Rule-List Fallacy

Chris Butler cbutler at
Thu Jun 19 06:46:04 UTC 2008

Since recent developments in this discussion have touched on the issue of
formulaic language, can I remind contributors of the detailed work done by
Alison Wray on formulaic sequences in non-disadvantaged and aphasic adults,
in children learning their L1 and in children and adults learning an L2. She
argues that expressions are analysed on a needs-only basis during first
language acquisition, holistic processing being the default. Her model thus
recognises the possibility of parallel processing mechanisms, holistic and

Wray, Alison (2002) Formulaic Language and the Lexicon. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

I have recently written an article on 'Formulaic sequences in functional and
cognitive linguistics'  in which I argue that since many formulaic
expressions can be found, in attested language, in variant forms involving
insertions and substitutions, the linguistic systems of adult native
speakers do treat them as analysable (this point has also been made by
others, e.g. Gordon Tucker). I then examine three formulaic sequences of
different types, and assess the extent to which four linguistic approaches
which have paid some attention to such phenomena (the family of
constructionist grammars, the collostructional analysis, the Simpler Syntax
model, Systemic Functional Grammar) can account for their properties. I go
on to propose a model in which differences in degree of formulaicity reflect
the strengths of associations of between elements of sequences at different
levels of description, whose linkage can be modelled in terms of constraint
satisfaction. Sorry to be guilty of the same sin as Fritz and Matthew - the
paper is finished and with the publishers, but has not yet come out. It will
be published in the November 2008 issue of the Revista Canaria de Estudios

Chris Butler
Honorary Professor, Swansea University, UK

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