Introduction Cognitive Linguistics is a new approach to the study of language that emerged in the 1970’s as a reaction against the dominant generative paradigm which pursues an autonomous view of language. Some of the main assumptions underlying the generative approaches to syntax and semantics are not in accordance with the experimental data in linguistics, psychology and other fields; the ‘generative commitment’ to notational formalism, that is to say the use of ‘formal grammars’ that views languages as systems of arbitrary symbols manipulated by mathematical rules, is used at the expense of descriptive adequacy and psychological realism.
Introduction What Lakoff refers to as ‘nonfinitary phenomena’, i.e. mental images, general cognitive processes, basic- level categories, prototype phenomena, the use of neural foundations for linguistic theory and so on, are not considered part of these grammars because they are not characterisable in this notation. It is from this dissatisfaction with the dominant model that Cognitive Linguistics is created. Cognitive Linguistics is not a totally homogeneous framework. Ungerer and Schmid (1997) distinguish three main approaches: Experiental view, the Prominence view and the Attentional view of language.
Introduction The ‘Experiental view’ pursues a more practical and empirical description of meaning; instead of postulating logical rules and objective definitions based on theoretical considerations, in this approach it is the user of the language who tells us what is going on in their minds when they produce and understand words and sentences. Eleanor Rosch et al. (1977, 1978) carried out the first research within this approach, mainly in the study of cognitive categories, which led to the prototype model of categorisation.
Introduction Within this framework, the knowledge and experience human beings have of the things and events that they know well is transferred to those other objects and events, which they are not so familiar with, and even to abstract concepts. Lakoff and Johnson (1980) were among the first ones to pinpoint this conceptual potential, especially in the case of metaphors. However, this does not only apply to the field of metaphor but to other figurative resources which are not considered part of the language in more traditional linguistics, such as metonymy.
Introduction The ‘Prominence view’ is based on concepts of profiling and figure/ground segregation, a phenomenon first introduced by the Danish gestalt psychologist Rubin. The prominence principle explains why, when we look at an object in our environment, we single it out as a perceptually prominent figure standing out from the ground. This principle can also be applied to the study of language; especially, to the study of local relations. It is also used in Langacker’s grammar, where profiling is used to explain grammatical constructs and, figure and ground for the explanation of grammatical relations.
Introduction Finally, the ‘Attentional view’ assumes that what we actually express reflects which parts of an event attract our attention. A main concept of this approach is Fillmore’s (1975) notion of ‘frame’, i.e. an assemblage of the knowledge we have about a certain situation. Depending on our cognitive ability to direct our attention, different aspects of this frame are highlighted, resulting in different linguistic expressions.
Introduction The question of the complex relationship between language, experience, and the mind has been one with which every approach to linguistics has grappled. The cognitive perspective holds that language is part of a cognitive system which comprises perception, emotions, categorization, abstraction processes, and reasoning. All these cognitive abilities interact with language and are influenced by language.
Introduction Thus, the perspective on language offered by Cognitive Linguistics emphasizes the effect of human experience of the world, the unique way humans perceive and conceptualize that experience, and how these are in turn reflected in the structure of language itself.
Introduction A central claim of a cognitive approach is that grammar forms a continuum with the lexicon and is fully describable in terms of form-meaning pairings. Thus, grammar is not represented as an autonomous component. The problem of how people construct meaning in thought and language is at the heart of research in a cognitive approach to language. As such it emphasizes a usage-based conception of language and evidences a concern for contextualized, dynamically constructed meanings and for the grounding of language use in both cognitive and social interaction.
Introduction Cognitive Linguistics has been developed by scholars like George Lakoff and Ronald Langacker. Basically Cognitive Linguistics relates language to conceptualization and human experience. Meaning is said to reside in conceptualization, and grammar is not seen as autonomous. Cognitive processing plays an important role in this model, and basic cognitive abilities such as viewing, distancing and scanning are incorporated into the theory.
Introduction Experiental realism or experientalism is the term used to describe the philosophical view that linguistic meaning cannot be described independently of the nature and experience of the organisms doing the thinking. Conceptual structure is meaningful because it comes from and is linked to our pre-conceptual bodily experiences.
Introduction There is no objective, disembodied truth, and consequently the world is not objectively reflected in language. Language is much more than just a mirror, it describes our individual and collective experiences of the world. Conceptual and linguistic universals arise from the fact that we have similar bodies and brains, that we inhabit similar environments and that we communicate with each other.
Introduction Cognitive Linguistics is by nature cross-disciplinary and among the most obviously related fields are psychology, neurophysiology, computer science and general cogntive science. In my view, this openness is part of what makes cognitive linguistics such an exciting venue. Much of the research has focused on metaphor, semantic change, prototype effects, blends, prepositional expressions and many other topics. There has also been a great deal of work carried out in establishing appropriate formalisms. Key concepts include metaphors, prototype theory, radial structures, mental spaces and embodiment.
