syntax would be about an active-passive alternation, which is determined by the semantic roles of the players in the utterance, and is semantically motivated in this sense.

At the same time FG is a formal model, as there are methods of formal semantics (eg predicate logic) used and claims to the implementability as a computer program and thus the testability.

Basic characteristics of functional grammar

As the theory of grammar functional grammar is a general theory about the grammatical organization of natural languages ​​. Their main characteristics are:

  • Language is primarily seen as an instrument of social interaction
  • As such, V.A. the pragmatics of meaning. Syntax and semantics should be analyzed within the pragmatics.
  • The hierarchy between these three levels of analysis is clear: The most important thing is for the functional grammar, pragmatics, subordinated to it is the semantics, which in turn is subordinate to the syntax. There is neither an "autonomous" syntax, nor a "autonomous" semantics.
  • The target grammar model should comply with the forms of the adequacy described in more detail below.
  • For the construction of functional grammar mainly three different types are used by functional and relational terms:
  • Linguistic expressions are first described on the basis of abstract Prädikationsmustern, which are constructed by means of recorded in the lexicon Prädikationsmuster.
  • Expression rules then determine the form and order of the constituents, which are fundamental to the respective linguistic expression. Decisive are the categorical and functional properties within the predication.
  • Functional grammar avoids structure-changing transformation rules.

Ideas about grammar

Basic structure of the grammar formalism

The grammar formalism of FG basically consists of the description of abstract expressions, the underlying Clause Structures (UCS ), which are gradually formed from predicates and terms and which are set by expression rules to concrete linguistic expressions relating to or create these.

Structure of the Underlying Clause Structure


The UCS are formed from predicates and terms. Some elementary predicates and terms are part of the lexicon, while others are created from these elementary predicates and terms ( by predicate formation and term formation. Example, the predicate for throw back would be from the elementary predicates for throw back and derived predicate. All predicates and terms together form the fundus ( fund) of a language.

Predicates are expressions for properties or relations. It is here to predicates in the sense of predicate logic, not the grammatical relation of the predicate from the Latin grammar school. In this sense, not only verbs predicates, but all content words of a language. So " house (x)" is about as a predicate such as " beat (x, y) ".

A difference of the predicates in the FG to classical predicate logic is the use of so-called restrictors. If predicates are composed in the FG, this is done by the use of these restrictors, written as ":", as in the form "japanese (x): buddhist (x)". This can be paraphrased with " The set of x for which: x is Japanese, restricted to the set of x for which: x is Buddhist ." The corresponding predicate logic form would be "japanese (x ) & buddhist (x )", where the "& " is a predicate logical "AND". The relevant facts are the same in both cases. The difference is that the predicate logic "&" is reversible, ie, that "japanese (x ) & buddhist (x)" is equivalent to " buddhist (x ) and japanese (x)". For the restrictors, this is not the case and they are thus able to detect the difference of linguistic utterances, the Japanese Buddhist and The Buddhist Japanese ( Dik 1997, chap. 6.2).

Predicates are always part of a predicate frame, which describes the properties of the predicate. An example of the predicate frame of a transitive verb would be about:

Throw [ V] (x1: (x1) ) Agent ( x2: (x2) ) Goal (x3) Direction First, the word form appears ( throw ), then the part of speech (V). In the following, the argument positions of the verb are described. The argument in the players position with the semantic role of the agent must be revived ( animate ) be, by the fact That player ( Goal, generally the term patient or undergoer has prevailed for the role, which calls Dik Goal. ), Here the thrown item must be not subject to such selection restriction, be concrete ( concrete ) and the third argument ( with the semantic role of location ).

Such nuclear predicates can now be added the so-called optional satellites that occupy positions that are not specified by the predicate frame, as to a temporal specification of the predicate with the help of words like yesterday or soon. Such extended to satellite predicate framework called Dik an extended predicate frame (extended predicate frame ).


The second essential ingredient of a UCS besides predicates the terms. Formally terms the arguments of predicates semantically there are expressions that refer to entities (Strictly speaking writes Dik ( 1991:255 ) that Terme instruct the recipient to identify an entity that corresponds to the profile of the term ). Examples of terms would be the house or the purple plastic bag. There are very few elementary terms, as only proper names and personal pronouns are as elementary terms available, other terms, such as the purple plastic bag are created from predicates. Terme So these are the entities that are set by a predicate to each other.

