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date: 02 July 2022

Introducing Cognitive Linguistics

Abstract and Keywords

Cognitive linguistics as represented in this book is an approach to the analysis of natural language that originated in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the work of George Lakoff, Ron Langacker, and Len Talmy, and that focuses on language as an instrument for organizing, processing, and conveying information. This introductory article sketches the theoretical position of cognitive linguistics together with a number of practical features of the way in which research in cognitive linguistics is organized. Three fundamental characteristics of cognitive linguistics can be derived: the primacy of semantics in linguistic analysis, the encyclopedic nature of linguistic meaning, and the perspectival nature of linguistic meaning. This article also discusses how cognitive linguistics and generative grammar can both proclaim themselves to be cognitive enterprises. The book deals with different conceptual phenomena that are recognized by cognitive linguistics as key concepts: prototypicality, metaphor, metonymy, embodiment, perspectivization, mental spaces, and the like. Each constitutes a specific principle of conceptual organization as reflected in the language.

Keywords: Ron Langacker, cognitive linguistics, natural language, semantics, linguistic meaning, generative grammar, metaphor, metonymy, mental spaces, perspectivization

1. Introduction

Cognitive Linguistics as represented in this Handbook is an approach to the analysis of natural language that originated in the late seventies and early eighties in the work of George Lakoff, Ron Langacker, and Len Talmy, and that focuses on language as an instrument for organizing, processing, and conveying information. Given this perspective, the analysis of the conceptual and experiential basis of linguistic categories is of primary importance within Cognitive Linguistics: the formal structures of language are studied not as if they were autonomous, but as reflections of general conceptual organization, categorization principles, processing mechanisms, and experiential and environmental influences.

In this introductory chapter, we will sketch the theoretical position of Cognitive Linguistics together with a number of practical features of the way in which research in Cognitive Linguistics is organized: Who are the people involved in Cognitive Linguistics? What are the important conferences and the relevant publication channels? Are there any introductory textbooks? Throughout this theoretical and “sociological” introduction to Cognitive Linguistics, we will emphasize that Cognitive Linguistics is not a single theory of language, but rather a cluster of broadly compatible approaches. This recognition also determines the practical (p. 4) organization of the present Handbook, which will be presented in the fourth section of the chapter. The penultimate and the final sections deal with two specific questions: can we explain the apparent appeal of Cognitive Linguistics, and what would be important questions for the further development of the framework?

2. The Theoretical Position of Cognitive Linguistics

Because Cognitive Linguistics sees language as embedded in the overall cognitive capacities of man, topics of special interest for Cognitive Linguistics include: the structural characteristics of natural language categorization (such as prototypicality, systematic polysemy, cognitive models, mental imagery, and metaphor); the functional principles of linguistic organization (such as iconicity and naturalness); the conceptualinterface between syntax and semantics (as explored by Cognitive Grammar and Construction Grammar); the experiential and pragmatic background of language-in-use; and the relationship between language and thought, including questions about relativism and conceptual universals.

Crucially, there is no single, uniform doctrine according to which these research topics (all of which receive specific attention in the chapters of this Handbook) are pursued by Cognitive Linguistics. In this sense, Cognitive Linguistics is a flexible framework rather than a single theory of language. In terms of category structure (one of the standard topics for analysis in Cognitive Linguistics), we might say that Cognitive Linguistics itself, when viewed as a category, has a family resemblance structure (Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk, this volume, chapter 6): it constitutes a cluster of many partially overlapping approaches rather than a single well-defined theory.

Even so, the recognition that Cognitive Linguistics has not yet stabilized into a single uniform theory should not prevent us from looking for fundamental common features and shared perspectives among the many forms of research that come together under the label of Cognitive Linguistics. An obvious question to start from relates to the “cognitive” aspect of Cognitive Linguistics: in what sense exactly is Cognitive Linguistics a cognitive approach to the study of language?

Terminologically, a distinction imposes itself between Cognitive Linguistics (the approach represented in this Handbook), and (uncapitalized) cognitive linguistics (all approaches in which natural language is studied as a mental phenomenon). Cognitive Linguistics is but one form of cognitive linguistics, to be distinguished from, for instance, Generative Grammar and many forms of linguistic research within the field of Artificial Intelligence. What, then, determines the specificity of Cognitive Linguistics within cognitive science? The question may be broken down in two more specific ones: what is the precise meaning of cognitive in Cognitive Linguistics, and (p. 5) how does this meaning differ from the way in which other forms of linguistics conceive of themselves as being a cognitive discipline? (The latter question will be answered specifically with regard to Generative Grammar.)

Against the background of the basic characteristics of the cognitive paradigm in cognitive psychology, the philosophy of science, and related disciplines (see De Mey 1992), the viewpoint adopted by Cognitive Linguistics can be defined more precisely. 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.

