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Review of  Cognitive Linguistics

Reviewer: Dinha Tobiya Gorgis
Book Title: Cognitive Linguistics
Book Author: Vyvyan Evans Melanie Green
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Cognitive Science
Issue Number: 18.1165

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AUTHOR(S): Evans, Vyvyan & Melanie Green
TITLE: Cognitive linguistics: An introduction
PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
YEAR: 2006

Dinha T. Gorgis, Jadara University for Graduate Studies, Irbid, Jordan.

This book, which is more of a portable library than a book to be stacked on
a library shelf, is a ''comprehensive'' introduction to cognitive linguistics
which has grown rapidly since the publication of Lakoff & Johnson's (1980)
_Metaphors We Live By_. It is recommended to be used as a text as well as a
reference book. Reasonably enough, Evans & Green suggest that the book as a
text be used by tutors in three different types of course (p.xxi). It
comprises three main parts and a fourth (which, in my opinion, as a
five-page chapter need not have been called a part -- each of the other 22
chapters is longer, ends with a summary, a section on further reading, and
exercises). The book includes an appendix in which tables and figures are
presented, along with hundreds of references and an index; a laborious task


Part I, Overview of the cognitive linguistics (CL) enterprise, contains
four chapters which tell the reader that CL is a ''movement'' (p.3) rather
than a specific theory. Therefore, this part provides an overview of what
has been achieved over the years in this revolutionary and
interdisciplinary programme from different but complementary perspectives
while also drawing comparisons with the Chomskyan paradigm in particular,
often referred to throughout the entire book as formal grammar.

Chapter 1 explicitly states that CL attempts, just like any other
linguistic enquiry, to ''describe and account for linguistic systematicity,
structure and function'' (p.20). But to study language within the broadly
conceived CL is to study patterns of thought, i.e. conceptualizations,
rather than the rules assumed generatively to underlie it. In short,
CL is ''a non-reductionist model'' (p.701).

In chapter 2, one finds an overview of the assumptions and commitments of
CL. In the authors' words, ''[t]hese are the 'Generalisation Commitment' and
the 'Cognitive Commitment''' (p.50) to which cognitive linguists adhere,
particularly those researching within cognitive semantics and grammars. The
chapter also addresses the issue of ''embodied cognition'' and the nature of
the relationship between language, mind and bodily experience. So unlike
formal grammar, CL is meaning-based. And this explains why ''cognitive
grammar assumes a cognitive semantics and is dependent on it'' (p.48).

Chapter 3 overviews universals and variation in language, thought and
experience. In contradistinction to the innate Universal Grammar thesis, CL
holds that certain commonalities across languages ''are explained by the
existence of general cognitive principles shared by all humans, in addition
to the fundamentally similar experiences of the world also shared by all
humans due to embodiment'' (p.55). This licenses cross-linguistic variation
which underlies different conceptual systems in different heads. As such,
CL position is ''consonant with a weak version of the Sapir-Whorf
hypothesis'' (p.101).

Chapter 4 is an overview of language in use. CL is said to reject the
distinction between competence and performance because ''knowledge of
language is derived from patterns of language use, and further, that
knowledge of language is knowledge of how language is used'' (p.108). This
should mean that both language production and comprehension, as determined
by context, are central issues in CL. It follows that a child acquiring a
language is a discoverer of ''recurring words, phrases and sentences in the
utterances they hear, together with the range of meanings associated with
those units'' (p.115). Such a task is claimed to be achieved via mainly
abstraction and schematization, among other things.

Part II, which includes eight chapters, is wholly devoted to cognitive
semantics (CS), an approach that is arguably set against truth-conditional
semantics on one hand, and the semantic/pragmatic division of labour on the
other hand. Rather than using the formal language of logic, meaning in CL
is largely represented in terms of diagrams.

Chapter 5 starts with the characterization of CS and its guiding
principles, viz. central assumptions (principles) that read as follows:

''1. Conceptual structure is embodied (the 'embodied cognition thesis').
2. Semantic structure is conceptual structure.
3. Meaning representation is encyclopaedic.
4. Meaning construction is conceptualization'' (p.157).