A predication that contains two terms ( the garden and the dog ) would be for example:

Present: ( definite singular x1: garden [ N]) Location ( definite singular x2: dog [ N]) Levels in the UCS

Within the UCS can be distinguished in terms of features three different levels:

  • Situation of utterance: the level of pragmatic functions such as topic and focus.
  • Player level: level of semantic features such as agent and Goal ( undergoer ).
  • Level of perspective: the level of syntactic functions subject and object.

In this sense, individual elements assume an utterance at various levels different categories. In the sentence Peter buys an ice cream about Peter is also the agent, topic and subject, while ice Goal ( undergoer ), focus and object is at the same time.

The linguistic expression that the expression rules to the UCS

Present: ( definite singular x1: garden [ N]) Location ( definite singular x2: dog [ N]) related ( or generated in an implementation of the formalism and from the UCS) can be is not yet clear. The UCS corresponds approximately to the statement The dog is in the garden. In a particular utterance situation ( as in a list of to be overcome for a break barriers ) but the following statement is conceivable that also coincides with the UCS: There is the dog in the garden. This example illustrates the possibilities offered by a consideration of the pragmatic level, because by the identification of the bullet character, it is possible to distinguish the two linguistic expressions in the underlying structure ( Dik 1997, chap. 8.7.2 ).

The distinction between the level of semantic roles, ie, the players and the syntactic ( grammatical ) relations allows the description of syntactic alternations such as the passivation without destroying the would have to be derived from a form of the other. So there are in an active set a match of subject and agent, while When converted to a match of subject and Goal ( undergoer ) in the UCS this is a passive sentence.

Operators on predications

If the terms were used in the predicate frame as described, we have a predication, which contains the complete proposition or the facts (State of Affair, SoA ) of the sentence, however, is not further specified. These operators now be applied to the entire predication, as in the UCS above the operator " present", which can be seen as a predicate with the full predication as an argument itself again. Likewise operators are added to the mode (about interrogative or declarative ) in this step.

This is now fully specified predication is finally specified by means of expression rules to form, order, and intonation, and thus set a concrete utterance in relation ( in the description ) or in such a converted ( at generation ).

Summary of the grammar formalism

This is therefore, in FG a monostratales model, as it is indeed a distinction between the UCS and the linguistic expressions and these are related by expression rules to each other, but not various levels are accepted, on which there are specific linguistic expressions, so are about no syntactic Derivationsmechanismen available. In this sense, the formation of linguistic utterances is gradually within a process chain, rather than on a single plane.

The pragmatics oriented approach makes FG to a descendant grammar model, starting from the overall situation in which an utterance is made, as opposed to an ascendant grammar model, which assumes the smallest parts, about the phonology of the morphology to syntax.

Treatment of Data

The importance of linguistic data sets Dik generally very high in: "Whenever there is some overt difference Between Two constructions X and Y, start out on the assumption thatthis difference has some kind of functionality in the linguistic system" ( Dik 1997, Cape. 1.6).

Thus FG has an inductive character, since they are similar emanates Bloomfield 's descriptivism of concrete linguistic data, as opposed to a deductive model of generative grammar as Chomsky, where an ideal abstracted from the concrete language Sprachkompentenz is central to the theory.

In the central areas of pragmatics and semantics of the FG is mainly dependent on the questioning of informants ( elicitation ) and the consultation of one's own mother tongue insights ( introspection ). Other sources such as experiments or corpora are not readily ( a generation of conceptual knowledge would possibly through an automatic processing of corpora, such as for determining paradigmatic or syntagmatic relations possible ) to determine the semantic knowledge can be used ( eg for the selection restrictions in predicate frames).

To evaluate the overall model, however, data can also be in the FG corpora and thus spontaneous speech are used, for example to check whether expressions in corpora can be described by the FG formalism.

Claim of the model

The objective of the FG is very comprehensive, Dik (1997, chapter 1. ) Formulated the following central question: " How does the natural language user ( NLU ) work ". This question identifies FG clear as a model with mentalistischem claim.

Dik identified after the formulation of the central question five capabilities of the NLU, which play essential roles for human communication:

  • Linguistic capacity: ability to produce and interpretation of linguistic expressions.
  • Epistemic capacity: ability to build and manage a knowledge base, which is used for speech processing.
  • Logical capacity: the ability to draw conclusions from the available knowledge.
  • Perceptual capacity: ability to perceive its environment and take into account in language processing.
  • Social capacity: ability to take into account the situation in language processing with.

