LINGUIST List 14.2587

Sat Sep 27 2003

Review: Linguistic Theories: Taylor (2002)

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  1. Liang Chen, Cognitive Grammar

Message 1: Cognitive Grammar

Date: Sat, 27 Sep 2003 13:38:04 +0000
From: Liang Chen <>
Subject: Cognitive Grammar

Taylor, John R. (2002) Cognitive Grammar, Oxford University Press,
Oxford Textbooks in Linguistics.

Announced at

Liang Chen, University of Louisiana at Lafayette.


This book is mainly an introduction to Langacker's theory of Cognitive
Grammar, with its application to in-depth analyses of a range of
topics in semantics, syntax, morphology, and phonology. It thus
questions the nature of linguistic knowledge. There are 28 chapters
arranged in seven parts.


Chapters 1-6 make up Part One. The author first distinguishes
Cognitive Linguistics from Cognitive Grammar. The relationship
between the two is similar to that between generative linguistics and
the Minimalist Program (Chomsky, 1995). Here, Cognitive Grammar is
defined as 'a theory of how linguistic expressions are to be analyzed
in terms of symbolic relations' between phonological structures and
semantic structures (p. 21). A language provides its speakers with a
set of resources for relating phonological structures with semantic
structures. Both phonological and semantic structures are argued to be
autonomous, and the symbolic relations between them are direct,
therefore denying the mediational role of a distinct level of
syntactic structures.


This part (Chapters 7-13) details two basic relations in Cognitive
Grammar: vertical relations between phonological, semantic, and
symbolic units specified in differing degree of details (i.e., the
relations of instances to schemas); and horizontal relations between
units (i.e., syntagmatic combinations of simpler units into larger,
internally more complex ones). This part is essential because it
introduces the basic terminology that is necessary to do cognitive
linguistics. Three basic notions in the Cognitive Grammar approach to
meaning, namely, profile (what an expression designates), base (the
conceptual structure which provides the essential context for the
conceptualization of a profiled entity) and domain (any knowledge
configuration which provides the context for a conceptualization), are


This part (Chapters 14-17) focuses on the internal structure of words
on the assumption that morphology is not 'an encapsulated module of
the grammar, distinct in principle from syntax' (p. 265). Through the
study of English plural morphemes and tense morphemes, these chapters
recapitulate some important concepts of cognitive grammar, including
contentful vs. schematic, dependence vs. autonomy, valence,
coerciveness and boundedness, internal complexity, established
vs. innovative, etc.


The three chapters (Chapters 18-21) address ways in which nouns,
verbs, and clauses are grounded (i.e., the ways in which instances of
concepts are 'located' with respect to speech act situations). The
author shows how the bounded- unbounded distinction gives the
categories of count and mass nouns when applied to things, and the
categories of perfective and imperfective verbs when applied to
processes. As for clauses, they may each designate one of several
types of schematic processes (e.g., dynamic, stative, cognitive and
complex), and may each involve different number of participant (e.g.,
one in intransitives, two in transitives and three in ditransitives).


Chapter 22 further the discussion of the notion of DOMAIN and the role
of domain-based knowledge in the semantic structure of words and
complex expressions, leading to the conclusion that ''meanings are
constructed, or 'emerge', in specific context of use'' (p. 439). Via a
detailed discussion of polysemy, Chapter 23 shows that semantic and
phonological representations involves not merely a single unit, but 'a
network of units related by similarity and by schema- instance
relations' (p. 437).


Chapter 24 examines Lakoff's domain-mapping approach to metaphor,
according to which 'metaphor involves a mapping relation between two
domains' (p. 488) and 'the existence of ''conceptual metaphors'' makes
possible the construal of a more abstract domain in terms of more
concrete experience' (p. 485). Chapter 25 considers Jackendoff and
Langacker's cross-domain similarity approach to metaphor, in
particular their treatment of spatial and non-spatial uses of the verb
GO in English as instances of a more abstract concept, in contrast to
Lakoff's approach to metaphor. Chapter 26 presents other approaches to
metaphor, highlighting Johnson's 'image schemas', Talmy's 'imaging
system', and Fauconnier and Turner's theory of 'conceptual blending'.


The author first suggests that idiomatic expressions pose a challenge
to any linguistic theory that assumes a 'neat compartmentalization of
lexicon and syntax' (Chapter 27). First, their meaning cannot usually
be derived from the meanings of their components. Second, they are not
always characterized by idiosyncrasies, whether syntactic or
semantic. By contrast, idiomatic expressions are neatly accommodated
by the notion of symbolic units in Cognitive Grammar, where 'lexicon
and syntax differ merely with respect to the schematicity and internal
complexity of the semantic and phonological units that are associated'
(p. 541). In a sense, '[e]verything turns out to be idiomatic, to a
greater or lesser extent' (p. 541), and therefore it is unnecessary or
impossible to distinguish the idiomatic from the non-idiomatic.

The author then defines phonological, semantic and symbolic
constructions, which are defined as complex linguistic structures
analyzable into component parts (Chapter 28). Although idiomatic
expressions need to be specified at a lower level of schematicity
whereas constructions are specified at a high level of schematicity,
the difference between them turns out to be a gradient distinction.


The book presents a step-by-step introduction to the general issues of
Cognitive Grammar. It is neatly organized and clearly presented,
bringing the uninitiated reader to gradually into the field of
cognitive linguistics. The study questions and suggestions for further
reading that accompany each of the main chapters are especially
helpful, challenging the probing readers and encouraging them to go
deeper into various aspects of linguistic analysis from a cognitive
perspective. In spite of its introductory nature, however, the depth
of discussion is not compromised, particularly Part 6 on different
approaches to metaphor. Dr. Taylor had certainly done an excellent
job on this more than 600 page introductory book on Cognitive Grammar,
and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in
cognitive approach to language.

I will conclude this review by one comment. On page 266, Dr. Taylor
writes 'BOOK associates the concept [BOOK] with the phonological form
[buk]'. It gives the reader the impression that words or symbols do
not represent the reality itself but our ideas or concepts about the
reality. However, conceptual relations are themselves dependent on the
logical objects that constitute them (see e.g. Langacker, 1991, p. 28
and p.63). If the mundane world of experience is ignored in linguistic
investigation, cognitive linguistics may indeed run the risk of being
'overly conceptual ... ''mentalistic'' to the detriment of a
full-blooded account of the bodily, practical, and social dimensions
of meaning and symbolic interaction' (Fesmire, 1994, p. 149-150), and
as a result may very well distort the 'interplay of psychological,
cultural, social, ecological, and other factors' on which cognitive
linguistics places crucial emphasis.


Chomsky, N. 1995. The Minimalist Program. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Fesmire, S. A. 1994. What is ''cognitive'' about cognitive
linguistics? Metaphor and Symbolic Activity 9(2): 149-154.


Liang Chen is a doctoral student of Applied Language and Speech
Sciences in the Department of Communicative Disorders at University of
Louisiana at Lafayette. His current research includes theoretical
semiotics, language disorders, language assessment, and bilingualism
and bi-literacy. Other interests include syntactic theory and Chinese
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