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Review of  The New Psychology of Language, Volume 2

Reviewer: Eva Belke
Book Title: The New Psychology of Language, Volume 2
Book Author: Michael Tomasello
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Linguistic Field(s): Psycholinguistics
Issue Number: 15.1235

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Date: Wed, 14 Apr 2004 10:59:08 +0100
From: Eva Belke
Subject: The New Psychology of Language, Volume 2

EDITOR: Tomasello, Michael
TITLE: The New Psychology of Language, Volume 2
SUBTITLE: Cognitive and Functional Approaches to Language Structure
PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
YEAR: 2003

Eva Belke, Behavioural Brain Sciences Centre, Department of Psychology,
University of Birmingham

In "The New Psychology of Language, Volume 2", nine of the leading
cognitive linguists present current research topics and methods in
their field. This edited book follows and extends "The New Psychology
of Language, Volume I", edited by Michael Tomasello in 1998. The aim of
the editor and the authors is to present their research to
psycholinguists and psychologists who are interested in studying
language. Many researchers who have had a general education in
linguistics are aware of the classical structuralist approaches to
language, as well as later generative theories on language in the
Chomskyan tradition.

Cognitive linguistics has evolved from these research traditions but
differs markedly from each of them. Cognitive linguists focus on
spontaneous spoken speech (SSS), i.e. on speaker performance. By
contrast, structuralist and generative approaches sought to study
linguistic competence. Ideally, the new focus on cognitive and
functional aspects of linguistic performance should yield new insights
to the psychological underpinnings of language production and
perception. One of the declared goals of the present volume (and volume
I) is to present theoretical and methodical aspects of cognitive
linguistics to psycholinguists and psychologists in order to establish
a new interdisciplinary discourse between linguistics and psychology
that incorporates results from cognitive linguistic research. I will
review the papers presented in Volume II as a psycholinguist who has a
well-founded education in linguistics but whose research topics and
methods are clearly based in experimental psychology and

In his introduction, Tomasello gives an overview of the two most
influential theoretical frameworks in linguistics, structuralism and
generative linguistics. He presents the major shortcomings of these two
approaches and outlines how these limitations have stimulated and
motivated cognitive linguists in developing a new approach to studying
language. Most importantly, cognitive linguists do not seek to study
the 'Ideal Speaker' or the 'Universal Grammar' any more. Instead, they
study corpora of utterances in everyday interactions to find out about
the universal (cognitive) foundations of language. Specifically,
cognitive linguists view language as a cognitive process which is
connected and in parts even determined by the features of other
cognitive domains, such as vision or motor planning. One of the
objectives of the book is therefore to inform other cognitive
scientists, specifically psycholinguists, about Cognitive Linguistics.
For this particular audience (as well as for all other readers) the
introduction provides a well-written access to Cognitive Linguistics by
linking this 'new' research area to former empirical and theoretical
research directions in linguistics that will be familiar to many

Talmy (I: Concept Structuring Systems in Language) identifies four
concept structuring systems that, as he proposes, underlie conceptual
processing in general and language processing in particular. He
outlines how general conceptualization principles, e.g. the
organization of events/objects in space and time, are mirrored in
function words of a language (here: English). Function words or closed
class words transport information about how entities in the real word
(as expressed in content words) are structured and relate to each
other. Talmy argues that in English as well as in other languages,
function words will reflect structural properties of the concept
structuring domains. Eventually, this presents an attempt to
(universally) establish the structural properties of the events, rather
than the linguistic means to express these. A logical next step
therefore entails the comparison of "the structuring system found in
language with those found in other cognitive domains, such as
perception, reasoning, affect, and motor control" (p. 46). This paper
presents an excellent introduction to some of the key ideas in
cognitive semantics. By providing carefully chosen examples and
illustrations, Talmy has geared the complex subject matter well towards
the target audience of the book.

