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Review of  Cognitive Sociolinguistics

Reviewer: Marissa Fond
Book Title: Cognitive Sociolinguistics
Book Author: Gitte Kristiansen René Dirven
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 20.4457

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EDITORS: Kristiansen, Gitte; Dirven, René
TITLE: Cognitive Sociolinguistics
SUBTITLE: Language Variation, Cultural Models, Social Systems
SERIES: Cognitive Linguistics Research 39
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2008

Marissa Fond, Department of Linguistics, Georgetown University


The 15 articles compiled in ''Cognitive Sociolinguistics: Language Variation,
Cultural Models, Social Systems'' grew out of presentations at the 30th
International LAUD (Linguistic Agency University of Duisburg) Symposium at the
University of Koblenz-Landau in Germany, where participants discussed the need
for new research approaches that would bring together the methods and goals of
cognitive linguistics and sociolinguistics. Cognitive linguistics is a
discipline that has formed the basis of robust lines of research in other
established areas of linguistics such as first language acquisition (e.g.
Tomasello 2003), second language acquisition (e.g. Tyler 2008), and neuroscience
(e.g. Lamb 1999). The editors of this volume aim to add sociolinguistics to
this list. Work in cognitive linguistics had often been carried out with a
homogenous, idealized speech community as a model, and this practice did not
adequately consider the potential contributions that the study of linguistic
variation could make to cognitive linguistics, a field that takes a usage-based
approach to language study. The volume takes a broad view of the burgeoning
field of cognitive sociolinguistics and groups the chapters into four thematic
sections: (1) theoretical work on semantics and lexis; (2) usage- and
corpus-based work on variation; (3) research on cultural models; and (4)
research on political and socioeconomic systems.

The first section addresses why cognitive sociolinguistics is relevant to
cognitive linguistic theories of prototypes and stereotypes. In cognitive
linguistic tradition, grammar is considered functional and modeled after usage;
so it would make sense that social information must be taken into account
whenever usage is analyzed. For instance, in one of the canonical semantic
theories of cognitive linguistics, prototype theory (e.g. Rosch 1975), the
stereotypes and semantic norms that inform this theory are not clearly defined,
and the idealized notion of a homogenous speech community is not relevant for
refining these definitions because the same stereotypes are not necessarily held
by all speakers of a language or dialect. Sociolinguistic research might be
useful in determining what stereotypes exist and how they are used in different
speech communities. In ''Prototypes, stereotypes, and semantic norms,'' Dirk
Geeraerts discusses semantic norms as determined by quantitative analysis of the
distribution of the meanings of prototypes and stereotypes in diverse speech
communities. He shows how cognitive linguistic theories can be strengthened by
sociolinguistic research on what speakers with different linguistic experiences
consider to be core semantic concepts. Likewise, sociolinguistic phenomena can
be reanalyzed from a cognitive linguistic perspective; this idea is put forth in
the chapter by Gitte Kristiansen, ''Style-shifting and shifting styles: A
socio-cognitive approach to lectal variation,'' which discusses how variation in
phonology, morphology, and semantics can be studied from a cognitive linguistic
perspective. For example, the first part of the chapter examines the phenomenon
of accent, which is not often discussed in cognitive linguistics, and the social
meanings it evokes. The author argues that phonemic contrasts among accents
index prototype categories that are related to social identities. The second
part of the chapter shows how these phenomena can be used more actively by
speakers to position themselves within the network of prototype categories.

In the second section, cognitive linguistics as a usage-based theory of language
is discussed in the context of large corpus studies. The editors claim that if
cognitive linguistics is usage based, then corpus data are a necessary component
of cognitive linguistic research because these natural language data (in
contrast to an abstract, ideal speech community) are influenced by the social
factors relevant to the given speakers. The chapters in this section include
quantitative analyses of corpus data and present meta-analyses of the cognitive
linguistic and sociolinguistic methodologies that are applicable to these types
of data. Essentially, in this section 'sociolinguistics' is taken to mean
quantitative analysis of naturally-occurring speech. In ''Methodological issues
in corpus-based Cognitive Linguistics,'' Kris Heylen, José Tummers, and Dirk
Geeraerts compare two different empirical methodologies for working with corpus
data, examining syntactic variation. In ''Channel and constructional meaning: A
collostructional case study,'' Anatol Stefanowitsch and Stefan Th. Gries respond
to the criticism of their research methodology presented in the previous
chapter, and suggest how sociolinguistic variables like register and channel can
be incorporated into quantitative corpus studies. In ''National variation in the
use of 'er' 'there': Regional and diachronic constraints on cognitive
explanations,'' Stefan Grondelaers, Dirk Speelman and Dirk Geeraerts challenge
the common belief that cognitive mechanisms correspond exactly with observed
linguistic variation. Specifically, they show that in the case of Dutch 'er',
variation in the syntactic position of the word does not indicate a functional
difference. Finally, in ''Variation in the choice of adjectives in the two main
national varieties of Dutch,'' Dirk Speelman, Stefan Grondelaers, and Dirk
Geeraerts compare the choice of adjectives in two varieties of Dutch, analyzing
corpora from different regions using a word frequency list to find variation
patterns. In sum, the chapters in this section are important for their
concentration on the role of corpora in empirical research; however, the
methodology presented in the papers in this section should be characterized as a
small subset of the methods of sociolinguistic inquiry. The section does not
mention the sociolinguistic methods for investigating variation that are not
corpus based; there are methods that are quantitative on a smaller scale, and
even qualitative (see e.g. Thelander 1982), and perhaps these methods will be
included alongside corpus studies in future collections of usage-based research.