The first two assumptions are explored in more detail in chapter 6 where we
find an interesting account of image schema and its properties (cf. Johnson
1987). Image schemas are contrasted with mental images. While the former
are more abstract in nature, emerging from ongoing embodied experience, the
latter ''are detailed and result from an effortful and partly conscious
cognitive process that involves recalling visual memory'' (p.185). The
authors provide a partial list of image schemas that have been proposed in
the literature but rearranged according to the nature of their experiential
grounding (cf. p.190).

Chapter 7 examines the third assumption, viz. that meaning is
encyclopaedic. Fillmore's semantic frames, derived from his early Case
Grammar, and Langacker's
basic domains are discussed and set against the dictionary view of meaning.
While the two theories ''were developed for different purposes, together
they provide the basis for a theory of encyclopaedic semantics'' (p.244),
because Langacker's complements Fillmore's.

Chapter 8 focuses on categorization, mainly as approached by prototype
theory scholars, and idealized cognitive models (ICMs) proposed by Lakoff
(1987) as inspired by the empirical findings obtained by that theory.
Lakoff is reported to have said that ''ICMs depend upon (at least) five
sorts of structuring principles for their composition: (1) image schemas;
(2)propositions; (3) metaphor; (4) metonymy; and (5) symbolism'' (p.280).

Two of these conceptual projections, viz. (3) & (4), are the concerns of
chapter 9 which examines ''the central claims associated with Conceptual
Metaphor Theory, including the recent challenges of primary metaphor
theory. According to this theory, the cognitive function of metaphor'' is to
foreground otherwise background operations'' (p.321). We also find in this
chapter a brief introduction to the metaphor-metonymy interface and, in
particular, the metonymic basis of metaphor.

Building on insights gained from categorization and ICMs in the previous
two chapters, chapter 10 overviews what has come to be known as cognitive
lexical semantics, an approach which views lexical items as ''conceptual
categories, structured with respect to a prototype'' (p.356). Here Evans,
along with Andrea Tyler, propose what they call ''The Principled Polysemy
approach'' (pp.342 ff.). This approach, they claim, differs markedly from
Lakoff's approach (see their illustration of a radical category, p. 347).
In sum, ''word meaning involves a complex interaction between polysemy,
context and encyclopaedic knowledge'' (p.356).

Recall now the fourth assumption which views meaning construction as ''a
dynamic process whereby linguistic units serve as prompts for an array of
conceptual operations and the recruitment of background knowledge'' (p.162).
This process, called conceptualisation (pp.363 & 396), is considered in
chapter 11, primarily in terms of Mental Spaces Theory which ''accounts for
a diverse range of linguistic phenomena relating to meaning at the level of
sentence and text, including referential ambiguities and the role of tense
and aspect in discourse management and epistemic distance'' (pp.396-7).

Chapter 12 is an overview of Blending Theory which derives from Conceptual
Metaphor Theory (outlined in chapter 9) and Mental Spaces Theory (presented
in chapter 11), but ''differs from both in that it explicitly accounts for
emergent structure: the idea that meaning construction often results in
meaning that is 'more than the sum of its parts''' (p.439).

Chapter 13 concludes part II of the book. By comparing between CS in
context and truth-conditional (or formal) semantics on one hand, and
Relevance Theory on the other hand, Evans & Green state that while formal
semanticists have been primarily concerned with sentence meaning in terms
of metalanguage, Relevance Theory, being a theory of communication,
emphasises ''the role of ostensive-inferential communication, relevance and
inference'' (p.465). Although Relevance Theory comes close to CS, yet it
assumes a generative stand and acknowledges the distinction between
linguistic and non-linguistic knowledge.

Part III, which contains nine chapters, overviews cognitive approaches to
grammar which, like CS, are said to be guided by the same theoretical
assumptions despite the inevitable differences. What unites them are the
symbolic thesis which ''entails that sound, meaning and grammar are
inextricably linked'' (p.471) and the usage-based thesis.

Chapter 14 outlines the above two theses which characterize a cognitive
approach to grammar and identifies four main types of theoretical approach,
each of which being followed by a brief overview. The relationship that
holds between them is best represented in a figure (given on p. 483).