DuBois (II: Discourse and Grammar) outlines regularities in argument
structure, as they can be derived from quantitative analyses of
spontaneous discourses He points out the similarities between the rules
of the grammar of a language and the constraints that govern discourse
structure and links the established regularities and constraints
convincingly to aspects of information management in discourse. While
he backs his arguments with quantitative data from corpus-analysis
throughout the initial sections of the paper, later sections on
"Constraint and Strategy" (p. 75f.) include some claims that many
psychologists might consider as being too speculative. For instance,
when the author claims that the constraints on discourse pragmatics
"are soft, to the extent that the discourse preferences are cognitively
based. It would be risky to operate always at the outer limits of
cognitive capacity. Better set a routine limit [of processing load]
lower than the maximum [of cognitive capacity]; under special
circumstances one may then momentarily exceed this flexible
limitation". Here, the author should clearly draw on the work of
experimental psychologists to back his claims. There are relatively few
experimental studies on discourse pragmatics, mainly because pragmatics
constitutes a domain that is difficult to control and study
experimentally. As DuBois points out "grammar is general; discourse
varies at the will of its speakers and their topics" (p.47). This will
not necessarily alienate experimental psychologists, as long as
linguists are willing to re-assess the extent to which their theories
can be narrowed down to a size that is manageable for (experimental)
psychologists (e.g. Bock, 1996). Ideally, linguists and psychologists
should jointly try to formulate hypotheses on discourse pragmatics that
can be tested experimentally, working in a piecemeal fashion from the
very small to the bigger picture. It is only via such a procedure of
small steps that a reliable basis of empirical data can be established.
In view of the potential readers of this paper, I am afraid that the
author may potentially ask too much of linguistically less proficient
readers. His writing style is very complex, and he includes many
allusions and references to existing theories and their historic value
that the less proficient reader may not be familiar with.

Kemmer (III: Human Cognition and the Elaboration of Events: Some
Universal Conceptual Categories) presents a cognitive-typological
approach to the conceptual and linguistic elaboration of events. She
exemplifies the approach with the conceptual spectrum of transitive and
intransitive verbs, specifically focusing on the status of reflexive
constructions and their realization in different linguistic and
conceptual systems. She illustrates how, cross-linguistically,
universal conceptual foundations of linguistic phenomena can be
established. In many aspects, this chapter ties in with the concept
structuring systems presented by Talmy (I). With her contribution,
Kemmer provides the audience with a very clear presentation of the
cognitive-typological approach, carefully discussing its merits as well
as its potential limitations (e.g. p. 96).

Ford, Fox, and Thompson (IV: Social Interaction and Grammar) study
grammar in interactional settings, investigating grammaticization or
"grammar 'at work'" (p. 119). They represent a view of grammar as a set
of local regularities and linguistic routines rather than as a set of
rules. The authors argue that the routines found in the language domain
may be similar to routines in other cognitive domains that also involve
a certain degree of procedural learning. To illustrate the role of
social interaction on the (grammatical) form of utterances, they
present examples from five different conversational domains, such as
turn constructions and utterance repairs. While the authors
convincingly present their argument, their empirical basis is
necessarily bound to a very casuistic analysis of conversational
corpora. As pointed out previously, this may not meet the demands that
many psychologists would ask for in empirical research. A theoretical
and empirical complement to the paper by Ford et al. is presented in
Chapter V.

Bybee (V: Cognitive Processes in Grammaticalization) presents an
approach to investigating the regularities and principles of
grammaticalization as a universal aspect of language and language use.
She links the principles of grammaticalization to fundamental cognitive
phenomena (automatization, categorization, inferencing, and habituation
to repeated stimulation), which can be observed in various domains of
information processing. She argues that the cross-linguistic
applicability of principles of grammaticalization and observations on
grammaticalization in diachronic changes and in creole formation
suggest that "the true language universals are universals of change"
(p. 151). Bybee's theory is closely linked to the analyses of
grammaticization in discourse analysed in Ford et al. (IV). Compared to
Ford et al.'s approach, Bybee's cross-linguistic, diachronic research
method seems to provide a more systematic approach to language change
that allows the formulation of a clear-cut theory of grammaticalization
in language change.

