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Review of  Cognitive English Grammar

Reviewer: Jie Zhang
Book Title: Cognitive English Grammar
Book Author: Günter Radden René Dirven
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 19.1503

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AUTHORS: Radden, Günter; Dirven, René
TITLE: Cognitive English Grammar
SERIES: Cognitive Linguistics in Practice 2
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2007

Jie Zhang, Department of Applied Linguistics, Pennsylvania State University

This book is intended to be used as a textbook by advanced undergraduate
students or graduate students in classes of English grammar and general
linguistics. Taking cognitive linguistics as their theoretical framework, the
authors succinctly present the philosophical orientations of
cognitive-linguistic theory and key constructs in cognitive grammar, and
synthesize the most prominent findings in applying cognitive grammar to the
analysis of English grammar. The notion underlying this book is that grammar is
grounded in people's general cognitive capacities, and its meaning is rooted in
people's experience with the world. It provides readers with insights into
grammar as part of human cognition and suggests avenues for further study and
research. The book is organized into twelve chapters, divided into four parts.

Part I ''The cognitive framework'' presents the essential notions of
cognitive-linguistic theory, laying the foundation for the approach to English
grammar adopted in the book. Chapter 1 starts with an introduction of
categories, the basic units of thought and language, and shows how cognitive
processes operate on categories. The authors elaborate on the three basic types
of cognitive processes: the formation of categories, the conceptual grouping of
categories, and the extension of conceptual and linguistic categories by means
of metonymy and metaphor. Important terms, such as prototype, frame, domain,
metonymy, metaphor, and conceptual metaphor, are defined.
Chapter 2 looks into the cognitive operations that are at work in producing and
understanding language. Three types of cognitive operations are introduced: the
construal of thoughts in speaking, the building of mental spaces in
communication, and the drawing of inferences by the hearer. It shows that
cognition, perception, and language are closely interrelated. Basic notions in
cognitive linguistics, including figure and ground, mental space, conceptual
blending, and inferences, are defined in this chapter.

Chapter 3 demonstrates how conceptual units relate to their counterparts in
language. Cognitive linguistics posits that human thought is organized around
two basic types of conceptual units: things and relations. Things and the
relations between them together form a conceptual core and ultimately a
situation. Sentence is the linguistic counterpart of the conceptual situation.

Part II ''Things: nouns and noun phrases'' is organized around ''things'', the basic
notion of cognitive linguistics, and their linguistic realization. The three
chapters deal with how ''things'' are grounded in reality by means of reference,
quantified by set and scalar quantifiers, and qualified by modifiers
respectively. Chapter 4 distinguishes between different types of ''things'' and
the corresponding subcategories of nouns. The authors focus on the distinction
between ''objects'' and ''substances''. ''Objects'' are referred to as count nouns and
''substances'' as mass nouns in English. What's worth noting is that cognitive
grammar understands abstract nouns as reified ''things'' which involve a
metaphorical shift from a relational entity into a thing.

Chapter 5 deals with how instances of ''things'' are referred to and shared by the
speaker and the hearer in discourse. The speaker ''grounds'' the instance of a
thing by means of referring expressions. Indefinite reference is used when the
speaker deems that the hearer has no access to the instances; definite reference
applies to an instance which is accessible to both speaker and hearer. When the
speaker refers to the class as a whole, generic reference is used.

Chapter 6 is devoted to the quantification of things by means of quantifiers.
Quantification is the assignment of a certain quantity to an instance of a
thing. Notions of quantity are typically expressed by number and quantifiers.
The authors introduce two ways of conceiving quantity: in terms of set and in
terms of scale. Quantifiers such as all, every, and each are set quantifiers;
instances such as many and much are scalar quantifiers. The chapter concludes by
differentiating the meaning of set quantifiers and scalar quantifiers when they
are used in partitive constructions.

Chapter 7 looks at the qualification of things. The use of modifiers together
with nouns ensures the speaker and the hearer call up the same instance of
thing. Modifiers take two positions in English: prenominal modifiers as in ''a
red flower'' express stable qualifications; postnominal modifiers as in ''a flower
in the garden'' express temporary qualifications. Qualifications may be achieved
in three ways: by means of a property, by means of a relation, and by means of a
situation. Qualifying properties are expressed as adjectives, qualifying
relations are expressed by genitive phrases and prepositional phrases, and
qualifying situations are expressed as relative clauses.

Part III ''Situations as temporal units: aspect, tense and modality'' deals with
another basic notion of human cognition, i.e. situations. Cognitive linguistics
describes situations as temporal units of double layers: internally, as types of
situations; externally, as located relative to the time of speech and grounded
in potentiality. Chapter 8 focuses on aspect, and deems aspect as the
grammatical form used by a speaker in taking a particular view of a situation.
The authors explain that English distinguishes between two forms of aspect: the
progressive and the non-progressive aspect. The speaker may view the situation
internally, which is expressed in progressive aspect; the speaker may also view
the situation externally as a bounded event, which is accordingly expressed with
the non-progressive aspect. The authors also point out that not all languages
use the progressive aspect in their grammatical system to make this

