Paul Hopper's Emergent Grammar

Berkeley Linguistics Society, vol. 13 (1987), 139-157

"I am concerned in this paper with the ... the assumption of an
abstract, mentally represented rule system which is somehow implemented when
we speak.

...'Culture is temporal, emergent, and disputed'
(Clifford 1986:19). I believe the same is true of grammar, which like speech
itself must be viewed as a real-time, social phenomenon, and therefore is
temporal; its structure is always deferred, always in a process but never
arriving, and therefore emergent; and since I can only choose a tiny fraction
of data to describe, any decision I make about limiting my field of inquiry
(for example in regard to the selection of texts, or the privileging of the
usage of a particular ethnic, class, age, or gender group) is very likely to
be a political decision, to be against someone else's interests, and
therefore disputed.


The notion of emergence is a pregnant one. It is not intended to be a
standard sense of origins or genealogy, not a historical question of 'how'
the grammar came to be the way it 'is', but instead it takes the adjective
emergent seriously as a continual movement towards structure, a postponement
or 'deferral' of structure, a view of structure as always provisional, always
negotiable, and in fact as epiphenomenal, that is at least as much an effect
as a cause.


Structure, then, in this view is not an overarching set of abstract
principles, but more a question of a spreading of systematicity from
individual words, phrases, and small sets.

Grammar is now not to be seen as the only, or even the major, source of
regularity, but instead grammar is what results when formulas are
re-arranged, or dismantled and re-assembled, in different ways.


Because grammar is always emergent but never present, it could be said that
it never exists as such, but is always coming into being. There is, in other
words, no 'grammar' but only 'grammaticization'"