A paper in Cognitive Linguistics
Safwan A. Aziz
- Cognitive grammar is a comprehensive and unified theory of
- At its inception, cognitive grammar constituted a radical
alternative to generative Theory. the central claim of cognitive
grammar — that grammar is fully reducible to assemblies of
- - Grammar is strongly shaped by semantic and functional
considerations. A cognitive approach to language can also be
a pragmatic approach, for cognition figures crucially in
linguistic behavior, social interaction, and contextual
- Cognitive grammar explicitly denies the existence of any sharp
or specific boundary between pragmatic and linguistic
considerations. It is in fact a pragmatically grounded theory of
language in regard to its organization, its view of semantics,
and even its account of grammar.
Language serves the basic semiological function of allowing conceptualizations to be
symbolized by phonological sequences for purposes of thought and speech. To permit the
phonological symbolization of meanings, a language must at least comprise:
Semantic structures, phonological structures, and symbolic links between the two. A
fundamental claim of cognitive grammar is that only these are necessary. It is claimed, in
particular, that lexicon, morphology, syntax, and even discourse patterns form a continuum
(rather than discrete components) whose full description resides in assemblies of symbolic
structures (i.e. symbolic linkages between semantic and phonological structures). In this
way the theory achieves a substantial conceptual unification. This relationship is illustrated
Elements of the Linguistic system in CG:
(i) semantic, phonological, and symbolic Structures.
(ii) schematizations of permitted structures.
(iii) categorizing relationships between permitted structures.
A language is therefore limited to structures derivable from such data by the fundamental
cognitive abilities of abstraction (schematization) and categorization. Language use (and the
basis for language acquisition) consists of usage events, in which full, contextually grounded
understandings are paired with phonological occurrences in all their phonetic detail. See fig. 2
Conceptualist Semantics and Grammar
The centrality of meaning is reflected in a fundamental claim of Cognitive Grammar
(henceforth CG), namely that lexicon and grammar form a continuum consisting
solely in assemblies of symbolic structures. . A pivotal claim of cognitive grammar is
that grammatical units are also intrinsically symbolic. A symbolic structure is nothing
more than the pairing of a semantic structure and a phonological structure. It follows
from this claim that grammar itself is meaningful, just as lexical items are.
Grammatical meanings are generally more abstract than lexical meanings. This is,
however, a matter of degree, so there is no clear line between lexicon and grammar.
Meaning resides in conceptualization. It subsumes both fixed and novel conceptions;
sensory and motor experience. As the basis for its meaning, every expression and
every symbolic unit invokes some body of conceptual content, and on that content it
imposes a particular construal. Content comprises a set of cognitive domains, each
pertaining to a different facet of the element’s semantic value.
Any kind of conceptualization is capable of being invoked in this capacity, from the
basic experience of time, space, color, taste, etc. It follows that a particular expression
may assume a slightly different value on every occasion of its use since every
expression and every symbolic unit imposes a particular construal on the content it
invokes. Therefore construal might be viewed as our capacity to conceive and portray
the same situation in alternate ways. Dimensions of construal include Perspective and
prominence. These are illustrated below. A speaker who wishes to describe a certain
conceived situation must, for example, make decisions concerning its scope — which
aspects of the situation are to be included in the expression’s intended coverage — as
well as the level of specificity at which they are to be characterized. The speaker must
also adopt some perspective on the situation.
Perspective may include:
- Vantage point, be it spatial or more abstract.
- How objectively or subjectively a given entity is construed, i.e. whether it is put
‘onstage’ as a specific object of conception, or whether it remains ‘offstage’ and
- Global and Local perspective: as in the difference between “ Jack is brilliant…or
Jack is being smart.
• Prominence includes focal prominence and profiling. The conceptualization
designated by a linguistic utterance constitutes its profile, a focal point. However, a
particular focal point is always prominent with respect to a particular context. This
constitutes profile/base organization.
• Many expressions are analyzed as profiling relationships. Thus the adverbial
(before) profiles a relationship of temporal antecedence between two schematically
conceived events . Expressions that profile relationships manifest another kind of
prominence in how they portray their participants. One participant, termed the
trajector, is generally singled out as the primary figure within the profiled relation
(in the case of arrive, for instance, the trajector is the mover). If a second
participant is also singled out for focal prominence, it is called the landmark
(analyzed as the secondary figure). Move is thus a verb, as it profiles the change
through time in a spatial relationship. On the other hand, mover is a noun, even
though it evokes the same conceptual content. All aspects of conceptualist
Semantics are illustrated in the diagram below:
The pervasive importance of construal shows clearly that linguistic meaning does not
reside in the objective nature of the situation described but is crucially dependent on
how the situation is apprehended. Indeed, the situation in question is very often a
mental construction which has no objective existence in the first place. Much of what
we express linguistically is imaginative in nature, even in talking about actual
Grammar as Symbolization:
Lexicon and grammar form a continuum of symbolic elements. Like lexicon, grammar
provides for the structuring and symbolization of conceptual content, and is thus imagic
in character. When we use a particular construction or grammatical morpheme, we
thereby select a particular image to structure the conceived situation for communicative
purposes. Because languages differ in their grammatical structure, they differ in the
imagery that speakers employ when conforming to linguistic convention. Grammatical
constructions have the effect of imposing a particular profile on their composite
semantic value. When a head combines with a modifier, for example, it is the profile of
the head that prevails at the composite structure level.