Argument structure constructions and syntactic productivity

The case of Swedish motion constructions

  • Joel Olofsson


This article investigates the productivity of the Swedish intransitive motion construction verb.intr-iväg ‘off’, which contains a verb, the directional adverb iväg ‘off’ and an optional PP.

In a usage-based construction grammar (Goldberg 1995; Goldberg 2006; Barðdal 2008; Bybee 2010) syntactic productivity concerns the possibility of using argument constructions with new verbs (or other argument taking heads) as well as with ordinary verbs with a new function. This notion of productivity is based on type frequency, semantic variability and similarity.

The article is based on two case studies. The first study investigates this construction in a corpus of blogs. The study gave 17,330 hits, with a type frequency of 193 verbs and a semantic variability of 41 frames. These usage findings are incorporated into a formal description of the construction. The second study investigates the semantic variability of the construction by using lexical units associated with six semantic frames in the Swedish FrameNet. The study accounts for 135 verbs, the majority of which are considered rare.

The article shows that even though speakers tend to use the same small prototypical set of verbs in this construction, it is also possible to use the construction with a wide variety of verbs, which are used with the same functions as the more established ones.