What Is Word Grammar?

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  • Written By: Laura Metz
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 22 February 2020
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Word Grammar is a linguistic theory developed by British linguist Richard Hudson in the early 1980s. It is a type of dependency grammar, which structures sentences by identifying a word as a parent or dependent of another word. Word Grammar views language as a network of knowledge, where one concept cannot be understood without an understanding of several other ideas.

In 1984, Hudson published the first article on his theory, simply titled “Word Grammar.” He developed his theory primarily out of studies of Systemic Functional Grammar and Daughter-Dependency Grammar. It is generally categorized as a type of cognitive linguistics and a dependency grammar.

A dependency structure begins with the verb as the root of the sentence. The noun depends on the verb; therefore, the verb is a parent and the noun is the dependent of that verb. Similarly, an adjective describes a noun. In that situation, the noun is the parent and the adjective is the dependent of that noun. Thus, most words in a sentence are a parent of one word and a dependent of another.

Each relationship is referred to as a word-word dependency. To diagram a sentence using Word Grammar, each word-word dependency is shown by an arrow pointing from the parent to the dependent. When every relationship is identified in a sentence, the verb should be the only word without an arrow pointing to it.


Another characteristic of Word Grammar is its view of language as a complex network of knowledge. Instead of a logical progression, language is composed of many concepts linked together in a great web; understanding of one concept requires knowledge of several others. Consequently, the study of language can best be viewed as looking up information in an encyclopedia, not reading a textbook.

Specifically, language is a scale-free small world network. Scale-free refers to the fact that information tends to cluster together. For example, several concepts might fit under the heading of syntax or phonology, but there is no explicit boundary. Therefore, a linguist might focus on a specific area or cluster; however, that cluster must be studied in context, recognizing its relationship to other concepts.

As a small world network, every concept is connected to every other concept by only a few jumps. Because of the clusters, connections between seemingly separate ideas can be made easily. Thus, Word Grammar is concerned with all areas of language, including syntax, semantics, phonology, and pragmatics.


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