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Review of  Linguistic Categorization 3rd Edition

Reviewer: Ludwig Fesenmeier
Book Title: Linguistic Categorization 3rd Edition
Book Author: John R. Taylor
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Cognitive Science
Issue Number: 15.1751

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Date: Mon, 7 Jun 2004 21:25:32 +0200
From: Ludwig Fesenmeier
Subject: Linguistic Categorization, 3rd ed.

AUTHOR: Taylor, John R.
TITLE: Linguistic Categorization, 3rd Edition
SERIES: Oxford Textbooks in Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2004

Ludwig Fesenmeier, Department of Romance Languages, University
of Cologne


The purpose of the textbook, which is as suitable for an
audience with (very) little knowledge of prototype theory as
it is for advanced readers, is to offer an overview of the
state of the art in the field of Cognitive Linguistics,
choosing the topic of categorization as overarching theme and,
at the same time, as the notion connecting the various matters
discussed. These fall roughly into two categories, both
already announced in the title of the book: on one reading,
''linguistic'' refers to language and the first ten chapters are
in fact about categorization BY units of language (words, but
also tense, clause type, etc.); on the other reading,
''linguistic'' refers to linguistics and the next three chapters
are about categorization IN linguistics OF units of language
(word, transitive construction, etc.).

The book is divided into fourteen chapters, which are preceded
by a short ''Preface to the Third Edition'', the ''Typographical
conventions'', and an ''Introduction and Overview'' (pp. viii-xv);
at the end of every chapter there are several study questions
and bibliographical references for further reading.

The unifying theme of the first four chapters is
categorization and prototype categories (pp. 1-83); the
following chapter discusses ''Linguistic and Encyclopaedic
Knowledge'' (pp. 84-101); the topic central to the chapters 6-
10 (pp. 102-199) is polysemy. The next three chapters are
dedicated to (the problems of) categorization in linguistics
(pp. 200-265) and the last chapter discusses ''The Acquisition
of Categories'' (pp. 266-283). At the end there are the
bibliographical references (pp. 285-299) and the indices of
authors and subjects (pp. 301-308).

In chapter 1 (''The Categorization of Colour'', pp. 1-18), the
now ''classical'' example of color terms is used to introduce
and to illustrate the differences between the ''classical'' and
the ''prototype'' perspective on categories, which are
''symptomatic of two equally divergent conceptions of the
nature of language'' (p. 14): ''autonomous'' vs. ''cognitive

Chapter 2 presents ''The Classical Approach to Categorization''
(pp. 19-40), which is summed up in four basic assumptions:
''(1) Categories are defined in terms of a conjunction of
necessary and sufficient features. [...] (2) Features are
binary. [...] (3) Categories have clear boundaries. [...] (4)
All members of a category have equal status.'' (p. 21);
especially in phonology (but also in syntax and semantics),
the classical model has been enriched in that features are
also considered to be primitive, universal, abstract, and, in
the generative-transformational tradition, even innate (see
pp. 22-26). Taylor discusses various examples taken from
phonology and semantics in order to show the problems which
may arise from a feature-based approach. He then presents
three major groups of general problems associated with the
classical approach (pp. 35-39).

Chapter 3 (''Prototype Categories I'', pp. 41-62) provides
basically an introduction into ''an alternative to the
classical approach, namely categorization by prototype'' (p.
41). Presenting some classical examples (Wittgenstein's
'game', Labov's 'household receptacles', Rosch's 'furniture')
Taylor argues that categories have fuzzy boundaries, that some
entities are better members of a category than others, and
that this observation holds for natural kind categories (e.g.
'bird') as well as for nominal kind categories (e.g.
'furniture'). He further introduces the concept of 'basic
level terms' and discusses ''the interplay between the basic
level and prototypes'' (p. 53). Another section is dedicated to
the question of ''Where do prototypes come from?''. The last
section concerns ''the study of semantic equivalence, both
between and within languages'' (p. 59) as a possible field of
application of the prototype approach.

