Cognitive Linguistic Approach to Language Study
It has its origins in the sass as a conscious reaction to Chomsky linguistics, tit its emphasis on formalistic syntactic analysis and its underlying assumption that language is independent from other forms of cognition.Increasingly, evidence was beginning to show that language is learned and processed much in the same way as other types of Information about the world, and that the same cognitive processes are Involved In language as are Involved In other forms of thinking.
For example, In our everyday lives, we look at things from deferent angles, we get up close to them or further away and see them from different vantage points and with efferent levels of granularity; we assess the relative features of our environment and decide which are important and need to be attended to and which are less important and need to be backgrounder; we lump information together, perceive and create patterns in our environment, and look for these patterns in new environments when we encounter them.
As we will see in this volume, all of these processes are at work in language too.The two key figures who are associated with the inception of Cognitive Linguistics are George Alaska and Ronald Linebacker.
Both, t should be remembered, started their careers as members of a group of young scholars associated with the radical new approach spearheaded by NOAA Chomsky. By the sass, however, both Alaska and Linebacker were becoming increasingly disaffected with the formalistic approach to syntax associated with the Chomsky school.
Both scholars turned their attention, Instead, to semantic Issues, which had been relatively neglected within the Chomsky framework. Alaska raised fundamental questions with regard to ‘objectivism’ SE antics that is, theories which maintained that entente meaning maps onto objectively verifiable states of affairs in the world. He argued, instead, that semantic content is mediated by how speakers construe and conceptualize the world. An important aspect of construal is how we categorize the things in our environment.
Taking up the notion of prototype category developed by cognitive psychologist Eleanor Roach, Alaska argued that words do not name classically defined categories, that Is, categories constituted by a set of necessary and sufficient conditions. Rather, entitles can be good, or less good, members of a category. In a crucial and highly influential move, Alaska then proposed that the a syntactic construction, might also be analyses in terms of a central, prototypical member, and a number of extended, or more peripheral senses.
A noteworthy milestone here is the dissertation by one of Alaska s students, Claudia Bergman, on the polymers of the preposition (Bergman, 1981). Bergman argued that t he ‘central’, ‘prototypical’ sense combines the meanings of ‘above’ and ‘across’, as in The bird flew over the yard . Extended senses, related in virtue of some common shared features, include the ‘above’ sense , as in the electric is hovering over the hill, the ‘across’ sense, as in Sam drove over the bridge , the ‘covering’ sense She spread the tablecloth over the table, the dispersal sense, as in The guards were posted all over the hill , and several more.
Bargeman’s thesis (presented in Alaska 1987: Case Study 2) not only inspired a plethora of -studies, it also provided a template for polymers studies more generally. La Coffs second main contribution was to id entity a number of ‘conceptual metaphors’ that underlie our abstract concepts and the way we think about the world and ourselves (Alaska and Johnson 1980, 1999).
For example, one of the most important conceptual metaphors is the idea that ‘good’ or ‘active’ things are ‘up’ whereas ‘bad’ or ‘static’ things are ‘down’, which allows us to say that we’re feeling IoW or having ‘down time’, that things are or that that they are ‘up and going’ . This metaphor was taken to reflect our basic experience with the world that we have as children; when we fall over we feel bad; when we lie down we are stationary, when we get up we are active, and when we are feeling good, we literally ‘stand tall’.
As discussed in a later chapter, conceptual metaphor theory has come in for a good agree of criticism in recent years and the theory has been refined to take account of empirical psycholinguistic findings as well as more socio-cultural approaches to language, but the basic tenets remain the same: language tends to reflect our physical interactions with the world and abstract concepts are linked to physical experiences through metaphor. Linebacker’s contribution is perhaps more fundamental than Lassoes .
His Cognitive Grammar (Linebacker 1987, 1991, 2008) offers a radical re-think of basic issues concerning the nature of linguistic meaning and its relation to the surface form of utterances. He proposed a ‘minimalist’ approach, whereby the only elements in linguistic description are (a) phonological representations, concerning the overt form of an expression (whether spoken, written, or signed), (b) semantic representations, roughly, meanings, broadly understood to include pragmatic, situational, and encyclopedic aspects, and (c) symbolic relations between elements of (a) and elements of (b).
On this basis, a language comes to be characterized, quite simply, as an inventory of phonological, semantic, and symbolic units, and language acquisition is a matter of a speaker’s increasing command of these units. Importantly, the units differ along a number of dimensions. Thus some units are internally complex, while others are schematic to some degree or other.
For example, the expression can-opener is internally complex, while the component unit can is an instance of the more schematic unit Noun, the whole expression being an instance of the complex schematic unit [N V- ere] and its associated semantics (roughly: ‘ a device that can be used for V- ins Ins’). The schematic unit can sanction an open-ended set of instantiations; in this way, Cognitive Grammar is bled to handle syntactic and morphological generalizations.
It should also be noted that the unit has other semantic values (think of examples such as dog-lover , which denotes a person, not a thing, and , where the initial noun designates the place where a person dwells); in other words, the unit is polygamous, Just like the words of a language. The mechanics of Cognitive Grammar are discussed in more detail elsewhere in this volume. Three aspects, however, may be singled out for special mention here: The first concerns the way in which ‘grammaticality (or ‘acceptability- cognitive insists see little reason to distinguish the two concepts) is to be understood.
Grammaticality, namely, has to do with the extent to which an expression is sanctioned, or legitimated, by an already existing schematic unit, or possibly by several such units, in the language; the fit, needless to say, need not be perfect, neither will different speakers of the language always assess the matter in the same way. * The second observation concerns the idea that syntactic organization is inherently symbolic and therefore meaningful, and that syntactic structures – Just like individual words ND morphemes associate a form and meaning.
An early indicative study concerned the passive construction in English (Linebacker, 1982). Rather than being seen as the result of syntactic transformations, the construction and its various components, such as the verb be the verbal participle, and the by phrase, were argued to have semantic content, which contribute cumulatively to the semantic and pragmatic value of the passive construction. Thirdly, the Cognitive Grammar approach is sympathetic to the notion that linguistic knowledge, rather than residing in a small number of very road, high-level abstractions, may actually be rather low-level and ‘surface oriented’, consisting in multiple memories of already encountered usage and relatively shallow generalizations over these remembered instances.
In practical terms, this means that linguistic knowledge will tend to be centered on individual lexical items and their idiosyncratic properties, concerning the syntactic environments in which they occur and their stylistic or pragmatic values. Similarly, the representation of syntactic and word-formation constructions will incorporate knowledge of the lexical items which typically occur in hem, in addition, once again, to information about the kinds of situations in which they are likely to be used.
Although it represents a radical departure in some ways from many established ideas in linguistics (such as the formerly widely held view that syntax, semantics and pragmatics were largely independent of one another), the principles underlying Cognitive Linguistics resonated with many traditional concerns one thinks of classics such as Gustavo Steer’s Meaning and Change of Meaning (1931), C. S. Lewdest Studies in Words (1960), and various works by Stephan Almsman (e. G. , Almsman, 1964)