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Review of  Cognitive Linguistics

Reviewer: Zhen-Qiang Fan
Book Title: Cognitive Linguistics
Book Author: Mario Brdar Stefan Th. Gries Milena Žic Fuchs
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Cognitive Science
Issue Number: 23.2247

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EDITORS: Mario Brdar, Stefan Th. Gries, Milena Žic Fuchs
TITLE: Cognitive Linguistics
SUBTITLE: Convergence and Expansion
SERIES TITLE: Human Cognitive Processing 32
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2011

Zhen-qiang Fan, Zhejiang Gongshang University, P.R. China

This volume contains papers presented at the International Cognitive Linguistics
Conference (Dubrovnic, Croatia, 2005), with some additionally solicited articles
from leading experts in cognitive linguistics.

The collection begins with an introduction by the editors, providing the
background, aim, and a preview of the book. The collection aims to ‘illustrate
the main lines of development in cognitive linguistics, namely, the ever-present
focus on research within linguistics proper and expansions into other fields in
inquiry’ (p.2). The remaining fourteen chapters are grouped into three parts:
Part 1, Setting the scene, Part 2, Consolidating the paradigm, Part 3, Expanding
the paradigm.

Part 1: Setting the scene
In chapter 1, “Convergence in cognitive linguistics”, Ronald W. Langacker
addresses the converging and diverging tendencies in cognitive linguistics.
Through a discussion of the relations between various central notions in
cognitive linguistics such as metaphor, metonymy, blending theory, cognitive
grammar and construction grammar, the author argues that the overall tendency
has been toward convergence, integration and unification. Langacker also
mentions that cognitive linguistics has undergone expansion by drawing on
methods, findings and empirical support from other disciplines such as computer
science, neurology, psychological experimentation, etc. Finally, the expansion
can also be seen in the fact that cognitive linguistics has broadened its scope
to include issues like sociolinguistics, phonology, topology, universals, and so

In chapter 2, “An overview of cognitive linguistics”, Antonio Barcelona and
Javier Valenzuela present a detailed overview of various key issues in the
development of cognitive linguistics. The issues touched upon are: its
background as a reaction against generative approaches; its theoretical tenets
including non-modularism and a non-objectivist, blueprint view of linguistic
meaning; the consequent methodological principles such as relying on general
human cognitive abilities (e.g. prototype-based categorization), and blurring
the distinction between encyclopedic, experience-based knowledge and linguistic
meaning; the main directions and current tendencies in cognitive linguistics and
their applications including construction grammars, polysemy, metaphor, metonymy
and blending. Finally, the authors identify remaining problems and future
research in cognitive linguistics -- to what extent it is cognitive, how to
address the social aspects of language processing, the formalization problem of
construction grammar, the psychological plausibility of the cognitive
explanation of polysemy, the distinction, interaction and typology of metaphor
and metonymy, and experimental support for blending theory.

Part 2: Consolidating the paradigm
In chapter 3, “Pattern versus process concepts of grammar and mind: A
cognitive-functional perspective”, Jan Nuyts focuses on a contentious issue
between cognitive linguistics and more traditional functional linguistics:
cognitive linguistics mainly adopts a pattern- or construction-oriented approach
to grammar, while classical functionalism’s approach to grammar relies more on
rules or process. Contrary to arguments by cognitive grammarians like Langacker
and Croft who claim that the process concept is misguided, Nuyts, through an
in-depth analysis of various theoretical views and the complex relationship
between process vs. construction concepts of grammar, argues that the two models
are not only compatible but also represent complementary perspectives on the
same phenomenon.

In chapter 4, “Metaphor in language and thought: How do we map the field?”,
Gerard J. Steen addresses issues related to metaphor within one coherent
theoretical framework which can serve as a map for researchers to gain a clearer
understanding of metaphor in language and thought. First, he distinguished three
dimensions of doing metaphor research, i.e. metaphor can be studied as part of
grammar or usage, or/and as part of language or thought, or/and as part of sign
systems or behavior. Second, on the basis of these three dimensions, Steen
differentiates eight areas of research that have their own assumptions about
metaphorical meaning. The author points out that metaphor research in these
distinct areas is supported by various kinds of evidence collected with
different methods, so converging evidence for metaphor in one area may be
controversial in another.