MAIN TENETS As human beings the way in which we interact with our world through our spatial and temporal orientation, our manipulation of objects, our perception of the things that surround us and our bodily movements influences how we construct and understand meaning. Based on empirical research in different areas such as Cognitive Psychology, and Anthropological Linguistics, Cognitive Linguistics argues that both the design features of languages, and our ability to learn and use them are accounted for by general cognitive abilities, our human categorisation strategies, together with our cultural, contextual and functional parameters.
MAIN TENETS Human conceptual categories, the meaning of words and sentences and the meaning of linguistic structures at any level, are not a set of universal abstract features or uninterpreted symbols. They are motivated and grounded more or less directly in experience, in our bodily, physical, social and cultural experiences, because after all, “we are beings of the flesh”.
MAIN TENETS The second main idea is related to the theory of linguistic meaning. Most cognitive linguists reject ‘objectivist’ theories of meaning. For Cognitive Linguistics, meanings do not exist independently from the people that create and use them; all linguistic forms do not have inherent form in themselves, they act as clues activating the meanings that reside in our minds and brains. This activation of meaning is not necessarily entirely the same in every person, because meaning is based on individual experience as well as collective experience.
MAIN TENETS Therefore, for Cognitive Linguistics, we have no access to a reality independent of human categorisation, and that is why the structure of reality as reflected in language is a product of the human mind. Semantic structure reflects the mental categories which people have formed from their experience and understanding of the world.
METHODOLOGICAL PRINCIPLES Human categorisation is one of the major issues in Linguistics. The ability to categorise, i.e., to judge that a particular thing is or is not an instance of a particular category, is an essential part of cognition. Categorisation is often automatic and unconscious, except in problematic cases. This can cause us to make mistakes and make us think that our categories are categories of things, when in fact they are categories of abstract entities. When experience is used to guide the interpretation of a new experience, the ability to categorise becomes indispensable.
METHODOLOGICAL PRINCIPLES The classical view on categorisation, that of Aristotle, claims that categories are defined in terms of a conjunction of necessary and sufficient binary features, that is to say that linguistic analytical categories impose a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for the membership in the category. This requirement not only implies that categories have clear boundaries and that all members of a category have equal status but also that there is an abstract, general definition with which all the members of that category must comply.
METHODOLOGICAL PRINCIPLES Instead of relating these different senses to an abstract default sense that includes all of them, the cognitive approach adopts a prototype categorization model. In this model human categories have two types of members: the ‘prototype’ and several less- central members related to the former in a motivated way. The prototype is the best, the most prominent and the most typical member of a category.
METHODOLOGICAL PRINCIPLES Another consequence of the primacy of cognitive abilities is that there is no strict distinction between encyclopaedic and linguistic knowledge. Objectivists differentiate between these two different epistemological types of knowledge. On the one hand, ‘linguistic’ or ‘definitional’ knowledge that “corresponds to the essential properties of the entities and categories that the words designate”; and on the other, ‘encyclopaedic’ knowledge “corresponds to the contingent properties of the entities and properties that the words designate”.
METHODOLOGICAL PRINCIPLES This dictionary-encyclopaedia distinction leads objectivists to postulate a ‘meaning per se’, independent of whatever the speaker may know about the states of affairs that he is referring to. This paradigm also induces the distinction between literal (objectively true or false) and figurative meaning (no direct correspondence to entities and categories in the real world).
METHODOLOGICAL PRINCIPLES This continuum between language and experience has led cognitive linguists to study how conceptual structures or cognitive models are reflected in language. According to Langacker, most concepts invoke other concepts and without making an explicit reference to them, they cannot be adequately defined.
METHODOLOGICAL PRINCIPLES Research on metaphor occupies a central position in Cognitive Linguistics. One of the major problems that cognitive linguists still face is the question of how to constrain metaphorical mappings. Attempts to constrain the mapping process in metaphorical production and comprehension can be found in Lakoff’s ‘Invariance Principle’, i.e. “metaphorical mappings preserve the cognitive topology of the source domain in a way consistent with the inherent structure of the target domain”.
METHODOLOGICAL PRINCIPLES The Invariance Principle is useful in order to constrain the nature of those mappings: that is to say, it is not possible to map from the source domain structure that does not preserve the inherent structure of the target domain. The only problem with this principle is that it does not show exactly what part of the source domain is the one that must be consistent with the structure of the target domain.
METHODOLOGICAL PRINCIPLES Another important and interesting area of research is the interaction between metaphor and metonymy. Goossens proposes the term ‘metaphtonymy’ to cover the possible interrelations between metaphor and metonymy. Among these interrelations, he distinguishes two as the dominant patterns: one where the experiential basis for metaphor is a metonymy (‘metaphor from metonymy’) and another where a metonymy functioning in the target domain is embedded within a metaphor (‘metonymy within metaphor’).