This paper proposes that the numerous and different grammar systems found in linguistics can be categorized into just three broad types: GENERATIVE, FUNCTIONAL and COGNITIVE. Each is closely associated with one scholar and their pioneering work, Chomsky (1965), Halliday (1983) and Langacker (1987). Each can be identified with one of the three points of the semiotic triangle as modelled by Ogden & Richards (1923), the WORD, the THING and the THOUGHT. Thus, generative grammar has as its main focus the code itself; functional grammar, real and imagined worlds; and cognitive grammar, conceptualization and mental processes.
One goal of multimodality is to examine interactions of different modes and thereby understand how semiotic work is shared among them; another is to observe patterns within a single mode and devise a ‘grammar’ for that mode. The grammar of ‘visual design’ developed by Kress & Leeuwen in Reading Images (1996) draws explicitly on functional grammar, adopting concepts such as actor/goal, recipient/participant/circumstance, given/new, offer/demand, carrier/attribute, coherence/cohesion, collocation/colligation, and the ‘six processes’. Many further concepts in their analysis are redolent of cognitive grammar, though developed independently of it, such as the partial nature of meaning making (construal), salience, information value and framing. Leeuwen’s grammar of music (Leeuwen 1999) also draws on functional grammar for some concepts, while others, e.g. figure and ground (two layers within a ‘sound perspective’) are suggestive of cognitive grammar.
When it comes to the analysis of naturally-occurring language, I suggest that the application of cognitive grammar as a framework could be fruitfully explored more than has been the case to date. I argue that of the three grammars, it is cognitive grammar, rather than generative or functional grammar, which offers the richest, most naturalistic, and, therefore, the most useful tool of research. I suggest that this is so because cognitive grammar’s focus is on thought and it therefore gets closest to language processing. Concepts from cognitive grammar, such as radial categories, prototype effects, figure/ground relations, construction, sanctioning, metonymy and metaphor, have the potential to provide scholars and researchers with powerful research tools in the areas of discourse analysis, language-learning and translation. To date this potential has not been fully realized.
Chomsky, N. 1965. Aspects of Syntax. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
Halliday, M. 1983. Introduction to Functional Grammar. London: Arnold.
Kress, G. & T. van Leeuwen. 1996. Reading Images: the grammar of visual design. London:
Langacker, R. 1987. Foundations of Cognitive Grammar. Volume I: Theoretical
Prerequisites. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Leeuwen, T. van. 1999. Speech, Music, Sound. Basingstoke/London: Macmillan.
Odgen, C. & I. Richards. 1923. The Meaning of Meaning. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.