Classical vs. Modern theory in cognitive linguistics
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This book is a 'must-read' for anyone interested in pursuing work in Cognitive Linguistics. It provides a comprehensive, in-depth account of all the main work in the area and sets out clear directions for the field.
It is written in an accessible style which will make it appeal to students and researchers alike. Its breadth and depth of coverage are unparalleled. It masterfully answers a constellation of questions of how language emerges in human experience as a function of human learning, experience, and knowledge - as a cognitive technology that is peerless in the animal kingdom.
It is a masterpiece and a delight. I recommend it to students, professionals, and to all those interested in understanding humans and their languages.
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Yet, as language reflects conceptual organisation, their existence is revealed by patterns in language: patterns in language reveal patterns in the mind, an issue I address in my book: The Crucible of Language. Of course, as language provides a somewhat partial window on the mind, cognitive linguists invoke the notion of converging evidence. Behavioural studies from experimental psychology have been deployed in order to provide converging evidence for the psychological reality of conceptual metaphors, for instance.
The upshot is that cognitive linguistic theories, that have deployed language as the lens through which cognitive phenomena can be investigated amount to models of the mind. The second constitutes a focus on language: after all, cognitive linguists, like other linguists, study language for its own sake. But again, a consequence of the commitments of the enterprise, language is held to reflect general aspects of cognition.
One concrete manifestation of this is that language is held to reflect more general, organisational properties of cognition, such as embodiment and the nature of categorisation. Another is that aspects of language that are treated as discrete and encapsulated in formal linguistics, such as grammar, cannot be treated as such within cognitive linguistics; cognitive linguists take a broadly functional perspective: language emerged to facilitate communicative meaning. Hence, grammatical organisation, which supports situated meaning, cannot be artificially separated from the study of meaning, which it is specialised to facilitate.
Within cognitive linguistics, the study of language often exhibits either a focus on semantics, or on grammar, although there is typically no hard and fast division between the way the two are studied, despite the specific focus adopted. In practice, the division arises due to the focus of a particular researcher, or of the research question being investigated, rather than due to a principled division.
The area of study involving cognitive linguistics approaches to semantics is concerned with investigating a number of semantic phenomena. One such phenomenon is linguistic semantics, encompassing phenomena traditionally studied under the aegis of lexical semantics word meaning , compositional semantics sentence meaning , and pragmatics situated meaning.
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It also encompasses phenomena not addressed under these traditional headings, such as the relationship between experience, the conceptual system and the semantic structure encoded by language during the process of meaning construction. This is because grammar is viewed within the cognitive linguistics enterprise as a meaningful system in and of itself, which therefore shares important properties with the system of linguistic meaning and cannot be functionally separated from it. Cognitive grammarians have also typically adopted one of two foci.
Scholars including Ronald Langacker have emphasised the study of the cognitive principles that give rise to linguistic organisation. In his theoretical framework, Cognitive Grammar, Langacker has attempted to delineate the principles that serve to structure a grammar, and to relate these to aspects of general cognition. The second avenue of investigation, pursued by researchers aims to provide a more descriptively detailed account of the units that comprise a particular language. These researchers have attempted to provide an inventory of the units of language.
Cognitive grammarians who have pursued this line of investigation are developing a set of theories that can collectively be called construction grammars, or sometimes constructionist models. This approach takes its name from the view in cognitive linguistics that the basic unit of language is a form-meaning symbolic assembly which is called a construction.
It follows that cognitive approaches to grammar are not restricted to investigating aspects of the grammatical structure largely independently of meaning, as is often the case in formal traditions. Instead, cognitive approaches to grammar encompass the entire inventory of linguistic units defined as form-meaning pairings. These run the gamut from skeletal syntactic configurations such as the ditransitive construction, e.
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Instead, meaning and grammar are seen as two sides of the same coin: to take a cognitive approach to grammar is to study the units of language and hence the language system itself. To take a cognitive approach to semantics is to attempt to understand how this linguistic system relates to the conceptual system, which in turn relates to embodied experience.
The concerns of cognitive approaches to semantics and cognitive approaches to grammar are thus complementary.
The following diagram provides a schematic representation of the main theoretical foci of cognitive linguistics. Evans, Vyvyan. Cognitive Linguistics: A Complete Guide. Edinburgh University Press. Cambridge University Press. Vyvyan Evans, Ph. He received his Ph. Back Psychology Today.
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