From this overall characterization, three fundamental characteristics of Cognitive Linguistics can be derived: the primacy of semantics in linguistic analysis, the encyclopedic nature of linguistic meaning, and the perspectival nature of linguistic meaning. The first characteristic merely states that the basic function of language involves meaning; the other two characteristics specify the nature of the semantic phenomena in question. The primacy of semantics in linguistic analysis follows in a straightforward fashion from the cognitive perspective itself: if the primary function of language is categorization, then meaning must be the primary linguistic phenomenon. The encyclopedic nature of linguistic meaning follows from the categorial function of language: if language is a system for the categorization of the world, there is no need to postulate a systemic or structural level of linguistic meaning that is different from the level where world knowledge is associated with linguistic forms. The perspectival nature of linguistic meaning implies that the world is not objectively reflected in the language: the categorization function of the language imposes a structure on the world rather than just mirroring objective reality. Specifically, language is a way of organizing knowledge that reflects the needs, interests, and experiences of individuals and cultures. The idea that linguistic meaning has a perspectivizing function is theoretically elaborated in the philosophical, epistemological position taken by Cognitive Linguistics (see Johnson 1987; Lakoff 1987; Geeraerts 1993). The experientialist position of Cognitive Linguistics vis-à-vis human knowledge emphasizes the view that human reason is determined by our organic embodiment and by our individual and collective experiences.

Given this initial characterization of the cognitive nature of Cognitive Linguistics, we can now turn to the second question: how can it be that Cognitive Linguistics and Generative Grammar both proclaim themselves to be cognitive enterprises?

Essentially, the two approaches differ with regard to the epistemological role of natural language. They both agree (and this is their common cognitive parentage) that there can be no knowledge without the existence of a mental representation (p. 6) that has a constitutive, mediating role in the epistemological relationship between subject and object. But while, according to Cognitive Linguistics, natural languages precisely embody such categorial perspectives onto the outside world, the generative linguist takes natural language as the object of the epistemological relationship, rather than as the intermediate link between subject and object. Cognitive Linguistics is interested in our knowledge of the world and studies the question how natural language contributes to it. The generative linguist, conversely, is interested in our knowledge of the language and asks the question how such knowledge can be acquired given a cognitive theory of learning. As cognitive enterprises, Cognitive Linguistics and Generative Grammar are similarly interested in those mental structures that are constitutive of knowledge. For the Cognitive approach, natural language itself consists of such structures, and the relevant kind of knowledge is knowledge of the world. For the generative grammarian, however, the knowledge under consideration is knowledge of the language, and the relevant mental structures are constituted by the genetic endowment of human beings that enables them to learn the language. Whereas Generative Grammar is interested in knowledge of the language, Cognitive Linguistics is so to speak interested in knowledge through the language.

The characterization that we just gave of the “cognitive” nature of Cognitive Linguistics in comparison with the cognitive nature of Generative Grammar suggests that there are two ways in which a direct confrontation of Cognitive Linguistics and Generative Grammar can be achieved.

In the first place, taking into account the formalist stance of Generative Grammar, Cognitive Linguistics should try to show that an adequate description of the allegedly formal phenomena at the core of generative theory formation involve semantic and functional factors that are beyond the self-imposed limits of the generative framework. In this sense, Cognitive Linguistics is characterized by a specific working hypothesis about natural language, namely, that much more in natural language can be explained on semantic and functional grounds than has hitherto been assumed (a working hypothesis that it shares, to be sure, with many other pragmatically and functionally oriented linguistic theories). Any time a particular phenomenon turns out to involve cognitive functioning rather than just formal syntax, the need to posit genetically given formal constraints on possible syntactic constructions diminishes. A prime example of this type of argumentation can be found in van Hoek's chapter 34 of this Handbook.

In the second place, Cognitive Linguistics should develop a nonautonomist theory of language acquisition embodying the predictions, first, that language acquisition often involves mechanisms and constraints that are not specific to natural language, and second, to the extent that there do exist constraints on learning that are restricted to natural language acquisition, that these will at least to some extent draw on “informational substance” supplied by cognitive systems other than the linguistic. In chapter 41 of the present Handbook, Tomasello illustrates how this program is actually carried out.

(p. 7) To summarize, what holds together the diverse forms of Cognitive Linguistics is the belief that linguistic knowledge involves not just knowledge of the language, but knowledge of the world as mediated by the language. Because of this shift in the type of knowledge that the approaches focus on in contrast with Generative Grammar, and specifically because of the experientialist nature of Cognitive Linguistics, it is sometimes said that Cognitive Linguistics belongs to the “second cognitive revolution,” whereas Generative Grammar belongs to the “first cognitive revolution” of the 1950s; see Sinha, this volume, chapter 49, for an elaboration.