In the following two sections, the volume changes course. The first two
sections were mostly concerned with how the existence of linguistic variation
affects the core tenets of cognitive linguistics, and how the quantitative,
corpus-based methods used in sociolinguistics could be useful for research in
cognitive linguistics; but the chapters in section 3 change the focus around,
outlining how cognitive linguistics can be applied not to sociolinguistic
research methods or theories but to social issues of language use. Likewise,
section 4 critically applies cognitive linguistic ideas to social and political
systems. These sections introduce the reader to a new subfield of
sociolinguistics, one that seems more in keeping with the term 'cognitive
sociolinguistics' rather than 'quantitative sociolinguistic methods applied to
cognitive linguistics'.

The third section discusses cognitive cultural models, which have not been
widely researched within the field of cognitive linguistics, and focuses
specifically on cultural models as they relate to language policy. In
''Rationalist or Romantic models in globalization,'' Frank Polzenhagen and René
Dirven discuss how globalization affects the content of languages, specifically
global English. They compare two Western cultural models and apply them to
language: the rationalist model is ''language as a tool'' and the romantic model
is ''language as an identity marker''. These models are argued to underlie the
current discussions of linguistic globalization. In ''A nation is a territory
with one culture and one language: The role of metaphorical folk models in
language policy debates,'' Raphael Berthele focuses on language ideologies in
Switzerland and the United States and how foreign language is discussed in light
of the underlying metaphors for language used. For example, he considers the
English-Only movement in the United States and the metaphors that proponents and
opponents of this idea employ in order to argue their points and influence
policy. In ''Cultural models of Home in Aboriginal children's English,'' Farzad
Sharifian discusses how models differ across ethnic groups who speak the same
language. As an example, the word 'home' has two different meanings for
Aboriginal and Anglo-Australian children speaking English; in brief, the
Aboriginal children considered 'home' to include members of their family, while
the Anglo-Australian children considered only the physical building to mean
'home'. Sharifian shows that though all of the children studied spoke the same
dialect of English, the cultural models underlying their language were
influenced by their ethnicities, and these models are constantly changing. In
''A Cognitive Linguistic approach to the cultures of World Englishes: The
emergence of a new model,'' Hans-Georg Wolf highlights the role of cultural
models in the development of varieties of World Englishes, and shows how culture
is expressed in each variety. As was discussed in the previous chapter, Wolf
notes that while some elements of English are the same across different
varieties, many of the concepts underlying these formal structures differ by

The fourth and final section includes examinations of social and political
issues in institutional contexts, which has long been an active domain of
cognitive linguistics within academia and outside of it as well (e.g. George
Lakoff's now-closed Rockridge Institute). In ''Corporate brands as
socio-cognitive representations,'' Veronika Koller suggests how business media
discourse constructs corporate identities through mission statements that
revolve around the concepts of partnership and emotion, with the goal of
improving the image of the corporation. In ''Metaphorically speaking: Gender and
classroom discourse,'' Susan Fiksdal shows how the metaphorical expressions
differ when used by college-aged men and women to characterize a seminar. Men
typically expressed thoughts that employed the underlying metaphor 'seminar is a
game' while the women's thoughts employed 'seminar is a community', which leads
the author to conclude that while both genders expressed a desire to
collaborate, their conceptualizations of what collaboration meant varied. In
''The business model of the university: Sources and consequences of its
construal,'' Nancy Urban shows how the popularized idea of a university as a
business, as seen in a selection of university-related texts, is understood
through a Darwinian 'natural selection' metaphor. In that the business world
and the free market are games of survival, the university system is becoming
more closely related to this underlying concept. In ''Competition, cooperation,
and interconnection: 'Metaphor families' and social systems,'' Pamela S. Morgan
shows how social institutions are characterized by the three metaphors in the
title of the paper. Specifically, she describes how different facets of the
business world and the political world are understood through these metaphor
families. And in the final chapter, ''How cognitive linguists can help to solve
political problems,'' Karol Janicki discusses her 'non-essentialist' view of
definitions of words, which means that one true definition (to the exclusion of
all others) is not a realistic possibility. In her discussion of the Monica
Lewinsky scandal, the American election of 2000 vote count, and the stem cell
research question, she argues that by taking a non-essentialist view of
definitions, politicians can work the inherent 'fuzziness' of definitions to
their advantage.