Chapter 15 is a detailed account of the first type, namely 'The Conceptual
Structuring System Model' developed by Leonard Talmy, and partly of the
second type, viz. Roland Langacker's 'Cognitive Grammar' which, viewed as
complementing the former (p.549), is further explored in three more
chapters. Rather than drawing a sharp boundary between grammatical
knowledge systems, CL holds that ''the grammatical sub-system can
semantically be characterised along the same lines as the open-class
sub-system'' (p.512) because ''language is represented in the mind of the
speaker in terms of a structured inventory. This inventory is structured in
terms of a network of links between symbolic units. These symbolic units
may be either lexical (open-class) or grammatical (closed-class) elements.
This structured inventory represents semantic structure'' (p.513).

Chapters 16-18 are more detailed accounts of Langacker's Cognitive Grammar
(CG). They deal respectively with word classes, constructions, and tense,
aspect, mood and voice. For him, ''a noun designates a THING and a verb
designates a TEMPORAL RELATION (a PROCESS)... An adjective designates an
ATEMPORAL RELATION and has a THING as its TR, while an adverb designates an
ATEMPORAL RELATION and has a RELATION as its TR'' (p.570). Langacker's model
of word class is represented in a diagram (p.571). Constructions in CG,
including words, are accounted for not in terms of the fashionable
structure building, but in terms of ''the semantic relationships between the
component parts of a complex structure'' (p.581). CG ''approaches
constituency and head-dependent relations from the perspective of valence
and by relying upon the idea of conceptual autonomy and conceptual
dependence'' (p.610). Chapter 18 focuses on the verb string (or group)
within the clause. Tense and mood ''are analysed in terms of a grounding
prediction'' (p.615), ''part of the verb string that is responsible for
finiteness'' (p.617). The perfective and imperfective aspect ''can be
characterized in terms of homogeneity versus heterogeneity and in terms of
bounding'' (p.637). And voice is treated in terms of the clausal head where
''auxiliaries are not viewed as 'purely grammatical' elements but represent
an extension from the other uses of that verb'' (p.620).

Chapter 19 explores the empirical motivation for a constructional model of
grammar by examining idiomatic expressions (constructions) as approached by
Fillmore, Kay and O'Connor (1988) and elaborated in Kay and Fillmore
(1999). Their one-level based grammatical representations ''contain not only
syntactic information but also semantic information relating to argument
structure as well as pragmatic information'' (p.653). But it remains to say
that this model is broadly generative despite sharing ''a number of
important assumptions'' (p.660) with CG.

Three more construction grammars are overviewed and compared in chapter 20.
More detailed is Goldberg's model, which is said to depart from Kay &
Fillmore's grammar, though being influenced by their work and by the early
work of George Lakoff (cf. p. 667), because ''it is fully usage-based''
(p.666). Goldberg's approach to verb argument structure is claimed to have
four advantages: (1) it ''avoids the necessity of positing several distinct
senses for one verb'' (p.669); (2) it ''avoids circularity'' (p.670); (3) it
''enables semantic parsimony'' (p.670); and (4) it ''preserve[s]
compositionality'' (p.671). While focusing on sentence-level constructions,
''verbs are associated with rich Frame Semantics which gives rise to
participant roles that are mapped onto the argument roles provided by the
construction'' (p.701). Croft's (2001) Radical Construction Grammar
(pp.692-697) focuses on cross-linguistic typological variation and hence
linguistic generalizations (or universals). In this model, grammatical
relations, such as subject/object, are not recognized. Rather meaning is
linked by symbolic relations as gestalts (cf. p. 695). Embodied
Construction Grammar, developed recently by Bergen and Chang (2005), is a
model on on-line language processing. It ''assumes that all linguistic units
are constructions, including morphemes, words, phrases and sentences''
(p.697). However, future research is still required for the model to
provide explanations for the inferences that ''arise in utterance
comprehension'' (p.699).

In chapter 21, Evans & Green provide ''a descriptive overview of the
grammaticalisation process'' (p.708) which is said to involve form-meaning
change in the history of a language. Three cognitively oriented theories of
grammaticalisation, which view change as a usage-based phenomenon, are
presented and compared. These theories, supported by case studies carried
out on different languages, include: (1) metaphorical extension approaches
(pp.714-721); (2) Invited Inferencing Theory (pp.720-727); and (3) the
subjectification approach (pp.728-732).