3. The Practical Aspects of Cognitive Linguistics

Scientific frameworks are not just sets of concepts, models, and techniques: they also consist of people, activities, and channels of communication. Thinking in terms of people, the key figures of Cognitive Linguistics are George Lakoff, Ronald W. Langacker, and Leonard Talmy. Around this core of founding fathers, who originated Cognitive Linguistics in the late 1970s and the early 1980s, two chronologically widening circles of cognitive linguists may be discerned. A first wave, coming to the fore in the second half of the 1980s, consists of the early collaborators and colleagues of the key figures, together with a first generation of students. Names that come to mind include those of Gilles Fauconnier, Eve Sweetser, Mark Johnson, Mark Turner, Ray Gibbs, Bill Croft, Adele Goldberg, Dave Tuggy, Laura Janda, Suzanne Kemmer, Sally Rice, Ricardo Maldonado, and Karen van Hoek. Simultaneously, a number of people in mostly Western and Central Europe took up the ideas of Cognitive Linguistics and contributed to their international dissemination. Names include those of René; Dirven, Brygida Rudzka-Ostyn, John Taylor, Chris Sinha, Arie Verhagen, Barbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk, Peter Harder, Günter Radden, and the editors of this Handbook. The 1990s witnessed a second wave of expansion, directed largely toward Asia and the south of Europe.

Organizationally, the contacts between the people working in the Cognitive Linguistics framework are facilitated by the ICLA or International Cognitive Linguistics Association. The Association (see, which has a number of local and regional affiliates, organizes the biannual conferences in Cognitive Linguistics that constitute the rallying point for people working in the field. The first ICLC conference was organized in 1989 in Duisburg by René Dirven (whose role in giving Cognitive Linguistics an organizational structure can hardly be underestimated). Later venues include Santa Cruz (1991), Leuven (1993), Albuquerque (1995), Amsterdam (1997), Stockholm (1999), Santa Barbara (2001), Logroño(2003), Seoul (2005), Krakow (2007), and Berkeley (2009).

(p. 8) Given the theoretical aspects of Cognitive Linguistics as described in the previous paragraph, it is easy to appreciate that the demarcation of Cognitive Linguistics in terms of people is somewhat arbitrary. Sociologically speaking, cognitive linguists would be those people who belong to the Cognitive Linguistics community—who interact with like-minded researchers and who attend the ICLC conferences. But if we think in terms of common perspectives and purposes, even if only partially shared, many more names could be mentioned. For instance, in terms of seminal ideas and actual influence, Charles Fillmore should be considered on a par with the three founding fathers, even though he would probably not describe himself as a cognitive linguist.

The journal Cognitive Linguistics, which was founded by Dirk Geeraerts in 1990, is the official journal of the ICLA. In 2003, a second journal specifically devoted to research in Cognitive Linguistics, the Annual Review of Cognitive Linguistics, was launched under the auspices of the Spanish branch of the ICLA. Book series dedicated to Cognitive Linguistics are published by two major publishing houses in linguistics: Mouton de Gruyter of Berlin publishes the Cognitive Linguistics Research series, and John Benjamins Publishing Company of Amsterdam publishes the Cognitive Linguistics in Practice series.

Primers in Cognitive Linguistics, in the form of introductory textbooks, include (in chronological order of first appearance), Taylor (1989), Ungerer and Schmid (1996), Dirven and Verspoor (1998), Lee (2001), Croft and Cruse (2004), and Evans and Green (2006). The Dirven and Verspoor volume has been translated in several languages. A collection of basic texts by leading representatives of Cognitive Linguistics may be found in Geeraerts (2006a).

An extended bibliography of work in Cognitive Linguistics, edited by HansGeorg Wolf, René Dirven, Rong Chen, Ning Yu, and Birgit Smieja, has appeared online and on CD-ROM at Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin in 2006. The Cognitive Linguistics Bibliography (CogBib) consists of a database covering monographs, journal articles, book series, dissertations, MA theses, proceedings, working papers, and unpublished work relevant to the study of Cognitive Linguistics and adjacent disciplines. It consists of 7,000 entries and aims at an annual growth of 1,000 items. The first release of the database is fully indexed and will be available for subscribers to Cognitive Linguistics.

4. The Organization of the Handbook

The organization of the present Handbook reflects the prototypical structure of Cognitive Linguistics that was described above. In terms of people, the contributions come predominantly from first-generation cognitive linguists, together with (p. 9) some members of the second generation, and a number of fellow travelers who would perhaps not consider themselves cognitive linguists pur sang, but who are close enough to Cognitive Linguistics to shed an illuminating light on some of its subdomains. And, of course, the key figures are represented. We regret that George Lakoff was not able to contribute to this Handbook (with a projected chapter on the relationship between Cognitive Linguistics and neuroscience).