Van Hoek (VI: Pronouns and Point of View: Cognitive Principles of
Coreference) investigates pronoun anaphora in discourse. She presents
the shortcomings of syntax-only approaches to pronoun resolution (as
put forward in the C-command analysis) and outlines an approach that is
based on general principles and ideas of cognitive linguistics. She
argues that the cognitive-pragmatic foundations of pronoun use can be
outlined in terms of accessibility (new vs. old) and distance (e.g. on-
stage vs. off-stage in a stage model). In this framework, however, the
points of view (POV) of speaker and hearer play a central role in
pronoun resolution. Van Hoek develops a reference-point model of
pronoun resolution that allows for an abstract analysis of pronoun
anaphora and for the identification of a number of basic underlying
principles (connectivity, prominence, linear order). Specifically, the
model incorporates the observations on the role of the POV in pronoun
anaphora. Within this framework, many of the central notions of
cognitive linguistics play a crucial role (see also chapter I), which,
in turn, provides potential extensions to other areas of anaphora and
cross-reference. Van Hoek guides the reader very smoothly through the
different theoretical viewpoints on pronoun resolution, tying in the
reference-point model with earlier stages of analysis and alternative
(formalist) views on pronoun resolution. In view of the overall purpose
of the book, however, I had difficulties in allocating this model
within the big picture of cognitive linguistics. This may not
necessarily be a shortcoming of the paper. Instead, I would like to
think that the papers presented in this volume should have been
interlinked by some explanatory texts that bridge the passage from one
paper to the next and allow the reader to allocate each paper within
the bigger picture of the cognitive linguistic approach. I will come
back to this issue in the General Evaluation below.

Comrie (VII: On Explaining Language Universals) reviews why language
universals might exist in the first place. He refutes the generative
view of the language-faculty as being separate of other cognitive
systems and as being unique. He argues that instead, language can be
understood as a special case, if not even as a result of cognitive
processing (and its limitations). In this framework, language
universals emerge as a result of the structural limitations of the
cognitive and physiological capacities of its speakers as human beings.
Apart from this structural dependence, there is a (universal)
functional requirement for language to convey messages unambiguously
and economically. Comrie exemplifies this point in cross-linguistic
data on reflexive markers that are specifically relevant for third
person reflexive pronouns (e.g. himSELF) to unambiguously signal co-
reference. To linguists and psychologists alike, this paper provides a
well-written and concise review of explanations for the existence of
language universals that ties in nicely with other chapters of the
book, such as Talmy (I).

Haspelmath (VIII: The Geometry of Grammatical Meaning: Semantic Maps
and Cross-Linguistic Comparison) presents the semantic-map method (also
referred to as cognitive-map method) for the cross-linguistic analysis
of the meaning of grammatical morphemes. Semantic maps provide a tool
to describe semantic-syntactic structures within and across languages
and across time. They may thus be used in studying universal semantic
structures and diachronic changes, e.g. in grammaticalization (see V).
Haspelmath illustrates the method of semantic maps and its
applicability in a number of examples. In his conclusion, he presents a
critical review of the semantic-map method, pointing out potential
pitfalls of the method, such as the generality fallacy. Interestingly,
he is the only author who directly addresses psychologists and makes an
explicit attempt to link his work to their work. Being foremost a
method paper, chapter eight ties in well with many of the papers
presented in the previous chapters.

Chapter IX is a reprint (with slight modifications) of the classic
paper by Fillmore, Kay, and Connor (1988): "Regularity and Idiomaticity
in Grammatical Constructions: The Case of Let Alone". In this paper,
Fillmore et al. laid the foundations of a view of grammar as consisting
of constructions as central grammatical units. Constructions can differ
markedly in size, as Fillmore et al.'s typological classification of
complex idiomatic constructions exemplifies. In their paper, Fillmore
et al. provide a structural, semantic and pragmatic analysis of one of
the typological classes of formal idioms, using the example of the 'let
alone' construction. They outline a new conception of grammar that
covers the structural properties of formal idioms and complex
phraseological constructions as well as, as a corollary, the rules for
combining smaller grammatical constructions, e.g. nouns. As Tomasello
points out in the introduction, the paper by Fillmore et al. marked an
important step in the emancipation of cognitive linguistics from
generative linguistics. It would have been helpful for the reader if
Tomasello's annotations on this paper had appeared in direct vicinity
of the paper rather than at the other end of the book. With the present
arrangement of single chapters without bridging comments the local
value of each paper is difficult to assess for less proficient readers.

