Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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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.
Part 1: BACKGROUND 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.
Part 2: BASIC CONCEPTS 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 illustrated.
Part 3: MORPHOLOGY 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.
Part 4: NOUNS, VERBS, AND CLUASES 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).
Part 5: MORE ON MEANING 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).
Part 6: APPROACHES TO METAPHOR 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'.
Part 7: IDIOMS AND CONSTRUCTIONS 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.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
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.