In terms of content, the absence of a single unified theoretical doctrine means that a handbook of this type cannot simply start off with an exposé; on the architecture of Cognitive Linguistics as a theory. Rather, we start, under the heading “Basic Concepts of Cognitive Linguistics,” with a set of chapters that discuss different conceptual phenomena that are recognized by Cognitive Linguistics as key concepts: prototypicality, metaphor, metonymy, embodiment, perspectivization, mental spaces, and the like each constitute a specific principle of conceptual organization as reflected in the language. Many of these notions are far from exclusive for Cognitive Linguistics, but even then, Cognitive Linguistics subjects them to specific forms of analysis.

The second part of the Handbook, “Cognitive Linguistic Models of Grammar,” deals with different frameworks that bring together a bigger or smaller number of the basic concepts into a particular theory of grammar and a specific model for the description of grammatical phenomena. The models discussed include Ron Langacker's Cognitive Grammar, Construction Grammar, and Word Grammar. The fact that theory formation in Cognitive Linguistics is not yet completely stabilized (or, to put it more constructively, the fact that Cognitive Linguistics is a flexible framework that allows for a number of competing frameworks to be developed in parallel) shows up in the relationship between Cognitive Grammar and Construction Grammar. On the one hand, the chapter on Construction Grammar describes a family of approaches and suggests that Cognitive Grammar as founded by Langacker is a member of that family. On the other hand, Cognitive Grammar was a well-established model of grammar well before Construction Grammar emerged. Moreover, it is without any doubt the most developed, both empirically and conceptually, of all approaches that could be grouped under the heading of Construction Grammar. The example shows how related theoretical models are developed in parallel within the broad framework of Cognitive Linguistics.

As we have seen, demarcation problems may exist at the edges of Cognitive Linguistics as a whole, just as they exist with regard to the boundary between different approaches within Cognitive Linguistics. To get a better grip on the position of Cognitive Linguistics within the landscape of linguistics at large, the section “Situating Cognitive Linguistics” compares Cognitive Linguistics with other forms of linguistic research: functional linguistics (its closest ally), autonomous linguistics (its declared enemy), and the history of linguistics (its often forgotten ancestry). Here again, the reader will notice that things are not always as simplistic as they might seem at first sight. The chapter on autonomous linguistics, for instance, suggests that the distance between Cognitive Linguistics and the contemporary developments in Chomskyan linguistics need not be in all respects unbridgeable.

(p. 10) The first three sections of the book constitute an initial introduction to Cognitive Linguistics. Readers who have gone through the twenty-one chapters of the first three sections will have acquired a fairly thorough knowledge of the fundamental analytic concepts and descriptive models of Cognitive Linguistics and their background. The following three sections of the Handbook apply these basics to various more specific domains. The section “Linguistic Structure and Language Use” illustrates how Cognitive Linguistics deals with the traditional subdomains of grammar, ranging from phonetics and morphology over lexicon and syntax to text and discourse. Separate chapters are devoted to topics that have received special attention in Cognitive Linguistics.

The chapters in the section “Linguistic Variation and Change” focus on different types of variation within and between languages. Next to diachronic change and sociolinguistic variation, these include typological variation (with related chapters on anthropological linguistics and linguistic relativity) and language acquisition (seen as variation in the individual's knowledge of the language). A chapter on sign language may also be placed within this section, given that sign language involves a change in the medium of communication.

The final section groups chapters that deal with “Applied and Interdisciplinary Perspectives.” The interdisciplinary links with fields of research like philosophy and psychology are very important for Cognitive Linguistics. As it is one of the tenets of Cognitive Linguistics that linguistic knowledge is not separated from other forms of cognition, the disciplines studying those other aspects of human knowledge will be natural conversation partners for Cognitive Linguistics.

5. The Appeal of Cognitive Linguistics

Cognitive Linguistics is definitely a success in terms of academic appeal. The ICLC conferences, to give just one example, have grown into major events with more than 500 attendees. The openness and flexibility of theorizing in Cognitive Linguistics probably contributes to its attractiveness: as we have stressed, Cognitive Linguistics is a building with many rooms, and it may thus draw the attention of researchers with diverse interests. We think, however, that more is at stake. We would like to argue that Cognitive Linguistics combines a number of tendencies that may also be found in other contemporary developments in theoretical linguistics and, by combining them, taps into the undercurrent of contemporary developments more than any other theoretical framework.

More specifically, while decontextualization appears to be a fundamental underlying characteristic of the development of grammatical theory in twentieth-century (p. 11) linguistics, a number of current developments involve a recontextualization of grammar. And Cognitive Linguistics, we contend, embodies this recontextualizing tendency more than any other approach.

The logic behind the decontextualization of twentieth-century grammar may be grasped if we take our starting point in Saussure. The Saussurean dichotomy between langue and parole creates an internally divided grammar, a conception of language with, so to speak, a hole in the middle. On the one hand, langue is defined as a social system, a set of collective conventions, a common code shared by a community (Saussure [1916] 1967: 25). On the other hand, parole is an individual, psychological activity that consists of producing specific combinations from the elements that are present in the code (30). When langue and parole are defined in this way, there is a gap between both: what is the mediating factor that bridges the distance between the social and the psychological, between the community and the individual, between the system and the application of the system, between the code and the actual use of the code?

