The Associative Model of English

A person’s Lexicon contains all the words in the language which the person has been primed with, both stored singly and in combination with other words e.g. in idioms.

The words are coded with information about how they can be used: their meaning, form and pronunciation; collocates; semantic associations; pragmatic functions; colligations; grammatical role; textual collocations; textual semantic associations and colligations. This encoding might be with the words in the Lexicon or it might be as part of a wider network of connections a bit like how Hudson’s Word Grammar envisages the network.

This Lexicon is thus a store of words and information how to conventionally use them [w+].

Communicative need draws words from the lexicon and they are placed in a linear sequence of an utterance or sentence according to the requirements of the discourse [e.g. as a statement or a question, as required] and requirements for the structuring of information [Focus + Information].

Only words which can associate together can be used together and there are conventional sequences, or pathways of choices, of verbs and nouns. All this practical knowledge has been established by priming.

Key Principles

The Associative Principle

The Associative Principle states, quite simply, that any word has associations with one or more other words in the language and these associations are meaning based. This association is realized in different ways or in combinations of ways in different languages.

The Placement Principle

For languages like English there is also a clear Placement Principle which states that words are placed close together by the speaker/writer because of their associations. The Placement Principle means that the stronger the association, the closer the words should be. Some other languages also associate words together mainly by using the Placement Principle, while others use a combination of means to make the associations clear e.g. case endings, morphological inflections, or by combining ‘words’ into one longer word. English uses mainly placement, and some inflections.

The Start Here Principle

This principle states that, in English, speaker choice of where to start an utterance or sentence is a prime determiner of what will follow. For example, in a passive sentence in English the speaker chooses to start with the particular subject and use passive verbs; they do not think of an ‘active sentence’ and then transform it into a ‘passive’ one. Unlike Tesniere’s insistence on the verb being the root of the sentence, the Associative Model claims that the first information focus is the central determiner of what the sentence is about [the ‘theme’ in Prague School terms] and the verb used is associated with that first information focus rather than vice versa. An information focus. e.g. a focus noun. has a limited number of possible verb associates. These verb associates in turn have specific grammatical requirements which must be met. These three principles are the essence of the Associative Model of English.

A Dependency Grammar

The Associative Model of English is a dependency grammar based on the above principles, as can be seen from these example Associative Model sentence diagrams. The use of words [by speaker choice] require other words to produce the conventional [and unconventional] sequences and meanings of the language. These words have to be associated with each other. There are direct linear relationships and other non-linear meaning relationships. Speaker [and listener] knowledge enables the production and understanding of these sequences.