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Review of  Cognitive Grammar

Reviewer: Liang Chen
Book Title: Cognitive Grammar
Book Author: John R. Taylor
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Issue Number: 14.2587

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Date: Sat, 27 Sep 2003 11:08:25 -0500
From: Liang Chen
Subject: Cognitive Grammar

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

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


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

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

ABOUT THE REVIEWER 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 linguistics.