The Chomskyan distinction between competence and performance formulates the fundamental answer to this question: the missing link between social code and individual usage is the individual's knowledge of the code. Performance is basically equivalent with parole, but competence interiorizes the notion of the linguistic system: competence is the internal grammar of the language user, the knowledge that the language user has of the linguistic system and that he or she puts to use in actual performance.

Remarkably, however, Chomsky introduces a new gap into the system. Rather than the trichotomy that one might expect, he restricts his conception of language to a new dichotomy: the social aspects of language are largely ignored. In comparison with a ternary distinction distinguishing between langue, competence, and parole/performance (between social system, individual knowledge of the system, and individual use of the system), the binary distinction between competence and performance creates a new empty slot, leaving the social aspects of language largely out of sight.

Relegating the social nature of language to the background correlates with a switch toward the phylogenetic universality of language. The Chomskyan emphasis on the genetic nature of natural language links up logically with his apparent lack of interest for language as a social semiotic. Where, in particular, does the individual knowledge of the language come from? If the source of linguistic knowledge is not social, what else can it be than an innate and universal endowment? If the language is not learned through acculturation in a linguistic community (given that a language is not primarily a social code), what other source could there be for linguistic knowledge except genetics?

The link between the Chomskyan genetic perspective and the absence of any fundamental interest in language as a social phenomenon engenders a stepping-stone development, leading by an internal logic to an isolation of grammar. Let us go through the argument in the form of the following chain of(deliberately succinct and somewhat simplistic) propositions.

(p. 12) First, if natural language is not primarily social, it has to be genetic. This is the basic proposition that was described in the previous paragraph. The relationship could, of course, be construed in the other direction as well. As presented above, the Chomskyan predilection for a genetic perspective in linguistics follows from his lack of interest for the social side of language. But in actual historical fact, Chomsky's preference for a genetic conception of language seems to have grown more from his discussion with behaviorist learning theory (Skinner in particular) than from a confrontation with Saussure. Because the amazing ability of young children to acquire language cannot be explained on the basis of a stimulus-response theory—so the argument goes—an innate knowledge of language has to be assumed. But if one of the major features of language is its genetic nature, then of course the social aspects of language are epiphenomenal. Regardless of the direction in which the link is construed, however, the effects are clear.

Second, if natural language is primarily a genetic entity, semantics or the lexicon cannot be part of the core of linguistics. Meanings constitute the variable, contextual, cultural aspects of language par excellence. Because social interaction, the exchange of ideas, and changing conceptions of the world are primarily mediated through the meaning of linguistic expressions, it is unlikely that the universal aspects of language will be found in the realm of meaning. Further, if the lexicon is the main repository of linguistically encoded meaning, studying the lexicon is of secondary importance. Here as before, though, it should be pointed out that the actual historical development is less straightforward than the reconstruction might suggest. The desemanticization of the grammar did not happen at once (nor was it absolute, for that matter). Triggered by the introduction of meaning in the standard model of Generative Grammar (Chomsky 1965), the “Linguistic Wars” (see Harris 1993)of the late 1960s that opposed Generative Semantics and Interpretive Semantics basically involved the demarcation of grammar with regard to semantics. The answer that Chomsky ultimately favored implied a restrictive stance with regard to the introduction of meaning into the grammar, but this position was certainly not reached in one step; it was prepared by severe debates in the generativist community.

Third, if semantics or the lexicon cannot be part of the core of linguistics, linguistics will focus on formal rule systems. The preference for formal syntax that characterizes Generative Grammar follows by elimination from its genetic orientation: formality is required to keep out meaning, and studying syntax (or more generally, the rule-based aspects of language) correlates with the diminished interest in the lexicon. It should be added that the focus on rules is not only determined by a negative attitude with regard to meanings, but also by a focus on the infinity of language: language as an infinite set of sentences requires a rule system that can generate an infinity of sentences.

Finally, if linguistics focuses on formal rule systems, the application of the rule systems in actual usage is relatively uninteresting. If the rules define the grammar, it is hard to see what added value could be derived from studying the way in which the rules are actually put to use. The study of performance, in other words, is just as secondary as research into the lexicon.

(p. 13) This chain of consequences leads to a decontextualization of the grammar. It embodies a restrictive strategy that separates the autonomous grammatical module from different forms of context. Without further consideration of the interrelationship between the various aspects of the decontextualizing drift, the main effects can be summarized as follows:

  1. a. through the basic Chomskyan shift from langue to competence, linguistics is separated from the social context of language as a social code;

  2. b. through the focus on the genetic aspects of the language, linguistics is separated from the cognitive context that shows up in the semantic side of the language;

  3. c. through the focus on formal rule systems, linguistics is separated from the situational context of actual language use.

