A New Approach to English Grammar, on Semantic Principles

A New Approach to English Grammar, on Semantic Principles

A New Approach to English Grammar, on Semantic Principles

A New Approach to English Grammar, on Semantic Principles


This work offers a fresh approach to grammar, arguing that a speaker "codes" a meaning into grammatical forms in order to communicate them to a hearer. Investigating the interrelation of grammar and meaning, Dixon uncovers a rationale for the varying grammatical properties of different words. He offers a review of some of the main points of English syntax, as well as a discussion of English verbs in terms of semantic types. Finally, he examines five specific grammatical topics: complement clauses in detail; complement clauses, transitivity and causatives; passive construction; promotion of a non-subject to subject slot; and the relation between verb constructions.


When I first became interested in linguistics, in 1961, it was with the idea that it should be possible to put forward the kind of description and explanation which is attempted in this book.

I was thinking about the meanings of words and how their grammatical properties should be a function of those meanings. I thought: there really ought to be a discipline, perhaps called linguistics, which deals with such things. Then I found that there actually was a subject called linguistics. It was not immediately obvious that linguists at the time were interested in the interrelation between meaning and grammar. Nevertheless, I settled down --in a state of some excitement--to study the principles of linguistics. This was at the University of Edinburgh, under the fine tutelage of Michael Halliday and Angus McIntosh.

It seemed to me that if I wished properly to understand the methodology and theory of linguistics, I should try applying it to description of a previously undescribed language. So I went to Australia for a year (in 1963-4) to study Dyirbal. After that I became a lecturer at University College London, under Michael Halliday, and struggled for a while to find a framework in which to present the description of Dyirbal. I decided that the facts of the language were difficult enough to explain without the added impediment of an opaque jargon, and settled for a straightforward description in terms of the categories that linguists have evolved over two thousand years (with an added chapter of explanation in terms of the then-current version of transformational grammar).

I had the luck to spend 1968/9 at Harvard, at a time when striking programmes for the linking of semantics with syntax were being broached by Lakoff and Ross, McCawley, and others. I then began thinking about English (e.g. Dixon1970, which is the genesis for Chapter 10 in the present volume). At that time I formulated the idea of 'semantic types', an outline of the semantico-syntactic framework which underlies this book (see Dixon1977, which was first circulated in 1970).

After moving to Australia, in 1970, almost all my time was taken . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.