Two Ways of Coding: Sentence Grammar vs. Interactive Grammar

Talk by Bernd Heine, Professor Emeritus, Institute of African Studies and Egyptology, University of Cologne.


The main concern of the presentation is the distinction between two contrasting modes of structuring linguistic discourse. One mode, represented by sentence grammar, organized in a propositional format and having an analytic organization, focuses on conceptual communication about the world. The second mode, represented by interactive grammar, has a holophrastic organization and a focus on social communication. Having been treated in previous work as a fairly marginal part of language, interactive grammar is described as a distinct category that contrasts with sentence grammar both in its functions and its structural behaviour (Heine 2023).

The distinction between two grammars exhibits, on the one hand, correlations with observations made in neurolinguistic studies on differential activity in the two hemispheres of the human brain. On the other hand, there are also noteworthy parallels to a similar distinction made in social psychology between two types or systems of reasoning and judgment. The conclusion drawn in the presentation is that the two grammars have complementary functions and both are needed for successful communication.


Heine, Bernd 2023. The Grammar of Interactives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The author

Bernd Heine is an Emeritus Professor at the Institute of African Studies and Egyptology, University of Cologne. He has held visiting professorships in Europe, the USA, S. Korea, Japan, China, Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, Kenya, and South Africa. His main research areas are endangered languages in Africa, grammaticalization theory, and discourse grammar. He has been a fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, USA (1999-2000), the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS), Wassenaar (2005-2006), Distinguished World-Class Scholar, Ministry of Education, South Korea (2008), and Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (2008-9). In 2009, he received the Life Time Achievement Award from the Evolutionary Linguistics Association.

His book publications include Possession: Cognitive Sources, Forces, and Grammaticalization (CUP, 1997); Cognitive Foundations of Grammar (OUP, 1997); Language Contact and Grammatical Change (CUP, 2005); The Genesis of Grammar: A Reconstruction (OUP, 2007; World Lexicon of Grammaticalization (CUP, 2019, with co-authors), and The Grammar of Interactives (OUP, 2023).