In terms of the subdisciplines covered by linguistics, this means that the core of linguistics in Chomskyan terms respectively excludes sociolinguistics, semantics and the lexicon, and pragmatics. This does not mean, however, that these disciplines, which would be considered peripheral from the generativist point of view, disappeared altogether. In fact, the generativist era witnessed the birth, in the 1960s and 1970s, of approaches that autonomously developed the aspects that were rejected or downplayed by Generative Grammar: sociolinguistics (including the sociology of language, the ethnography of speaking, and sociohistorical linguistics, next to sociolinguistics in the narrow, Labovian sense), pragmatics (including discourse linguistics and conversational analysis), and formal semantics.

None of the approaches mentioned here, however, overcomes the autonomist restrictions in any fundamental sense. Sociolinguistics and pragmatics exist alongside grammatical theory rather than interacting with it intensively, and the conception of meaning that lies at the basis of formal semantics is too restricted to consider it a truly recontextualized grammar. In other words, the recuperation of the contextual aspects rejected by Generative Grammar could go further, and this is exactly what is happening in a number of contemporary trends in linguistics.

From roughly 1985 onwards, in fact, a number of trends in linguistics appear to link the grammar more closely to the contextual aspects that were severed from it by generative theorizing. The peripheral aspects that were being developed largely separately and autonomously are now being linked up more narrowly with the grammar itself (which can then no longer be autonomous). When we have a look at the relevant developments, we will see that Cognitive Linguistics plays a role in each of them.

First, the reintroduction of the lexicon into the grammar is probably the most widespread of the tendencies to be mentioned here; it is, in fact, relatively clear within Generative Grammar itself. This lexicalist tendency in grammatical theory is triggered by the recognition that describing grammatical rules appears to imply describing the lexical sets that the rules apply to. Reversing the descriptive perspective then leads to a description of the valence of the lexical items (i.e., the structures that an item can appear in). The lexicalist tendency appears in various (p. 14) forms in the more formal approaches to grammar: one may think of the projections and theta-roles of Generative Grammar, of the central role of the lexicon in Lexical-Functional Grammar, and of the lexically driven grammar developed in the framework of Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar. In the context of Cognitive Linguistics, the relexification of the grammar is most outspoken in Construction Grammar (Goldberg 1995; Croft 2001), which starts from the recognition that there is a continuum between syntax and lexicon: constructions are syntactic structures that may contain lexical material.

Second, Cognitive Linguistics at large is the most outspoken current attempt to give meaning a central position in the architecture of the grammar. In contrast with formal semantics, however, the conception of meaning that lies at the basis of this approach is not restricted to a referential, truth-functional type of meaning. Linguistic structures are thought to express conceptualizations, that is, conceptualization is central for linguistic structure—and conceptualization goes further than mere reference. It involves imagery in the broadest sense of the word: ways of making sense, of imposing meaning. Also, the conceptualizations that are expressed in the language have an experiential basis, that is, they link up with the way in which human beings experience reality, both culturally and physiologically. In this sense, Cognitive Linguistics embodies a fully contextualized conception of meaning. Again, there are other approaches that develop a meaning-based approach to grammar, like Hallidayan Systemic-Functional Grammar, but Cognitive Linguistics is undoubtedly the most outspoken example of this tendency.

And third, the link between linguistic performance and grammar is reestablished by those functionalist approaches that try to find (potentially universal) discourse motivations for grammatical constructs. Discourse is then no longer the mere application of grammatical rules, but the grammatical rules themselves are motivated by the discourse functions that the grammar has to fulfill. The existence of passives in a given language, for instance, is then explained as a topicalization mechanism: grammars contain passives because topicalizing direct objects is a useful function in discourse. Seminal publications within this approach include Givón (1979), Hopper and Thompson (1980), and Hopper (1987). In the realm of Cognitive Linguistics, this tendency takes the form of an insistence on the idea that Cognitive Linguistics is a usage-based model of language (as it is aptly called by Barlow and Kemmer 2000). Importantly, the model is also applied to language acquisition. Specifically in the work done by Tomasello and his group (see this volume, chapter 41), an alternative is presented for the Chomskyan genetic argument. These researchers develop a model of language acquisition in which each successive stage is (co)determined by the actual knowledge and use of the child at a given stage, that is, language acquisition is described as a series of step-by-step usage-based extensions of the child's grammar. The grammar so to speak emerges from the child's interactive performance. Finally, language use is becoming an increasingly important factor in grammatical change, witness Traugott's (1988) studies on the role of speaker-hearer interaction in grammaticalization; Croft's (2000) usage-based theory of language change (and grammatical change, in particular); and Bybee's (2001) and Krug's (2000) work on such usage-based factors as entrenchment and frequency in grammatical change.