Chapter 4, ''Prototype Categories II'' (pp. 63-83), continues
the description of prototypes in more detail. Taylor discusses
''several ways in which to understand the term 'prototype''' (p.
63), namely the prototype-as-exemplar view, the prototype-as-
subcategory approach, and the prototype-as- abstraction
approach. He then compares categorization by prototype with
Ronald Langacker's proposal of categorization by schema (see
Langacker 1987, 371ff), which he considers as ''complementary
aspects of the same phenomenon'' (p. 70), though preferring the
prototype model (see p. 71). Another topic treated by Taylor
is the distinction between ''expert categories'' and ''folk
categories'', the former being defined by ''the imposition of a
set of criteria for category membership'', the latter being
'''natural categories', of everyday use'' (p. 75). The last
section of the chapter is dedicated to what George Lakoff has
called ''hedges'' (see Lakoff 1972), that is, expressions such
as ''loosely speaking'', which ''require us to distinguish
between central and peripheral members of a category'' (p. 82).
Chapter 5, ''Linguistic and Encyclopaedic Knowledge'' (pp. 84-
101), questions the possibility of ''a clean separation between
a speaker's knowledge and his purely linguistic knowledge'' (p.
85) which according to Taylor is normally assumed by
autonomous linguistics. He argues, in contrast, ''that
encyclopaedic knowledge is crucially involved in the way in
which words are used'' in that the ''acceptability - and
interpretability - of linguistic expressions depends, very
often, on the activation of knowledge about the world'' (p.
87). An important role in such activation processes is played
by the knowledge on the part of the speaker of certain
domains, frames and scripts; this thesis is illustrated by
some examples of compound nouns such as ''alligator shoes'' vs.
''horse shoes''. Further arguments for the importance of frames
and scripts are provided in the discussion of ''fake'' and
''real'' (''This is a fake gun'', ''Mary's husband is a real
bachelor''; see pp. 96-100).

Chapter 6, ''Polysemy and Meaning Chains'' (pp. 102-123) deals
with an extension of the prototype model discussed thus far,
in that it opposes ''monocentric'' and ''polycentric categories'',
a distinction analogous to that between monosemy and polysemy
(a further point discussed by Taylor is the distinction
between polysemy and homonymy; pp. 102-108). While, for
example, robins, penguins, etc. ''are members of the category
[= BIRD] in virtue of similarity to a single prototype
representation'' (p. 103), this does not hold for ''school'' in
its various readings of 'institution', 'intellectual trend'
and so on, which in contrast present a kind of ''family
resemblance''. Taylor illustrates this topic furthermore by the
examples of ''climb'' and ''over'' (pp. 108-118) and discusses
some of the problems related to this approach (pp. 118-122).

Of the two concepts discussed in chapter 7, ''Category
Extension: Metonymy and Metaphor'' (pp. 124-143), the first
''has received relatively little attention [.] in the
linguistics literature'' (p. 124), but both are of great
importance as far as the relations between the various senses
of a polysemous item are concerned. Metonymy (pp. 124-132) is
shown ''to be one of the most fundamental processes of meaning
extension, more basic, perhaps, even than metaphor'' (p. 126).
As for metaphor (pp. 132-141), Taylor discusses mainly the
work done by Mark Johnson and George Lakoff (see, for example,
Lakoff/Johnson 1980); he introduces the concept of 'image
schema' and shows the pervasiveness of metaphorical speech in
everyday usage.

Chapter 8 is dedicated to ''Polysemy, or: How many meanings
does a word REALLY have?'' (pp. 144-169). After presenting
briefly three approaches to polysemy, Taylor discusses in some
detail the ''two-level approach'' (pp. 148- 151) proposed by
Manfred Bierwisch (mainly Bierwisch 1983) which basically
works as follows: on the semantic level of meaning, ''the
'semantic form' of a lexical item specifies the purely
linguistic meaning of the item, as stored in the mental
lexicon''; on the conceptual level, ''[s]emantic form is subject
to conceptual interpretation, relative to conceptual
knowledge, in the context of the word's use'' (p. 149). In the
following section (pp. 151-159) this approach is illustrated
by the examples ''in'' and ''around''. In the last section (pp.
159-167), several issues involved in an evaluation of two-
level approach are taken into consideration, and finally
Taylor presents briefly Ronald Langacker's network model that
is shown to be a good solution for modeling the phenomenon of

The next two chapters still treat polysemy, but turn away from
the ''classical'' field of lexical items: Chapter 9 discusses
''Polysemous Categories in Morphology and Syntax'' (pp. 170-
185), Chapter 10 ''Polysemous Categories in Intonation'' (pp.
186-199). As far as polysemy in the field of morphology and
syntax is concerned, the categories shown to ''also exhibit a
cluster of related meanings'' (p. 170) are case, the
diminutive, the past tense, and yes-no questions; as for
intonation, Taylor discusses the meanings of falling and
rising tones and high key which he shows to have ''at least ten
distinct meanings'' (p. 198).

