Stratificational Grammar

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Stratificational Grammar is a structural framework developed by Sydney Lamb in the 1960s that aims to provide an account of the structure of language, the relationship between meaning and speech.


The framework is called stratificational because one of its chief features is its treatment of linguistic structure as comprising several structural layers or strata. Its earlier form, in the late fifties and early sixties, followed the tradition of structural linguistics in treating the structure as composed of linguistic elements and their relationships. In the mid-sixties, work on the relationships among linguistic units revealed that when the relationships are fully plotted, the units actually disappear, so that the entire structure consists of a network of relationships.

In keeping with the idea of stratification, the network as a whole can be considered to consist of multiple subnetworks, called stratal systems. Operation of the system, for speaking and understanding, takes the form of activation passing through the network. Multiple pathways are invariably active in parallel at any time. By the end of the twentieth century, stratification and the relationship of realization had become widely recognized, and the theory's distinctiveness lay in its focus on the conception of linguistic structure as a network of relationships. Accordingly, it increasingly became referred to as relational network theory rather than stratificational theory. Beginning in 1971 it was also called cognitive linguistics, but when that term became more widely used for a variety of other theories during the eighties and nineties, the more distinctive term neurocognitive linguistics began to be used. This latter term is in keeping with the hypothesis that relational networks are related to neural networks of the brain. This hypothesis was explored in Lamb (1999).

Related Terms


  • Christie Jr, William M. 1977. A Stratificational View of Linguistic Change. Lake Bluff, IL: Jupiter Press.
  • Lamb, Sydney M. 1966. Outline of Stratificational Grammar. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press.
  • Lamb, Sydney M. 1971. "The crooked path of progess in cognitive linguistics". Georgetown University Monograph Series on Languages and Linguistics 24.99-123.
  • Lamb, Sydney M. 1999. "Pathways of the Brain: The Neurocognitive Basis of Language". Amsterdam: John Benjamins.