This volume touches on many subfields of cognitive linguistics and cognitive
sociolinguistics, and successfully makes the case that cognitive
sociolinguistics is a paradigm in which future researchers can work
productively. As there has been some opposition of late to traditional
cognitive linguistic approaches that do not consider cognitive concepts to be
influenced by social factors, there has been increased interest in variationist
perspectives. As mentioned above, many cognitive linguists have come to eschew
the idea of basing future research on an abstract, homogenous speech community,
in favor of attending to the challenges of working with naturally-occurring
speech. The main point of the volume that each section underscores in a
distinct way is that in order for cognitive linguistics to productively examine
language usage, and work within a heterogeneous speech community rather than an
idealized abstraction, the field must incorporate methods and theories from

As the editors make clear, this volume is one of the earliest published
collections of research on cognitive sociolinguistics. As such, it makes sense
that the chapters would cover many different topics and approach the
incorporation of sociolinguistics in diverse ways. The decision to divide the
volume into four sections, organized by theme, is a very good one; it creates
order and a clearer purpose in what might have been a fragmented collection.
The editors' introduction outlines the goals of each section and sets up the
background for the chapters contained within, which is crucial to a volume such
as this one. However, the excellent introduction could be improved by more
attention paid to the field of sociolinguistics. The editors provide clear,
detailed background on cognitive linguistics, including the development of the
discipline and its future; sociolinguistics should receive a similar treatment,
as this would help the reader to better understand the goals of the volume. For
example, the fact that the four sections involve very different approaches to
sociolinguistics and social institutions, and consider different aspects of the
field as being useful in cognitive sociolinguistics, indicates that a more
thorough introduction to cognitive linguists' take on sociolinguistics would be
helpful; this would better background the chapters and give the disciplines of
cognitive linguistics and sociolinguistics more comparable weight.

Lastly, in this volume, there is less consideration of how theories from
cognitive linguistics could be incorporated into sociolinguistics to create new
avenues of research in that field; other than in the Kristiansen paper, the
volume mainly discusses sociolinguistics and its methods in the service of
cognitive linguistics. This is very reasonable, given the backgrounds of the
authors and editors, and that the volume belongs to the series ''Cognitive
Linguistics Research''. But in the introduction the editors write: ''Research
that endeavors to unravel, examine, and compare social and cognitive dimensions
can in a most natural way be subsumed under the cover term cognitive
sociolinguistics'' (p. 4), and this egalitarian statement about the field of
cognitive sociolinguistics is not quite fully manifested. Given the strong
support of cognitive sociolinguistics by the LAUD Symposia, it is likely that
the field of cognitive sociolinguistics will grow; it has already done so since
the publication of this volume. Perhaps in the next volume, more papers from a
primarily sociolinguistic perspective can be included with those from a
cognitive background, and the interdisciplinary field of cognitive
sociolinguistics will become increasingly robust and relevant.


Lamb, S. (1999). Pathways of the Brain: The Neurocognitive Basis of Language.
Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Rosch, E. (1975). Cognitive representations of semantic categories. Journal of
Experimental Psychology: General, 104, 192-233.

Thelander, M. (1982). A qualitative approach to the quantitative data of speech
variation. In Suzanne Romaine (Ed.), Sociolinguistic Variation in Speech
Communities (pp. 65-83). London: Edward Arnold.

Tomasello, M. (2003). Constructing a Language: A Usage-Based Theory of Language
Acquisition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Tyler, A. (2008). Cognitive Linguistics and Second Language Instruction. In N.
Ellis & P. Robinson (Eds.), Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics and Second
Language Acquisition (pp. 456-488). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Marissa Fond received a BA in linguistics and Spanish from Smith College and an MS in linguistics from Georgetown University. She is currently pursuing her PhD in linguistics at Georgetown.

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