Emergent grammar

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Emergent grammar is a functional approach to the study of syntax, originally proposed by Paul Hopper, which postulates that rules for grammar and syntactic structure emerge as language is used. It is distinguished from what Hopper calls the A Priori Grammar Postulate,[1] which posits that grammar is a set of rules existing in the mind before the production of utterances. Like other functional theories of grammar it is opposed to the principles of generative grammar and the concept of Universal Grammar. Whereas Universal Grammar claims that features of grammar are innate,[2] emergent grammar and other functional theories claim that the human language faculty has no innate grammar and that features of grammar are learned through experience. Emergent grammar differs from other functionalist frameworks in that it dispenses entirely with the idea of grammar as a synchronic structure, instead seeing grammar as a continuous diachronic process of grammaticalization.

Emergent grammar was formally proposed in 1987.[3] Since then, it has been an approach common in linguistic discourse analysis and conversation analysis and has been used to investigate the relationship between grammatical structure and real-time interaction and language use.[4] Recent research finds that "the beginnings of the emergence of grammar can be found in individual interactions"[5] and that "grammar emerges through interaction among participants who are constantly reusing and modifying prior utterances to achieve current interactive goals."[5]


  1. ^ Hopper, Paul (1988). "Emergent Grammar and the A Priori Grammar Postulate." In Linguistics in Context, ed. Deborah Tannen.
  2. ^ Hornstein, Norbert, Jairo Nunes, and Kleanthes K. Grohmann (2005). Understanding Minimalism. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 99–100.
  3. ^ Hopper, Paul. "Emergent Grammar". Berkeley Linguistics Society 13: 139–157. Archived from the original on September 18, 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-18. 
  4. ^ Fox, Barbara (2007). "Principles shaping grammatical practices: an exploration". Discourse Studies 9 (3): 299. doi:10.1177/1461445607076201. Retrieved 2008-10-16. 
  5. ^ a b Su, Danjie. (2016) Grammar emerges through reuse and modification of prior utterances. Discourse Studies 18(3). 1-24. doi: 10.1177/1461445616634551