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Cognitive linguistics

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Cognitive linguistics explores the interrelations (structural) and interactions (dynamical) between language (linguistics) and mind (cognition[1]), exploring such questions as whether language impacts on cognition or whether language emerges from non-linguistic cognitive functioning. In the entry on cognitive linguistics in the MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences, Karen van Hoek[2] writes:

Cognitive linguistics is not a single theory but is rather best characterized as a paradigm within linguistics, subsuming a number of distinct theories and research programs. It is characterized by an emphasis on explicating the intimate interrelationship between language and other cognitive faculties.

In The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics, Dirk Geeraerts and Hubert Cuyckens elaborate:[3]

Cognitive Linguistics is the study of language in its cognitive function, where cognitive refers to the crucial role of intermediate informational structures in our encounters with the world. Cognitive Linguistics is cognitive in the same way that cognitive psychology is: by assuming that our interaction with the world is mediated through informational structures in the mind. It is more specific than cognitive psychology, however, by focusing on natural language as a means for organizing, processing, and conveying that information. Language, then, is seen as a repository of world knowledge, a structured collection of meaningful categories that help us deal with new experiences and store information about old ones.

Aspects of language studied include, meaning (semantics), metaphor, grammar, and many other aspects of the language facility as it relates to thinking. As an interdisciplinary enterprise, it incorporates ideas from philosophy, neurobiology, psychology, computer science, and other discipines. Cognitive linguists develop their theoretical insights based on empirical (observational, experimental) methodologies.

Cognitive linguistics views language as based in evolutionarily-developed and speciated faculties, and seeks explanations that advance or fit well into the current understandings of the human mind.

The guiding principle behind this area of linguistics is that language creation, learning, and usage are explained by reference to human cognition in general — the basic underlying mental processes that apply not only to language, but to all other areas of human intelligence.

Cognitive linguistics argues that language is both embodied and situated in specific bioregions. This can be considered a more developed form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, in that not only are language and cognition mutually influential, but also embodied experience and environmental factors of the bioregion.

Areas of study

Cognitive linguists explore the mental underpinnings of language that account for the generation of thinking, which includes conceptualization, meaning (semantics), metaphor, grammar, and many other aspects of the language facility as it relates to thinking. It incorporates ideas from philosophy, neuroscience, psychology, and computer science, and develops theoretical insights based on empirical (observational, experimental) methodologies.

Cognitive linguistics is divided into two main areas of study, which are currently being reunified, as linguists have grown to understand their mutual interdependence:

Aspects of cognition that are of interest to cognitive linguists include:

Related work that interfaces with many of the above themes:

  • Computational models of metaphor and language acquisition.
  • Psycholinguistics research.
  • Conceptual semantics, pursued by generative linguist Ray Jackendoff is related because of its active psychological realism and the incorporation of prototype structure and images.

Cognitive linguistics, more than generative linguistics, seek to mesh together these findings into a coherent whole. A further complication arises because the terminology of cognitive linguistics is not entirely stable, both because it is a relatively new field and because it interfaces with a number of other disciplines.

As an interdisciplinary group, scholars of cognitive linguistics publish articles in a variety of journals, including “Brain and Language”[4], which focuses on the neurobiology of language, and a dedicated journal, “Cognitive Linguistics”,[5] which focuses on such topics as:

the structural characteristics of natural language categorization (such as prototypicality, cognitive models, metaphor, and imagery); functional principles of lingusitic organization (such as iconicity); the conceptual interface between syntax and semantics; the relationship between language and thought, including matters of universality and language specificity; the experiential background of language-in-use, including the cultural background, the discourse context, and the psychological environment of linguistic performance

Scholars of cognitive linguistics meet biennially at the International Cognitive Linguistic Conference[6], sponsored by the “International Cognitive Linguistic Association”[7].

Insights and developments from cognitive linguistics are becoming accepted ways of analysing literary texts, too. Cognitive Poetics, as it has become known, has become an important part of modern stylistics. The best summary of the discipline as it is currently stands is Peter Stockwell's Cognitive Poetics.[8]

See also

References cited in text

  1. [ http://www.oxfordamericandictionary.com/entry?entry=t183.e15095 cognition: the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.] The New Oxford American Dictionary, second edition. Ed. Erin McKean. Oxford University Press, 2005. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.
  2. van Hoek, K. (2001) Cognitive Linguistics. In: The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences. Edited by Robert A. Wilson and Frank C. Keil. ISBN 0-262-73144-4.
  3. Geeraets D, Cuyckens H. (2007) Introducing Cognitive Linguistics. In: The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195143787, ISBN 9780195143782.
    • Book Description: In the past decade, Cognitive Linguistics has developed into one of the most dynamic and attractive frameworks within theoretical and descriptive linguistics The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics is a major new reference that presents a comprehensive overview of the main theoretical concepts and descriptive/theoretical models of Cognitive Linguistics, and covers its various subfields, theoretical as well as applied….The first twenty chapters give readers the opportunity to acquire a thorough knowledge of the fundamental analytic concepts and descriptive models of Cognitive Linguistics and their background. The book starts with a set of chapters discussing different conceptual phenomena that are recognized as key concepts in Cognitive Linguistics: prototypicality, metaphor, metonymy, embodiment, perspectivization, mental spaces, etc. A second set of chapters deals with Cognitive Grammar, Construction Grammar, and Word Grammar, which, each in their own way, bring together the basic concepts into a particular theory of grammar and a specific model for the description of grammatical phenomena. Special attention is given to the interrelation between Cognitive and Construction Grammar. A third set of chapters compares Cognitive Linguistics with other forms of linguistic research (functional linguistics, autonomous linguistics, and the history of linguistics), thus giving a readers a better grip on the position of Cognitive Linguistics within the landscape of linguistics at large….The remaining chapters apply these basic notions to various more specific linguistic domains, illustrating how Cognitive Linguistics deals with the traditional linguistic subdomains (phonology, morphology, lexicon, syntax, text and discourse), and demonstrating how it handles linguistic variation and change. Finally they consider its importance in the domain of Applied Linguistics, and look at interdisciplinary links with research fields such as philosophy and psychology.
  4. Brain and Language
  5. Cognitive Linguistics
  6. International Cognitive Linguistic Conferences
  7. International Cognitive Linguistic Association
  8. Stockwell, Peter (2002). Cognitive poetics: An Introduction. London and New York: Routledge.


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