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Review of  The Bloomsbury Companion to Cognitive Linguistics

Reviewer: Stefan Hartmann
Book Title: The Bloomsbury Companion to Cognitive Linguistics
Book Author: Jeannette Littlemore John R. Taylor
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Cognitive Science
Issue Number: 26.3080

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Review's Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


This edited volume gives an overview of Cognitive Linguistics, a research framework that has proven increasingly successful in recent decades. The book is subdivided into four major parts: Part 1 is an introduction by the authors. Part 2 is devoted to “Major Figures in Cognitive Linguistics”. The third part, “Topics in Cognitive Linguistics Research”, gives an overview of major strands of research in the cognitive-linguistic paradigm, while the final part discusses “New Directions and Applications”.

In their Introduction (Chapter 1), John R. Taylor and Jeanette Littlemore introduce some major themes in Cognitive Linguistics, acknowledging the heterogeneity of the framework, which comprises a variety of fairly different approaches, some of which are discussed in more detail in Part 2 of the book.

In Chapter 2.1, Phil Bennett introduces “Langacker’s Cognitive Grammar”, which claims that knowledge of language can be exhaustively described in terms of phonological, semantic, and symbolic structures. Bennett emphasizes the practical applicability of the key concepts of Cognitive Grammar (which were mostly developed through introspection) by using authentic examples from corpora.

Chapter 2.2, by Dennis Tay, is dedicated to “Lakoff and the Theory of Conceptual Metaphor”. Apart from Conceptual Metaphor Theory (Lakoff and Johnson 1980), which treats metaphor as an experientially based cognitive phenomenon, this chapter discusses Lakoff’s work on categorization as well as his more recent work on embodied cognition and the Neural Theory of Thought and Language.

Chapter 2.3, by Kris Ramonda, deals with “Goldberg’s Construction Grammar”, focusing on much-discussed examples such as the ditransitive and the caused-motion construction as well as constructionist approaches to polysemy.

In Chapter 2.4, Brian J. Birdsell discusses “Fauconnier’s Theory of Mental Spaces and Conceptual Blending”, which models the construction of complex concepts in terms of the integration of different input spaces. In addition, Birdsell deals with critiques and limitations of blending theory as well as potential applications beyond language, e.g. in accounting for rituals.

Chapter 2.5, by Sarah Turner, introduces “Tomasello’s Theory of First Language Acquisition”, emphasizing the two sets of skills that Tomasello (e.g. 2003) regards as fundamental in language acquisition, namely pattern-finding and intention reading.

Finally, Chapter 2.6, by Daniel Sandford, is dedicated to “Bybee’s Usage-Based Models of Language”. Sandford distinguishes between different stages in the development of Bybee’s theory, starting from rule-based Natural Generative Phonology to her more recent work on usage-based theory, which subscribes to an exemplar-based view of (linguistic) categorization.

Part 3 of the book, “Topics in Cognitive Linguistics Research”, starts out with Gerard Steen’s contribution on “The Cognitive-Linguistic Revolution in Metaphor Studies”. A main focus of this chapter is the idea of primary metaphor (cf. Grady 1997). Primary metaphors are seen as immediately experience-based, while complex metaphors are seen as composed of multiple primary metaphors. For example, THEORIES ARE BUILDINGS, according to Grady (1997), is composed of the primary metaphors ORGANIZATION IS PHYSICAL STRUCTURE and PERSISTING IS REMAINING ERECT. This analysis, however, raises the question of whether primary metaphors are indeed metaphors, as they are based on experiential correlations that do not necessarily involve two conceptual domains: As Steen (p. 125) points out, some primary metaphors “are indeed primary metonymies”. In addition, Steen deals with the application of CMT in discourse analysis, the idea of discourse metaphors (e.g. Zinken et al. 2008), and methods for reliably identifying conceptual metaphors.

Under the programmatic heading “On the Nature and Scope of Metonymy in Linguistic Description and Explanation: Towards Settling Some Controversies”, Francisco José Ruiz de Mendoza Ibáñez, in Chapter 3.2, discusses how metonymy can be defined and how it relates to and interacts with metaphor. In an attempt to integrate different views on metonymy held in Cognitive Linguistics, he defines metonymy as “a domain-internal conceptual association or mapping whereby the source domain affords access to the target domain either through a domain expansion or a domain reduction cognitive operation.” (p. 150) In addition, he distinguishes four different interaction patterns between metaphor and metonymy, namely metonymic expansion or reduction of the source or target domain of a metaphor, respectively.