To conclude, if we can agree that contemporary linguistics embodies a tendency (a cluster of tendencies, to be more precise) toward the recontextualization of linguistic enquiry, we may also agree that Cognitive Linguistics embodies this trend to an extent that probably no other theoretical movement does. It embodies the resemanticization of grammar by focusing on the interplay between language and conceptualization. It embodies the recovery of the lexicon as a relevant structural level by developing network models of grammatical structure, like Construction Grammar. And it embodies the discursive turn of contemporary linguistics by insisting explicitly on the usage-based nature of linguistics. Other approaches may develop each of these tendencies separately in more detail than Cognitive Linguistics does, but it is the latter movement that combines them most explicitly and so epitomizes the characteristic underlying drift and drive of present-day linguistics. We would like to suggest, in short, that it is this feature that constitutes one of the fundamental reasons behind the success of Cognitive Linguistics.

6. The Future of Cognitive Linguistics

The recognition that Cognitive Linguistics is not a closed or finished doctrine implies, obviously, that there is room for further developments. The contributions brought together in this Handbook not only give an idea of the achievements of Cognitive Linguistics, but they also point to a number of underlying issues that are likely to shape the further elaboration of Cognitive Linguistics. Three issues that we would like to highlight are the following.

1. Readers will have noticed that a fourth type of context mentioned in our description of the decontextualizing tendencies of twentieth-century linguistics was absent from our overview of recontextualizing tendencies that apply to Cognitive Linguistics. In fact, Cognitive Linguistics, by its very “cognitive” nature, has a tendency to look at language from a psychological point of view, that is, language as (part of) the organization of knowledge in the individual mind. However, a number of researchers (Palmer 1996; Sinha and Jensen de López 2000; Harder 2003; Itkonen 2003; Tomasello 2003, and others) emphasize that the experientialist nature of Cognitive Linguistics does not only refer to material factors (taking a notion like “embodiment” in a physical and physiological sense) but that the cultural environment and the socially interactive nature of language should be recognized as primary elements of a cognitive approach.

This emphasis on the social aspects of language, however, will have to be turned into a an actual research program exploring social cognition and sociovariational (p. 16) phenomena. If Cognitive Linguistics develops an interest in language as a social phenomenon, it should pay more attention to language-internal variation. Socio-linguistic research, however, is probably the least developed of all linguistic domains within Cognitive Linguistics. Recently, though, we witness some developments toward cognitive sociolinguistics.

For one thing, variational phenomena are being studied empirically in work such as Kristiansen (2003) on phonetic variation, Berthele (2004) on differences in syntactic construal between dialects, and Grondelaers (2000) on grammatical phenomena whose distribution is determined by a combination of internal (structural or semantic) and external (contextual or sociolinguistic) factors. More examples may be found in Kristiansen and Dirven (2007). Usage-based and meaning-based models of grammar in fact introduce more variation into the grammar than a rule-based approach tends to do: the language-internal or discourse-related factors that influence the use of a particular construction may be manifold, and the presence or absence of a construction is not an all-or-none matter. In the analysis of this type of variation, it often appears that the variation is codetermined by “external” sociolinguistic factors: the variation that appears in actual usage (as attested in corpora) may be determined simultaneously by grammatical, discursive, and sociolinguistic factors. Disentangling those different factors, then, becomes one methodological endeavor: in the actual practice of a usage-based enquiry, grammatical analysis and variationist analysis will go hand in hand.

For another, there is an interest in cultural models and the way in which they may compete within a community: see, for instance, many of the papers collected in Dirven, Frank, and Pütz (2003). In work such as Lakoff (1996), this approach takes on a critical aspect that brings it close to the tradition of ideological analysis known as Critical Discourse Analysis. Some researchers are applying the theory of conceptual metaphors and cultural models to questions of social identity and the role language plays in them: see the collective volumes edited by Dirven, Frank, and Ilie (2001), Dirven, Frank, and Putz (2003), and Dirven, Hawkins, and Sandikcioglu (2001). It has recently been pointed out (Berthele 2001; Geeraerts 2003) that such metaphorical models may also characterize the beliefs that language users entertain regarding language and language varieties. In this way, Cognitive Linguistics may link up with existing sociolinguistic research about language attitudes.

These developments show that the interest in sociovariational analysis in Cognitive Linguistics is on the rise, but at the same time, it has to be recognized that the final contextual gap that we discussed in the previous section still has to be filled properly.

