What is cognitive linguistics
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What is Cognitive Linguistics ?. Laura A. Janda laura.janda @ uit.no. Cognitive linguistics. Minimal Assumption : language can be accounted for in terms of general cognitive strategies no autonomous language faculty no strict division between grammar and lexicon

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What is Cognitive Linguistics ?

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What is CognitiveLinguistics?

Laura A. Janda

[email protected]


Minimal Assumption: languagecan be accounted for in terms of general cognitivestrategies

  • noautonomouslanguagefaculty

  • nostrictdivisionbetweengrammar and lexicon

  • no a prioriuniversals

    Usage-Based: generalizationsemerge from language data

  • nostrictdivisionbetweenlangue and parole

  • no underlying forms

    Meaning is Central: holds for all languagephenomena

  • nosemanticallyempty forms

  • differences in behavioraremotivated (but not specificallypredicted) by differences in meaning

  • metaphor and metonymy play a major role in grammar

Language & Cognition

  • Linguisticcognition has nospecial status

    • All linguisticphenomenacan be explained via general cognitivemechanisms

  • Language is not dividedintodiscretelevels or modules

    • phonology, morphology, syntax and lexicon form a continuousphenomenon

    • primarymotive for all linguisticphenomena is meaning

Prediction & Embodiment

  • Goal is to discovermotivationsratherthan to formulatepredictions

    • iflinguisticphenomenaweretrulypredictable, therewouldn’t be anyvariation

    • universalsarefew and non-specific, manyphenomena have language-specificaspects

  • Meaning is grounded in physicalexperiences, dependent uponthearchitectureofourbodies, perceptual organs and brains

    • meaningcannot be achieved by symbols alone


  • Linguistic categories are cognitive categories and have the same structure

    • Established through research in psychology and neurobiology

    • Radial category centered on a prototype with extensions

    • Extension via mapping: metaphor, metonymy, blends


  • The nextfew slides will present someitems.

  • Try to seeiftherearedifferencesamongthevariouslanguagesthatyouspeak.


How manyofyouchosethissolution?

How many of you chose this solution?


English: chair

Czech: židle

English: wheelchair

Czech: vozejk = ‘cart’

English: cart

Czech: vozejk = ‘cart’

Furniture for sitting

If you speak English, your chair category looks like this:

rocking chair

lawn chair


high chair


wheel chair

IfyouspeakNorwegian, yourchaircategorylooks like this:







If you speak Czech, your category is:








Russian has two different categories:







инвалидная коляска


The take-homelessonaboutchairs:

  • Categorization isn’t “out there” in the world, reality can be categorized in different ways

  • Different languages can use different strategies for categorizing experience

Think of all the ways that you could describe where the apples are

A: The apples are inside-bowl

B: The apples are loose fitting-bowl

C: The apples are concave valley that faces me-bowl

D: The apples are stomach-bowl

The take-homelessonaboutapples:

  • Meaning is basedonembodiedexperience

  • Meaning is also present in “grammatical” phenomenasuch as functorwords (like pre- and post-positions) and case

    • Becausethelexicon and grammarare a continuum

  • Differentlanguagescanrecruitdifferentembodiedexperiences for this purpose:

    • Container vs. Surface, Tight vs. Loosefit, Topography, Body parts, etc.

You are inside a house.

Suddenly a dog appears,

moving very rapidly

through the door.

How could you describe

what the dog did?

El perro entró corriendo

Hunden løp inn

The take-homelessonaboutdogs:

  • Meaningcan be representeddifferently in different grammars

    • Verb-framedlanguages (like Spanish) focusonthepathof motion, and the manner of motion is expressedoptionally, as an adverbial

    • Sattelite-framedlanguages (like Norwegian) focusonthe manner of motion, and thepath is expressed in a particle or prefix

Cognitivelinguistics is usage-based

  • Weareinterested in performance, not just competence

  • Muchwork in cognitivelinguisticsinvolvesauthenticlanguage data: corpora

  • Language data is oftenanalyzed via statisticalmodels

What is CognitiveLinguistics?

  • Explanationoflinguisticphenomena via general cognitivemechanisms

  • Meaning is themotive for language and is embodied in physicalexperience

  • Radial categoriesbasedon prototypes withextensions via metaphor & metonymy

  • Lexicon & grammarare a continuum, observe same patterns

  • Empirical (statistical) analysisofauthenticlanguage data (corpora)

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