LINGUIST List 15.1751

Wed Jun 9 2004

Review: Linguistic Theories: Taylor (2004)

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  • Ludwig Fesenmeier, Linguistic Categorization, 3rd ed.

    Message 1: Linguistic Categorization, 3rd ed.

    Date: Wed, 9 Jun 2004 01:07:24 -0400 (EDT)
    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 ANNOUNCED IN:

    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 linguistics".

    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 polysemy.

    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 concerned.

    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 Repr´┐Żsentation 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, and is currently working on his post-doctoral thesis on lexical synonymy in the Romance languages.