2. If we understand empirical methods to refer to forms of research (like corpus linguistics, experimentation, and neurological modeling) that do not rely on introspection and intuition but that try to ground linguistic analysis on the firm basis of objective observation, then we can certainly witness a growing appeal of such empirical methods within Cognitive Linguistics: see the argumentation of Gibbs (2006) and Geeraerts (2006b) in favor of empirical methods, and compare the practical introduction provided by Gonzalez-Marquez, Mittelberg, Coulson, and Spivey (2007). The theoretical background of this development is provided by the growing tendency of Cognitive Linguistics to stress its essential nature as a usage-based linguistics—a form of linguistic analysis, that is, that takes into account not just grammatical structure, but that sees this structure as arising from and interacting with actual language use. The central notions of usage-based linguistics have been programmatically outlined in different publications (Langacker 1990; Kemmer and Barlow 2000; Tomasello 2000, 2003; Bybee and Hopper 2001b; Croft and Cruse 2004), and a number of recent volumes show how the program can be put into practice (Barlow and Kemmer 2000; Bybee and Hopper 2001a; Verhagen and van de Weijer 2003). The link between the self-awareness of Cognitive Linguistics as a usage-based form of linguistic investigation and the deployment of empirical methods is straightforward: you cannot have a usage-based linguistics unless you study actual usage—as it appears in corpora in the form of spontaneous, nonelicited language data or as it appears in an online and elicited form in experimental settings.

Also, if Cognitive Linguistics belongs to cognitive science, it would be natural to expect the use of techniques that have proved their value in the cognitive sciences at large. Experimental psychology, for instance, has a long tradition of empirical studies of cognition. So, one might count on the use of the same methods in Cognitive Linguistics. And obviously, the growing interest in the link between Cognitive Linguistics and neuroscience (headed by the Neural Theory of Language Group of George Lakoff and Jerome Feldman) goes in the same direction.

The recent rise of interest in empirical methods does not imply, to be sure, that empirical approaches were absent in the earlier stages of Cognitive Linguistics. The methodology of European studies in Cognitive Linguistics in particular has tended to be more corpus-based than the early American studies, which were predominantly introspective. The use of corpus materials (which seems to have come to the attention of the broader community of Cognitive Linguistics only since Kemmer and Barlow 2000) was already part of early European studies like Dirven and Taylor (1988), Rudzka-Ostyn (1988), Schulze (1988), Goossens (1990), and Geeraerts, Grondelaers, and Bakema (1994). Early experimental studies, on the other hand, are represented by the work of Gibbs (1994, and many more) and Sandra and Rice (1995). In this respect, what is changing is not so much the presence of empirical research as such, but rather the extent to which the belief in such a methodology is shared by cognitive linguists at large.

However, the empirical aspects of usage-based linguistics still often remain programmatic: in many cases, a lot more methodological sophistication will have to be brought in than is currently available. In the realm of corpus research, for instance, the type of quantitatively well-founded investigations that may be found in the work of Gries (2003), Stefanowitsch (2003), Gries and Stefanowitsch (2006), and Stefanowitsch and Gries (2003) and in that of Grondelaers, Speelman, and Geeraerts (2002), and Speelman, Grondelaers, and Geeraerts (2003) is still rather exceptional. (For an overview of the methodological state of affairs in usage-based linguistics, see Tummers, Heylen, and Geeraerts 2005.)

(p. 18) More generally, the rising interest in empirical methods is far from being a dominant tendency, and overall, there is a certain reluctance with regard to the adoption of an empirical methodology. While the reasons for this relative lack of enthusiasm may to some extent be practical (training in experimental techniques or corpus research is not a standard part of curricula in linguistics), one cannot exclude the possibility of a more principled rejection. Cognitive Linguistics considers itself to be a nonobjectivist theory of language, whereas the use of corpus materials involves an attempt to maximalize the objective basis of linguistic descriptions. Is an objectivist methodology compatible with a nonobjectivist theory? Isn't any attempt to reduce the role of introspection and intuition in linguistic research contrary to the spirit of Cognitive Linguistics, which stresses the semantic aspects of the language—and the meaning of linguistic expressions is the least tangible of linguistic phenomena. Because meanings do not present themselves directly in the corpus data, will introspection not always be used in any cognitive analysis of language? (For an explicit defense of such a position, albeit in terms of “intuition” rather than “introspection,” see Itkonen 2003.)

There seems to exist a tension, in other words, between a broad methodological tendency in Cognitive Linguistics that considers introspection the most or perhaps the only appropriate method for studying meaning and a marginal but increasing tendency to apply empirical methods that are customary in the other cognitive sciences. Resolving that tension is likely to be on the agenda of Cognitive Linguistics in the near future.

3. As we mentioned and illustrated several times in the course of this introductory chapter, Cognitive Linguistics is far from being a unified and stabilized body of knowledge. We have tried, in the course of compiling and editing this Handbook, not to make the enterprise of Cognitive Linguistics look more unified than it actually is. Nevertheless, theoretical unification may be expected high on the future research agenda of Cognitive Linguistics. In this respect, we hope that the survey of Cognitive Linguistics that is offered in the present volume will not only introduce novices to the full richness and dynamism of research in Cognitive Linguistics, but that it may also help the cognitive linguistic community at large to define the directions for the future more clearly.


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