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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 cognitive linguistics

What is CognitiveLinguistics?

Laura A. Janda


Cognitive linguistics


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

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

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

Cognitive categories


  • 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

Examples of cognitive categories


  • The nextfew slides will present someitems.

  • Try to seeiftherearedifferencesamongthevariouslanguagesthatyouspeak.

Which two items belong together


How many of you chose this solution

How manyofyouchosethissolution?

What is cognitive linguistics

How many of you chose this solution?

Why did you choose the solution you did


English: chair

Czech: židle

English: wheelchair

Czech: vozejk = ‘cart’

English: cart

Czech: vozejk = ‘cart’

Furniture for sitting

Furniture for sitting

If you speak english your chair category looks like this

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

rocking chair

lawn chair


high chair


wheel chair

If you speak norwegian your chair category looks like this

IfyouspeakNorwegian, yourchaircategorylooks like this:







If you speak czech your category is

If you speak Czech, your category is:








Russian has two different categories

Russian has two different categories:







инвалидная коляска


The take home lesson about chairs

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

What is cognitive linguistics

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

What is cognitive linguistics

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 home lesson about apples

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.

What is cognitive linguistics

You are inside a house.

Suddenly a dog appears,

moving very rapidly

through the door.

How could you describe

what the dog did?

What is cognitive linguistics

El perro entró corriendo

Hunden løp inn

The take home lesson about dogs

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

Cognitive linguistics is usage based

Cognitivelinguistics is usage-based

  • Weareinterested in performance, not just competence

  • Muchwork in cognitivelinguisticsinvolvesauthenticlanguage data: corpora

  • Language data is oftenanalyzed via statisticalmodels

What is cognitive linguistics1

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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