Chapters 11-13 are dedicated to (the problem of)
categorization as far as linguists' concepts themselves are

In chapter 11 (''Grammatical categories'', pp. 200-221),
categories like 'word', 'affix', 'clitic', and 'noun (phrase)'
are discussed, and Taylor demonstrates the important role of
categorization by prototype and prototype effects in
linguistics itself. He stresses the ''semantic basis of
grammatical categories'' (title of section 11.3, p. 216), and
argues that ''[g]rammatical categories have a prototype
structure, with central members sharing a range of both
syntactic and semantic attributes'' (p. 220).

Chapter 12, ''Syntactic constructions as Prototype Categories''
(pp. 222- 246), continues in this perspective by taking into
consideration syntactic constructions. Taylor first presents
the construction grammar approach, which is considered ''an
important trend in cognitive linguistics'' (p. 225); he then
goes on to examine ''two highly productive constructions in
English'' (p. 228), i.e. the prenominal possessive (pp. 228-
231) and the transitive construction (pp. 231-243).

In chapter 13, ''Prototype Categories in Phonology'' (pp. 247-
265), Taylor considers some basic concepts of
phonetics/phonology (phoneme, syllable, among others) in the
light of the prototype approach, demonstrating once more its
methodological usefulness.

In the last chapter on ''The Acquisition of Categories'' (pp.
266-283), Taylor discusses findings which come from studies on
language acquisition and which, he argues, give clear evidence
for the descriptive appropriateness of the prototype approach
(e.g., over-/underextension of categories), in the field of
both lexical and grammatical items.


Since its first edition in 1989, John R. Taylor's ''Linguistic
Categorization'' (henceforth LC) has received much attention
which can be seen in many ways. Firstly, in a quite material
sense, one must mention the sheer number of reprints (from
1990 on) and the paperback editions (from 1991 on). Secondly,
in a material-content sense, there is the second edition in
1995, the third in 2003, now in the series ''Oxford Textbooks
in Linguistics'', which is under review here. Thirdly, a great
number of reviews have been dedicated both to the first
edition (no less than nine, see references below) and to the
second (still two). Last not least, Taylor's book has been
translated into Japanese (1996).

It is in particular the number of the (generally very
positive) reviews which it makes a little difficult to say
anything ''new'' about LC, even though or, rather because the
third edition ''represents a thorough revision of the earlier
editions'': it would be in fact very difficult if not
impossible, to discuss in some depth the new material which
has been added throughout the book. I will therefore start by
considering the more formal differences of the third edition
with respect to the previous ones.

The fact that LC has now appeared in the Textbook Series has
brought about firstly some typographical changes that
facilitate considerably the reception of the book: key
words/concepts are set in boldface, and each chapter has its
sections indicated at the beginnings. Secondly, at the end of
every chapter the reader finds quite useful questions that
encourage re-thinking and deepening the topics covered, along
with short bibliographies for further reading.

Furthermore, the typographical errors which were present in
the first edition of LC and remained in the second (for
example, ''diachronic'' instead of ''synchronic'' on p. 121,
''analycity'' instead of ''analyticity'' on p. 85) have been
removed, while others (though extremely few) have appeared
(e.g., on p. 159 the example discussed is 21, not 20, and the
title of Bierwisch's 1983 article reads ''lexikalischer'', not
''lexikalische'' p. 286).

As far as the organization of the 2003 edition of LC is
concerned, it basically maintains the same scheme of the
preceding versions, though there are more or less profound
modifications. For example, a section ''What's wrong with the
classical theory?'' (pp. 35-39) has been added; the section ''A
note on fuzziness'' (Taylor 1989/1995, 54-55) has been removed;
the discussion of the polysemy of case has been enlarged and
become a section of its own (pp. 170-172).

The most important modification of the present edition surely
is that, according to the author himself, ''a new chapter
(Chapter 8) has been added'' and that ''the contents of Chapter
14 of the second edition [= ''Recent Developments (1995)'',
1995, 257-295] have been repositioned elsewhere'' (p. viii).
Nevertheless, both statements are only partially true, because
the sections 14.3-14.5 of the 1995 edition (''Polysemy and the
two-level approach'', ''Two illustrations: IN and ROUND'',
''Polysemy and the network model'') correspond basically to the
contents of Chapter 8, while other sections of the former
Chapter 14 (for example 14.2, ''Prototypes and basic level
terms'', and 14.6, ''The historical perspective'') can in fact
now be found elsewhere (p. 32 and pp. 53-55).