In chapter 5, “Emotion and desire in independent complement clauses: A case
study from German”, Klaus-Uwe Panther and Linda L. Thornburg concentrate on the
interface between grammatical form and its pragmatic function and explore to
what extent sentence meaning are compositional and to what extent is
inferential, that is, elaborated through metaphoric, metonymic and/or pragmatic
inference. They base their discussion on independent complement clauses which
show a mismatch between form and pragmatic function because “independent” speech
acts are communicated by “dependent” syntactically dependent structures. The
authors conclude that meaning is less compositional than traditionally assumed;
meanings are dynamically constructed through cognitive operations involving
world knowledge, belief systems; syntax is partially motivated.

In chapter 6, “Schematic meaning of the Croatian verbal prefix iz-: Meaning
chains and syntactic implications”, Branimir Belaj offers a semantic analysis of
the Croatian verbal prefix iz-. Drawing on a small corpus, he proposes that all
these iz-prefixed verbs share the schematic meaning “transition from an
intralocative to an extralocative position”, and together they form a radial
network/category, with different members located in different nodes of the
network, some being more prototypical while others more peripheral.

Based on a representative sample of English and Spanish bahuvrihi compounds, in
chapter 7, “The conceptual motivation of bahuvrihi compounds in English and
Spanish”, Antonio Barcelona presents a more refined interpretation and cognitive
interpretation of exocentric bahuvrihi compounds whose explanation requires more
than just pointing out the involvement of metonymy. Specifically, he argues that
the exocentric nature of these compounds is motivated by the metonymy
CHARACTERISTIC PROPERTY FOR CATEGORY, and the property itself can be
conceptualized literally, metonymically, or metaphtonymically. This chapter also
touches on the relations between the semantics of bahuvrihi compounds and their
grammatical and prosodic form.

In chapter 8, “On the subject of impersonals”, Ronald W. Langacker elaborates on
the impersonal “it”, which he claims to be meaningful. He provides an insightful
analysis of “it” and the constructions containing it by comparing it with
related constructions and other pronouns. He postulates a cognitive model called
the “control cycle” to explain it. His main proposal is that “‘it’ profiles the
relevant field, i.e. the conceptulizer’s scope of awareness for the issue at
hand” (p.207).

Part 3: Expanding the paradigm
In chapter 9, “Do people infer the entailments of conceptual metaphors during
verbal metaphor understanding?”, Raymond W. Gibbs, Jr. and Luciane C. Ferreira
summarize research supporting and critique raised against conceptual metaphor
theory concerning a wide range of issues in this area, and then go on to report
an exploratory study testing ordinary speaker’s intuitions to investigate the
psychological issue of “whether people understand one, some, or all of the
possible meaning entailments associated with a conceptual metaphor when they
process conventional expressions motivated by that conceptual metaphor” (p.228).
The experiment confirms cognitive linguists’ view that people have mental
representations of conceptual metaphors which play a role in their
interpretations of metaphoric language. The authors caution cognitive linguists
to take psycholinguistic findings into consideration in their research.