In addition, Dik formulated in reference to the information required by Chomsky three adequacy criteria of description, explanation and observation adequacy three separate, completely different adequacy criteria:

  • Pragmatic adequacy: Direct consequence of the assumption that language is a means of communication.
  • Psychological adequacy: findings from the psycholinguistic research on language acquisition, processing and interpretation must be considered.
  • Typological adequacy: the theory should be applicable to languages ​​of different typological status.

In particular, by the claim of typological openness, the model receives a strong description oriented character, as it would make such an openness to a universal description tool, and a universalist claim, who sees it as a goal, general statements about language as a whole, not on a specific language or to make language family.

The claim of psychological adequacy indicates FG, as already mentioned in connection with the central question, as a mentalistisches model, such as the generative syntactic theory wants to be a model for human language ability, as opposed to purely application- and description -oriented approaches such as HPSG.

FG is in contrast to the nativist hypothesis Chomsky assumes that linguistic universal arise not innate qualities but the necessities of human communication ( in this sense would be about the fact that all languages ​​have a distinction between function and content words, due to the need to the content of a spoken utterance to each other to be considered in relation ), and the physical and mental constitution of man (such as a restriction on the nesting depth of subordinate clauses by the limited possibilities of the human short-term memory ), and can thus be characterized as non- nativistisches model.

The main task of linguistic research

The aim of the research in the framework of FG is to develop a language-independent formalism for linguistic description. This requires an extensive adaptation of existing formalisms in many different languages ​​necessary ( Dik 1991:248 ). In this sense, the language description is a central subject of the FG research.

From the claim of formalization leads to yet another research area: The implementation of FG on a computer. Dik himself has worked since the 1980s, especially in this area. Diks own and other implementations (such as Samuel Dorff 1989) use the logic- oriented programming language Prolog (Programming in Logic ), which seemed to be especially due to their strong focus on predicate logic, but an implementation is possible in any other programming language. The works in this area focus heavily on the field of generating and abstract representation of linguistic expressions, not the processing ( parsing ), which, like the generation of the linguistic capacity.

Furthermore, insert the demands for pragmatic and psychological adequacy of a certain openness and interdisciplinary collaboration close when the understanding of relevant subjects such as psychology and sociology are to be taken into account.

Application -oriented approach and applicability


Diks " Functional Grammar" seems to take into account many other models neglected but important to the complete language description of aspects of language:

  • An account of the pragmatics, such as described above for a list or description of the difference between the expressions Buddhist Japanese and Japanese Buddhist.
  • The central role of semantics, such as the assignment of who to animate and inanimate Which of players in a relative clause or in the selectional restrictions of the arguments in the predicate frame.
  • The distinction between semantic roles and grammatical relations, such as the description of active-passive alternation without these derive each other apart.
  • The consideration of typological peculiarities of many languages, eg in the form of the Semantic Function Hierachy ( SFH ) for Subjektivierbarkeit of players with specific semantic roles.


The use of semantic primitives for feature selection restriction of certain argument positions in the UCS could in practice result in the familiar with this semantic model problems, such as relational characteristics such as family relationships, as well as with verbs, gradual differences and colors. The coding of the fine semantics in the lexicon is, however, generally an unsolved problem dar.

The procedure not to call violations of selectional restrictions as ungrammatical, but eg to treat as a metaphor possibly represents an immunization strategy (eg if no special interpretation strategy has been developed ), which could decrease testability, usability and scientific value of the model in this case.

The difference resulting from the semantic orientation focusing on introspection and elicitation data gathering for the determination of selection restrictions of argument positions in predicate frame could cause problems and reduce the epistemological value of the data obtained, as elicited and derived from introspection data can be easily misinterpreted by the given question can, for example, when factors that go beyond the question, will not be considered.

The universal claim and the practical requirements extend also in the area of ​​temporal operators to specify the predication apart, as mentioned on this level of Dik operators as " present" and " progressive" are not universal categories, but the UCS has claimed, application of the expression rules to be language independent coded.

Summary characterization of the model

In summary, Simon C. Dik " Functional Grammar" thus as a

  • Monostratales, non- derivationelles,
  • Deszendentes,
  • Inductive,
  • Mentalistisches, non- nativistisches,
  • Universalist,
  • Pragmatik based, and functional in this sense and
  • Description -oriented and testable, and characterize formal linguistic model in this sense.