Chapter 9 investigates the ways situations are grounded in time by means of
tense. Cognitive linguistics interprets tense as the way a situation is located
in time from the speaker's viewpoint. When the moment of speaking is chosen as
the deictic center, three tenses are distinguished: present tense, past tense,
and future tense. When the speaker takes a backward-looking stance from a
deictic viewpoint, the situation is framed in the perfect tense. When the
speaker takes a forward-looking stance from a deictic viewpoint, prospective
forms are used. Thus the nine tenses in English are easily presented as an
integrated system based on the notions of speech time, event time, and reference

Chapter 10 explains the grounding of situations in the world of potentiality,
which is achieved in English by means of modal expressions. Cognitive
linguistics interprets modality as the speaker's assessment of, or attitude
towards, the potentiality of a state of affairs. This chapter introduces the two
basic types of modality in English: epistemic modality and root modality. Root
modality is further distinguished into three subtypes: deontic modality,
intrinsic modality, and disposition modality.

Part IV ''Situations as relational units: sentence structure'' is concerned with
the conceptual structure of situations and their linguistic counterparts in
sentences. Its two chapters are devoted to event schemas, and space and its
metaphorical extensions. Chapter 11 concentrates on basic event schemas, and the
way they are encoded in the basic sentence patterns of English. The authors
introduce agent, theme, and experiencer as the basic components of an event
schema. Then they categorize event schemas into the emotion schema, the action
schema, and the transfer schema. A highlight of this chapter is the analysis of
transitivity in English on how it is related to the event schema in a systematic

The last chapter, Chapter 12, looks at non-participant roles that normally do
not belong to the core of a situation. These roles describe notions of space,
time, circumstance, cause, reason, purpose, etc. In English grammar they are
realized as adjuncts, specifying the setting of the situation. This chapter
focuses on the domain of space and introduces findings in cognitive linguistic
research concerning English prepositional expressions. The authors also
elaborate on how the expressions of space can be extended into temporal,
circumstantial and causal domains.

The book distinguishes itself from traditional English grammar books mainly in
two aspects. In the first place, it is framed on theory and makes a valuable
attempt to integrate theory with the analysis of English grammar. Unlike
mainstream English grammar books, such as Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman
(1999), which focus primarily on forms, structures, and rules, this books starts
with a theoretical account of cognitive linguistics and its basic constructs. It
presents to the readers the interwoven relationship between the world, people's
conceptualizations, and the semiotic system of language. It also incorporates
the most important findings in a cognitive-linguistic analysis of grammar, and
demonstrates a new approach to grammatical analysis. Due to its integration of
theory and grammar analysis, the book is able to present English grammar in a
systematic manner, which makes it extremely accessible to readers. Its analyses
of the central constructions of English are grouped into three basic notions,
i.e. the notion of things, relations, and situations. Guided by the
cognitive-linguistic theory, the readers are able to view English grammar as an
integrated system, rather than in a piecemeal fashion. It provides a refreshing
presentation of the grammar system and evokes further thinking on the functions
and mechanism of language.

This book would be an illuminating reader for students interested in a
cognitive-linguistic oriented analysis of language. With abundant examples,
illustrations, and brief definitions of key terms, the book would be an
excellent text in an introductory course to cognitive linguistics. The
references at the end of each chapter provide useful information, directing
students to more detailed and comprehensive accounts of the theory. The book
presents a new approach to teaching English grammar, which could have great
potential in ESL/EFL teaching and learning. For instance, in the book tense and
aspect are understood in a time schema with different speech time, reference
time, and speaker. The account of transitivity and the summary of tenses in
English could be directly applied to classroom instruction of English grammar.
This book also provides a sound foundation for the cross-linguistic analysis of
important grammatical constructs. For example, the motion event schema mentioned
in the book is a good framework for cross-linguistic analyses of the realization
of the same events across languages, which should shed light on the cognitive
focus of people with different linguistic backgrounds.

The book is not intended to be comprehensive and cover all structures in
English. Readers may notice that some important features of the English language
are not elaborated, such as phrasal verbs, sentence patterns like imperatives
and interrogatives, and the use of language at the discourse level. There is
also a lack of discussion about the conversational implicature and pragmatic
considerations within a larger social and cultural background and the immediate
discourse context. Like most grammar books, the linguistic examples in the book
are mostly introspective, rather than reflecting people's actual use of
language. A discourse-based or corpus-based approach to collecting linguistic
examples could be an alternative, which would demonstrate the use of languages
across genres, modes, and registers.

The biggest asset of this book is that up to now, it is the most comprehensive
account of English grammar from a cognitive-linguistic perspective. It is well
written, clearly structured, and extremely accessible. It is an excellent
introductory work for students who would like to pursue cognitive linguistics
studies and a valuable resource for researchers interested in studying various
languages in the light of cognitive linguistics.

Celce-Murcia, M., Larsen-Freeman, D. (1999). _The Grammar Book: An ESL/EFL
Teacher's Course_, Second Edition. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Jie Zhang is currently a PhD candidate in Applied Linguistics at the
Pennsylvania State University. She has taught EFL in China and ESL in the U.S.
Her research interests are cognitive linguistics and its pedagogical
applications, sociocultural theory and second language acquisition, English
language learning and teaching.