The next two chapters argue for the effectiveness of corpus-based approach in
cognitive linguistics. In chapter 10, “Corpus data in usage-based linguistics:
What’s the right degree of granularity for the analysis of argument structure
constructions?”, Stefan Th. Gries takes up the issue of which hierarchical level
or amount of granularity in corpora is most fruitful. Based on corpus data from
the British Component of the International Corpus of English, he evaluates the
degree to which distinctions between lemmas and inflectional forms, as well as
between data from different registers are merited in the analysis of the
semantics of argument structure constructions. He concludes that seemingly
meaningful linguistic distinctions do not necessarily result in expected
meaningful differences and advocates a bottom-up method for usage-based studies
that would reveal most relevant differences in patterning. In view of cognitive
linguists’ strong commitment to usage-based model, in chapter 11, “Cognitive
linguistics meets the corpus”, Anatol Stefanowitsch justifies the need for
cognitive linguistics to embrace and get their hands dirty with “authentic,
richly structured and inescapably messy usage data” (p.285). Firstly, he
illustrates how corpus data and methods can be utilized to examine properties of
the linguistic system, e.g. to assess the acceptability of a specific
expression; then, he exemplifies how quantitative corpus-linguistic method can
be interpreted within a usage-based model by presenting a method called
collostructional analysis which is helpful for understanding the semantics of
constructional patterns.

In chapter 12, “Oops blush! Beyond metaphors of emotion”, Heli Tissari weighs
Silvan Tomkins’s claim that affect is constituted directly by the responses of
the body to stimulation against key notions of conceptual metaphor theory,
especially Zoltán Kövecses’s research on the metonymic, embodied basis of
emotion metaphors. Focusing on the affect of shame, the author demonstrates in
great detail how studies on conceptual metaphors and an interpretation of affect
as a fundamentally embodied phenomenon might crossfertilize each other.

Chapter 13, “Conceptual construal and social construction” by Peter Harder,
shifts the focus from internal grounding of concepts, i.e. the experiential
basis of embodiment of concepts, to discussion of the social aspects of
linguistic cognition, i.e. “the processes that are at work when ‘emerged’
concepts acquire a role in the social process” (p.306), an orientation gaining
increasing attention in the last decade (see Harder 2010). The similarity of
conceptual construal and social construction lies in their refusal of objective
properties as the determinant of the content of understanding, and the
acknowledgement of the important role of human factors. Their divergence lies in
the fact that social construction stresses the social pressures for
conceptualization, while conceptual construal emphasizes bodily grounding of
human cognition. Instead of treating them as contradictory, Harder aims to
“provide an overall framework that integrates hard facts as well as processes of
social construction with the conceptual domain that constitutes the heartland of
cognitive linguistics (p.322). With an analysis of the “cartoon crisis” in
Denmark, Harder illustrates how the new framework, combining both conceptual
factors and social processes, can help us gain a deeper understanding of
conceptualization in communication.

In chapter 14, “The biblical story retold: A cognitive linguistic perspective”,
Zoltán Kövecses offers a cognitive linguistic-based reinterpretation of the
central symbols and the basic story of the Bible. The author, by identifying
several major metaphors and metonymies, explains in detail how the symbolic
meaning of the basic story is interpreted and how these metaphors and metonymies
operate in the interpretation. What distinguishes Kövecses’s method from other
perspectives is his claim that people’s understanding of the symbolic meaning of
the Bible story relies on conceptual structures and conceptual mechanisms shared
by a large number of language users in the European cultural zone. Moreover, he
argues that the conceptual structures and conceptual mechanisms of Bible
interpretation are not unique and thus are no difference from the cognitive
apparatus people utilize every day.

This book is a much-needed and timely addition to the fast-growing
multidisciplinary endeavor of the field, representing both state-of-the-art
research and cutting-edge studies in cognitive linguistics proper and its
expansion into other fields of inquiry.

The two chapters in part 1 give a good overview of cognitive linguistics,
helpful especially for novices in cognitive linguistics. Langacker
optimistically points to the possibility of coherence and unification but only
mentions numerous works to support his point. With Langacker’s contribution as a
guide, readers have to consult those works to see how unification and
convergence can be achieved. Chapter 2’s survey gives equal treatments to the
main areas of cognitive linguistics (construction grammars, lexico-semantic
networks, and conceptual metaphor and metonymy and blending), their applications
and future research. However, this chapter does not comment on diverging or
converging tendencies and does not cover how cognitive linguistics integrates
with other disciplines.