Chapter 22 places cognitive approaches to grammar in a wider context. These
are compared and contrasted with generative and functional-typological
approaches as represented by a number of selective grammatical theories
(see Figure 22.1, p.743). The comparison is done in terms of their
foundational assumptions, objectives and methodology. The characteristics
of a cognitive approach to grammar are best seen in the form of a table
(p.744). Despite the inevitable differences, the authors maintain that the
linguistic theories they so far discussed in their book are ''united in the
objective of modeling the representation of knowledge of language in the
mind of the speaker'' (p.771).

Part IV, which is made of one short chapter, takes the reader to the close
of a long intellectual journey. While the achievements of CL are highly
appreciated, challenges are said to remain. As such, the authors not only
call for the continuation of developing ''a stronger empirical basis''
(p.782), but also for the integration of approaches.


Although the book is primarily addressed to students, some readers, like
me, may find and the many reminders and reiterations rather boring. One is
made aware though that this technique in writing a textbook on a relatively
new discipline is useful as a 'reinforcing strategy'. This minor remark
should in no way reduce the strength of the book; it is after all an
indispensable reading.

My two major remarks, which I suggest to be considered in a future edition,
relate to ''Lack of empirical rigour'' (p.780). The first concerns
corpus-based approaches, e.g. Stefanowitsch & Gies (2006) whose earlier
work is only acknowledged. I reckon that a small section at least would
have thrown some light on ongoing quantitative and empirical research
efforts. Unfortunately, too, the reader finds nowhere in the book any
mention of work done on 'mental models' (see, for example, the excellent
collection of papers in Rickheit & Habel 1999). Although mental models have
largely been researched by cognitive psychologists who hold similar
assumptions to those of cognitive linguists, yet they ought to have been
considered along with image schemas, mental image, semantic frames,
domains, and context.

Out of the ten trivial typos, starting from page 189 and ending with page
769, one seems to be a slip of the pen. This is the word ''excluding''
(p.495, line 4 before last) which must be read as 'including'. Despite all
this, I whole-heartedly congratulate Evans & Green for their laborious work
and, accordingly, recommend it to be used as a textbook.


Bergen, Benjamin K. and Nancy Chang (2005). Embodied construction grammar
in simulation-based language understanding. In J. O. Östman and M. Fried
(eds). Construction Grammars: Cognitive Grounding and Theoretical
Extensions. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp.147-190.

Croft, Wiliam (2001). Radical Construction Grammar: Syntactic Theory in
Typological Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fillmore, Charles, Paul Kay and Mary Katherine O'Connor (1988). Regularity
and idiomaticity: the case of let alone. Language, 64, 3, 501-38.

Kay, Paul and Charles Fillmore (1999). Grammatical constructions and
linguistic generalizations: the What's X doing Y construction. Language,
75, 1-34.

Lakoff, George (1987). Women, Fire and Dangerous Things: What Categories
Reveal About the Mind. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson (1980). Metaphors WE Live By. Chicago:
Chicago University Press.

Rickheit, Gert and Christopher Habel (1999). Mental Models in Discourse
Processing and Reasoning. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Stefanowitsch, Anatol and Stefan Th. Gries, eds (2006). Corpus-Based
Approaches to Metaphor and Metonymy. Berlin & NY: Mouton de Gruyter.

Dinha T. Gorgis is currently professor of linguistics at Jadara University
for Graduate Studies, Jordan. He has been teaching English phonology (with
occasional reference to Arabic) at a number of Arab universities since
1975. During 1984-1999, he was mainly involved in teaching graduate
courses, e.g. syntax, semantics, sociolinguistics, pragmatics, discourse
analysis, and translation, and in supervising M.A. and Ph.D. research work
pertinent to these fields. He is co-editor of the international journal
Linguistik online, and is member of IPrA. His most recent publication
(2005) is "Binomials in Iraqi and Jordanian Arabic", which can be accessed
freely in: Journal of Language and Linguistics, Vol. 4, No. 2, 135-151. He
also reviewed Yavas, Mehmet (2006): Applied English Phonology, which
appeared on LINGUIST List: Vol-16-3630, and has recently written two book
notices for eLanguage.

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