LINGUIST List 2.33

Friday, 08 Feb 1991

Disc: Cognitive Linguistics

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , Re: Cognitive Linguistics Assoc.
  2. "Michael Kac", Re: Replies
  3. George Lakoff, Reply to Professor Fromkin

Message 1: Re: Cognitive Linguistics Assoc.

Date: Wed, 6 Feb 91 16:50:38 PST
From: <>
Subject: Re: Cognitive Linguistics Assoc.
I agree with Vicki Fromkin that the name 'cognitive linguistics' is confusing 
in that it seems to encompass all linguists who consider themselves cognitive 
scientists. But there are plenty of precedents in the linguistic community 
for choosing misleading or over-general names for theories. Certainly, the 
word 'generative' is misleading in that it suggests language production to 
many people. Are linguists who reject the notion of linguistic competence 
supposed to be against the idea that speakers possess production rules that 
generate sentences? And are phonologists who don't belong to the school of 
'natural phonology' people who feel that naturalness plays no role in 

Vicki Fromkin suggests that cognitive linguists do not believe that language 
functions can be psychologically 'autonomous'. That is not my reading of 
the principles underlying cognitive linguistics. Sapir gave us an excellent 
example of autonomy in "Sound Patterns of Language" when he compared the 
production of blowing out a candle to the production of voiceless 'w'. 
They are not the same types of behavior, although they are both 'types' 
of behavior. The phonological system is autonomous in the sense that it 
impedes behavior which is physically unimpeded otherwise. People who do 
not possess voiceless 'w' in their language system can still blow out 
candles. The system exists independently of other systems that control 
behavior. I believe that all linguists--'cognitive' and 'noncognitive' 
linguists alike--believe in this sense of autonomy. It does not follow 
from this example that the mental process by which we judge
well-formedness in speech sounds is independent of that by which we produce 
speech sounds. It is this latter sense of 'grammatical' autonomy that cognitve
linguists disagree with, not the type of autonomy that cognitive scientists
outside of the linguistic community might be talking about.
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Message 2: Re: Replies

Date: Wed, 6 Feb 91 19:21:04 -0600
From: "Michael Kac" <>
Subject: Re: Replies
Re Vicki Fromkin's comment on cognitive linguistics: whatever position hou
take on the modularity issue (I suspect that the jury will be out on that one
for some time), I think that Vicki is right in objecting to the use of 'cogni-
tive' in the way some are using it. It brings to mind the tendency of linguists
to use the word 'natural' in a special, technical sense according to which it
means 'my'.

Michael Kac
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Message 3: Reply to Professor Fromkin

Date: Thu, 7 Feb 91 03:34:47 -0800
From: George Lakoff <>
Subject: Reply to Professor Fromkin
From: George Lakoff <>

Re: Reply to Professor Fromkin

As President of the ICLA, I'd like to take this opportunity
to reply to Professor Fromkin's note. 

Professor Fromkin raises an important issue: Exactly what evidence is
there to support the generativists' contention that language is
autonomous? The field of cognitive linguistics has developed over the
past decade and a half in response to massive evidence that language is 
anything but autonomous; rather it is, in very signifant ways,
a product of of general cognitive mechanisms of a variety of types.
The literature in the field as a whole supports this view.
Generative linguists tend not to be conversant with cognitive
linguistics literature, and perhaps it would be a good thing if
the whole matter were taken up in this forum --
preferably in a systematic way,
rather than just throwing bibliographies at one another.
That is what I tried to do, in small measure, in my book
WOMEN, FIRE, AND DANGEROUS THINGS, which surveys some of the
relevant evidence. But there is no lack of other things to
read in this field.

As for the opinions of those doing brain research, there is
no lack of research pointing in the anti-modularity direction.
A good place to get details would be from the UCSD
Cognitive Science group, in particular, Elizabeth Bates,
Marty Sereno, Marta Kutas, and Rob Kluender.

Perhaps this is the only forum where such a discussion
could take place across the cognitivist-generativist
divide. It is impossible at the LSA, which
has a conservative, generatively-oriented program committee
and which has refused to permit paper sessions devoted to
results in cognitive linguistics. The International
Cognitive Linguistics Association, which is only one year old,
was formed partly because there was no other general
forum for the discussion of these results. The Association,
and its new journal, Cognitive Linguistics, has been extremely
successful and we are grateful to the Summer Institute
at UC Santa Cruz for hosting our conference (though
it is unfortunate that no courses at all in this field are
being offered there, just as none have been offered
at other LSA Summer Institutes). One of the nice things
about this means of communication is that it is open,
and openness of communication is sorely needed in a
field as conservative as linguistics. Other professional organizations
have been far more receptive to cognitive linguistics as a discipline,
and cognitive linguists are regularly invited to address
major meetings in Cognitive Science, Psychology, 
Computer Science, Anthropology, etc. 
And the literature in Cognitive Linguistics itself is
growing so fast that it is virtually impossible to keep up with
all of it. 

To the current generation of linguistics students,
I recommend subscribing to our journal, Cognitive Linguistics, 
by joining the society at the bargain rate of $18.
Just send a check made out to the International
Cognitive Linguistics Association (ICLA) to

Eugene Casad
P.O. Box 8987 CRB
Tucson, AZ 85738

Nonstudent memberships are $55.
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