The chapters in the second part aim to show converging tendencies within
cognitive linguistics itself, and this goal is achieved. For example, as Nuyts
demonstrates, in grammar research, a construction-oriented approach and a
process-oriented approach are not incompatible, and there is great potential for
them to unite and provide complementary perspectives on the same phenomena. The
convergence can also be seen in Steen’s discussion of metaphor research. He puts
forward three dimensions in the diverse and seemingly chaotic area of metaphor
studies and on this basis, he systemizes eight areas of research. Of the six
chapters contained in this part, only chapter 4 is dedicated to cognitive
semantics (i.e. metaphor), with two chapters devoted to lexico-semantics and
three to grammar. Moreover, the other two core themes of cognitive semantics
(conceptual metonymy and blending) receive little attention. Metonymy, a
conceptual operation no less fundamental than metaphor but receive much less
attention than metaphor until in recent years (Panther and Radden, 1999) and
also showing a converging tendency (see Benczes et al., 2011), surely deserves
treatment in a collection like this. The same thing can be said of conceptual
blending (see Handl & Schmid, 2011). In addition, chapters 3 and 4 are concerned
with theoretical issues while chapters 5-8 focus on the explanation of specific
phenomena or the application of theories.

The third part is intended to indicate the expansion of cognitive linguistics to
other fields. This expansion makes cognitive linguistics draw nutrition from
and/or show benefit to these other areas. It can be seen in terms of methods,
theories and new areas of application. First, in terms of methodology, chapter 9
shows how psycholinguistic (experimental) methods can be employed to make claims
in metaphor research more substantial; chapters 10 and 11 demonstrate how
cognitive linguistic studies can be aided by corpus-based approach. Second, in
terms of theories, chapter 12 evaluates conceptual metaphor theories with the
affects research tradition founded by Silvan Tomkins; chapter 13 shows how the
conceptual construal approach of cognitive linguistics can benefit from taking
social construction theory into account. Thirdly, in terms of application,
chapter 14 applies cognitive linguistic theories and methods to the
interpretation of biblical story, demonstrating the explanatory power of
cognitive linguistics on the one hand, and bringing a new perspective to the
phenomenon. Of course, apart from what has been mentioned, there are many other
methods (e.g. audio and videographic analysis, see Gonzalez-Marquez et al.,
2007), other theories (from a wide range of disciplines) and other areas of
application for cognitive linguists to explore. That said, as the editors
suggests in their introduction, “the chapters do not cover all possibilities of
either convergence or expansion, whether already existing ones, or ones that may
appear especially through the integration of cognitive linguistics with
psycholinguistics and neuroscience, or further research on societal mechanisms”

All in all, this volume is a valuable resource and highly recommended to
specialists not only in cognitive linguistics, but also in other sub-branches of
cognitive science as well.

Harder, Peter. 2010. Meaning in Mind and Society. A Functional Contribution to
the Social Turn in Cognitive Linguistics. Berlin & New York: de Gruyter Mouton.

Gonzalez-Marquez, Monica, Irene Mittleberg, Seana Coulson and Michael Spivey
(eds.) 2007. Methods in Cognitive Linguistics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Panther, Klaus-Uwe & Günter Radden, (eds.) 1999. Metonymy in Language and
Thought. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Benczes, Réka, Antonio Barcelona, and Francisco José Ruiz de Mendoza Ibáñez
(eds.) 2011. Defining metonymy in cognitive linguistics: Towards a consensus
view. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Handl, Sandra and Hans-Jörg Schmid. (eds.) 2011. Windows to the mind: Metaphor,
metonymy and conceptual blending. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

Fan Zhen-qiang is a lecturer in linguistics at Zhejiang Gongshang University in Hangzhou, China. He obtained his doctoral degree in the Center for the Study of Language and Cognition, Zhejiang University, China. In 2008, he was a visiting PhD at the Utrecht Institute of Linguistics (Uil-Ots), Utrecht University, the Netherlands. His research interests lie in the areas of cognitive linguistics, pragmatics and discourse analysis.