As Tomasello (1998, p. viii) points out, virtually all of "the
empirical studies of syntactic structure [in psycholinguistics and
developmental psycholinguistics] have been concerned with narrow-range
phenomena, or else they have relied on very generic descriptions that
seemingly do not depend on any particular theory of syntax". In
addition, most of the studies concerned everything BUT syntax (i.e.
lexical retrieval, pragmatics, or else). With the two edited volumes on
"The New Psychology of Language", Tomasello and all contributors aim to
make recent developments in linguistic theories (of syntax) available
to psycholinguists in order to enhance cross-disciplinary research into
language and cognition. While this is a noble aim and the contributors
to both volumes of "The New Psychology of Language" clearly do their
best to make their research and theories understandable for less
proficient linguists, many psycholinguists will have trouble to get the
'big picture' of cognitive-functional linguistics from the present
assembly of papers. The introduction helps considerably in allocating
cognitive-functional linguistics within the framework of previous
linguistic schools (see also Tomasello, 1998); however, the assembly of
individual papers seems to be too eclectic to integrate the papers into
this picture. For instance, some papers can be classified as
methodological papers (e.g. chapters III and VIII) whereas other papers
aim at giving theoretical reviews (e.g. chapters I and VII). To
alleviate the eclectic character of the book, it would have been
helpful to include connecting passages that link the individual
contributions to each other and to the introduction. Generally, for
less proficient linguists, it may be helpful to start out with a
general introduction to cognitive-functional linguistics, and to read
Volume I of "The New Psychology of Language" before turning to the
present volume.

Tomasello (1998) suggested that many psychologists may have trouble
following current directions in linguistics because, among other
obstacles, "linguistic descriptions and explanations require
specialized linguistic terminology that discourages outsiders". This
clearly is one of the problems underlying the lack of cross-
disciplinary exchange but might be accommodated by adapting the writing
style and scope to less proficient audiences, as is done in the present
volume. However, while reading the book I could not help but realize
that the difficulties of communication between psychologists and
cognitive linguists may root in a deeper, methodological rift between
these two research areas. Linguistics in general and cognitive-
functional linguistics in particular are largely based on a casuistic
research logic; cognitive linguists study language in situ, as it is
actually produced. This implies that cognitive linguists can make only
limited generalizations of their observations to other
speakers/languages/situations. While being aware of this limitation,
linguists nevertheless often make generalizations and formulate
hypotheses that they entertain until proven wrong. Psychologists may
consider many of these hypotheses as very bold, given the scale and
range of the underlying empirical evidence. Contrary to linguists,
psychologists try to narrow down the scope of their investigations to
situations under laboratory control, which allow them to study samples
of speakers in well-controlled situations and to make certain,
statistically founded, generalizations to other samples. To linguists,
however, psychologists may often seem to be too scrupulous for their
own good. Given this large gap between linguists and psychologists, my
impression is that it needs much more than a communication of ideas
across disciplines to enhance new fruitful lines of research. What it
needs is a more detailed assessment of which research questions posed
in the framework of cognitive grammar can be operationalized
appropriately for psychological testing.

Language acquisition is one of the domains that has proved to be
accessible for psycholinguistic investigations into cognitive grammar.
Further areas should clearly be opened up but seem to be too difficult
to assess experimentally at present. Crucially, in order for
psychologists and linguists to jointly investigate the cognitive
foundations of language a fundamental mutual understanding must be
established between the disciplines. Specifically, this implies that
linguists need to acquire an understanding of
psychological/experimental research methods (and their limitations).
Psychologists might feel that their work is misrepresented if it is
presented, for instance, as having "spent decades on studying on how
subjects in the narrow confines of laboratory cubby-holes parse and
interpreted isolated sentences that bear little relation to either the
type of clauses used in natural communication, the communicative
context in which such clauses are used or the linguistic context in
which clauses in natural communication are produced and interpreted"
(Givon, 1998, p. 63f.). Ironical statements like these do suggest that
linguists need to put more effort into understanding why psychological
testing exerts so many restrictions and how, within this framework,
cognitive linguistic theories can be tested. Having said all this, the
present volume together with volume I clearly is a step into this
direction that will hopefully be followed by further cross-disciplinary

Bock, K. (1996). Language production: Methods and methodologies.
Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 3, 395-421.

Givon, T. (1998). The functional approach to grammar. In: M. Tomasello
(Ed.), The New Psychology of Language, Vol.1 (pp. 41-66).Mahwah, NJ:
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Tomasello, M. (1998). Introduction: A cognitive-functional perspective
on language structure. In: M. Tomasello (Ed.), The New Psychology of
Language, Vol.1 (pp. vii - xxiii).Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
Dr Eva Belke is a research fellow at the Department of Psychology,
University of Birmingham. Having originally studied Clinical
Linguistics and Psycholinguistics for therapeutic purposes, she is now
doing experimental psycholinguistic research, focussing in particular
on language production processes. Further research interests include
aphasic and neuropsychological disorders, specifically reading
disorders, and models of healthy and impaired language processing.