As far as the content of LC is concerned, a detailed
discussion would in fact entail both the repetition (at least
partially) of what has been said in former reviews and the
check of what suggestions etc. made in the reviews have been
taken into consideration. Proceeding in this manner does not
seem quite reasonable here, and at first a good compromise
might be to say that the reviews of Jodlowiec/Kwasniewicz,
Cruse, Matthews, Geeraerts, Le Page, Casad, and Huttar are
particularly interesting on this regard, in that they all
stress different advantages and problems of the topics
presented in LC.

Thus I will limit myself to two aspects of more general
relevance which I think deserve some attention.

Firstly, with regard to the status of Cognitive Linguistics as
a theoretical framework, the present edition of LC shows a
greater ''self-confidence'': whereas in 1995 Taylor thought of
it as an approach that ''is likely to exert an increasing
influence on the direction of linguistic research for some
years to come'' (1995, 19), he now states that it ''has
established itself as a viable alternative to the Chomskyan
paradigm, and indeed, at the beginning of the twenty-first
century, is on the cusp of entering the mainstream'' (p. 17).

Secondly, on p. 200 Taylor states that ''one of the main
sources of evidence for conceptual structure is linguistic;
conversely, any reasonable account of linguistic semantics
[but 1989/1995, 173: ''linguistic behaviour''] needs to make
reference to the conceptual structures which linguistic forms
conventionally symbolize''. Leaving aside the change from
''linguistic behaviour'' to '' linguistic semantics'', this
statement seems to entail, however, a certain danger of
circularity, which concerns not only the ideas put forward in
LC, but Cognitive Linguistics in general. Unfortunately,
Taylor does not go in further detail here, so one might have
an uneasy feeling about this (surely crucial) point.

In conclusion, to publish Taylor's book in the textbook series
is a coherent decision, given its introductory character
unanimously stated by the reviewers. Furthermore, LC should
prove very useful as a point of departure for reading another
important book written by Taylor, namely ''Cognitive Grammar''
(Taylor 2002).


Bierwisch, Manfred (1983): ''Semantische und konzeptuelle
Repräsentation lexikalischer Einheiten'', in: Ruzicka, R.
& Motsch, W. (ed.) (1983): Untersuchungen zur Semantik,
Berlin: Akademie-Verlag (= Studia grammatica XXII), 61-99.

Lakoff, George (1972): ''Hedges: A study in meaning criteria
and the logic of fuzzy concepts'', in: Proceedings of the
Chicago Linguistic Society 8, 183-228.

Lakoff, George & Johnson, Mark (1980): Metaphors we live by,
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Langacker, Ronald (1987): Foundations of Cognitive Grammar.
Vol. 1: Theoretical Prerequisites, Stanford: Stanford
University Press.

Taylor, John R. (1989): Linguistic Categorization. Prototypes
in Linguistic Theory, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Taylor, John R. (1995): Linguistic Categorization. Prototypes
in Linguistic Theory. Second edition, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Taylor, John R. (1996): Ninchi gengogaku no tameno 14 sho [14
Chapters for Cognitive Linguistics. Translation by Tsuji
Yukio], Tokyo: Kinokuniya Shoten.

Taylor, John R. (2002): Cognitive Grammar, Oxford/New York:
Oxford University Press.

Reviews of Taylor 1989:

Cognitive Linguistics 2 (1991), 283-309 (Maria Jodlowiec &
Krzysztof Kwasniewicz).

Human Affairs 1 (1991), 196-197 (Viktor Krupa).

Journal of Linguistics 28 (1992), 165-183 (D. Alan Cruse).

Journal of Pragmatics 18 (1992), 378-381 (Isabel Forbes).

Lingua 86 (1992), 267-269 (P. H. Matthews).

Linguistics 29 (1991), 161-167 (Dirk Geeraerts).

Revue Roumaine de Linguistique 37 (1992), 296-297
(P. Schveiger).

Word 44 (1993), 505-508 (Robert B. Le Page).

Word 44 (1993), 91-97 (Eugene H. Casad).

Reviews of Taylor 1995:

Norsk Lingvistik Tidsskrift 14 (1996), 208-219
(Rolf Theil Endresen).

Notes on Linguistics 76 (1997), 35-42 (George Huttar).

Ludwig Fesenmeier teaches Romance linguistics at the
Department of Romance Languages, University of Cologne,
currently working on his post-doctoral thesis on lexical
synonymy in the Romance languages.

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