Classical vs. Modern theory in cognitive linguistics

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Cognitive linguistics is a modern school of linguistic thought that originally began to emerge in the s due to dissatisfaction with formal approaches to language. As I explain in my book, Cognitive Linguistics: A Complete Guide , it is also firmly rooted in the emergence of modern cognitive science in the s and s, particularly in work relating to human categorization, and in earlier traditions such as Gestalt psychology.

During the s, Lakoff, influenced by his colleagues Charles Fillmore and Eleanor Rosch at University California, Berkeley, began applying new approaches to categorization, in particular, Prototype Theory to modeling linguistic representation in the minds of language users. Meanwhile, Talmy was engaged in developing a theory which he termed Cognitive Semantics. Rather, it is an approach that has adopted a common set of guiding principles, assumptions and perspectives which have led to a diverse range of complementary, overlapping and sometimes competing theories.

The cognitive linguistics enterprise is characterized by two key commitments. These are: i the Generalisation Commitment : a commitment to the characterization of general principles that are responsible for all aspects of human language, and ii the Cognitive Commitment : a commitment to providing a characterization of general principles for language that accords with what is known about the mind and brain from other disciplines.

Dirk Geeraerts and Hubert Cuyckens

As these commitments are what imbue cognitive linguistics with its distinctive character, and differentiate it from formal linguistics. In modern linguistics, the study of language is often separated into distinct areas such as phonetics sound production and reception , phonology sound patterns , semantics word and sentence meaning , pragmatics meaning in discourse context , morphology word structure syntax sentence structure and so on. This is particularly true of formal linguistics: a set of approaches to modeling language that posit explicit mechanical devices or procedures operating on theoretical primitives in order to produce the complete set of linguistic possibilities in a given language.

In contrast, a phonology component of the mind would be concerned with structuring sounds into patterns permitted by the rules of any given language, and by human language in general. This modular view of mind reinforces the idea that modern linguistics is justified in separating the study of language into distinct sub-disciplines, not only on grounds of practicality but because the components of language are wholly distinct and, in terms of organization, incommensurable.

This is a view I critiqued in my earlier book, The Language Myth.

A course in Cognitive Linguistics: Categorization

Cognitive linguists typically acknowledge that it may often be useful, for practical purposes, to treat areas such as syntax, semantics and phonology as being notionally distinct. The Generalisation Commitment leads to the search for principles of language structure that hold across all aspects of language. In a related fashion, the Cognitive Commitment represents the view that principles of linguistic structure should reflect what is known about human cognition from other disciplines, particularly the other cognitive sciences philosophy , psychology, artificial intelligence and neuroscience.

Hence, it follows from the Cognitive Commitment that language and linguistic organisation should reflect general cognitive principles rather than cognitive principles that are specific to language. Accordingly, cognitive linguistics rejects the modular theory of mind that I mentioned above.

Cognitive linguistics - Wikipedia

Cognitive linguists specifically reject the claim that there is a distinct language module, which asserts that linguistic structure and organisation are markedly distinct from other aspects of cognition. Cognitive linguistics has its roots in theoretical linguistics. Today cognitive linguists no longer restrict themselves to the narrow remit of theory construction: ideas, theories and methods from cognitive linguistics are increasingly applied to a wide array of aesthetic, communicative, developmental, educational and cultural phenomena across a wide array of disciplinary contexts including the behavioural, biological, cognitive and social sciences as well as the humanities.

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The "dynamic turn" in cognitive linguistics - Wolfgang Wildgen

This is a testament to the broad appeal and applicability of the range of ideas and theoretical frameworks that have emerged within the cognitive linguistics enterprise. Cognitive linguistics has two main foci. The first constitutes a focus on the way in which knowledge representation—conceptual structure—is organised in the mind. Given the core commitments of the enterprise, cognitive linguists hold that language reflects cognitive organisation.

Consequently, cognitive linguists deploy language in order to investigate conceptual structure. A clear example of this is the conceptual metaphor theory. Conceptual metaphors are claimed to be units of knowledge representation, in the mind, rather than being linguistic in nature. 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. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Search form Search. Newmeyer The modern field of linguistics dates from the beginning of the 19th century. The Study of Language Structure At the beginning of the 20th century, attention shifted to the fact that not only language change, but language structure as well, is systematic and governed by regular rules and principles.

Language Use: Studies of Meaning There is also a long tradition in the study of what it means to say that a word or sentence 'means' a particular thing and how these meanings are conveyed when we communicate with each other. Language Use: The Social Side of Language In the past 50 years, there has been increasing attention to the social side of language as well as the mental.

Suggested Readings Harris, Randy A. The linguistics wars. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Lepschy, Giulio C. A survey of structural linguistics. London: Faber and Faber. Robins, R. A short history of linguistics.

The Classical Theory of Concepts

London: Longman. Why Can't Computers Use English? How can I get involved with LSA? Hercules Bantas. Aitchison's Linguistics.


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