Chapter 3.3, “Embodied Metaphor” by Raymond W. Gibbs, jr., gives an overview of experimental approaches to metaphor. He reviews neuroscientific and behavioral studies supporting the view that far from being mere rhetoric devices, metaphors do activate their respective source domains and play a role in mental activities far beyond language. For instance, in Zhong and Liljenquist’s (2006) experiment, participants who were asked to remember an immoral deed were significantly more likely to choose a cleansing product as a free gift for their participation in the experiment than participants asked to remember a moral deed, which is consistent with the primary metaphors GOOD IS CLEAN and BAD IS DIRTY.

Chapter 3.4, by Frank Boers, deals with “Idioms and Phraseology”. He shows that in many cases, conceptual metaphors have become lexicalized in idioms. However, there are significant cross-linguistic differences regarding the question of which metaphors become institutionalized in the idiomatic repertoire of a language. The differences in idiom repertoires can often be linked to cross-cultural differences: For example, Boers shows that English is comparatively rich in seafaring idioms, while Spanish idioms are often derived from the domain of religion.

Chapter 3.5, by Dirk Geeraerts and Gitte Kristiansen, is dedicated to “Cognitive Linguistics and Language Variation”, arguing that a variationist outlook follows straightforwardly from the usage-based conceptualization of language embraced in Cognitive Linguistics. In particular, they highlight two domains of investigation: Interlinguistic and cultural variation, as exemplified by studies on different metaphor repertoires in different languages, and intralinguistic and lectal variation, which can in turn be subdivided into studies on the “variation of meaning” on the one hand and on the “meaning of variation” on the other. While the first approach investigates, broadly speaking, the impact of language-internal variation on conceptual construal, the second approach deals with “the way in which language variation is perceived and categorized by the language user” (p. 211), e.g. in terms of attitudes towards different lectal variants.

In Chapter 3.6, Chloe Harrison and Peter Stockwell introduce “Cognitive Poetics”, i.e. literary analysis drawing on principles of cognitive science in general and Cognitive Linguistics in particular. Unlike traditional literary theories, Cognitive Poetics puts emphasis on the reader’s engagement with a text, which is why Harrison and Stockwell exemplify the framework with an analysis of book reviews from the online shop Amazon.

Chapter 3.7, by Veronika Koller, deals with “Cognitive Linguistics and Ideology”. In line with recent attempts to combine concepts from Cognitive Linguistics with Critical Discourse Analysis (cf. e.g. Hart forthc.), she discusses how ideology can be defined and how it can be identified in discourse. For instance, she demonstrates how an in-group/out-group distinction can be construed drawing on linguistic devices such as modality, metaphor, and social actor representation.

Chapter 3.8, by Jose A. Mompean, discusses “Cognitive Linguistics and Phonology”, emphasizing the relation of phonology to general cognitive processes, most importantly, categorization. He reviews cognitive-linguistic research showing how a prototype approach to linguistic categorization can be applied to phonology (e.g. Taylor 2003, Nathan 2008). In addition, he discusses various cases of phonological variation and change which bear witness to the socio-cultural and ecological grounding of language.

Part 4, “New Directions and Applications”, begins with Stefan Th. Gries’ chapter on “Corpus and Quantitative Methods”. After a brief introduction emphasizing the necessity of taking empirical data into account, Gries presents a variety of monofactorial as well as multifactorial methods developed in recent years for the quantitative study of corpus data. Regarding multifactorial methods, he distinguishes between two senses of “multidimensional”: While “multidimensional[1] approaches” such as Behavioral Profiling (Divjak and Gries 2006) take various dimensions into account but analyze them separately, “multidemensional[2] approaches” such as Multiple Correspondence Analysis (e.g. Levshina et al. 2013) take many different dimensions into account at once.

In Chapter 4.2, “Non-linguistic Applications of Cognitive Linguistics: On the Usefulness of Image-schematic Metaphors in User Interface Design”, Jörg Hurtienne discusses how concepts from Cognitive Linguistics can be applied in designing user interfaces that are intuitive to use.

Chapter 4.3, by Jörg Matthias Roche, deals with the application of Cognitive Linguistics in “Language Acquisition and Language Pedagogy”. Roche observes that language learning curricula and textbooks still tend to adhere to the conceptualization of language as a closed, rule-based system, largely ignoring pragmatic and interactional aspects. Instead, he argues for a usage-based approach towards language pedagogy, taking into account the meaning of grammatical schemas as well as the importance of metaphor and conceptual transfer.

The final chapter, by Dennis Tay, discusses the implications of “Metaphor Theory for Counselling Professionals”. Tay argues that conceptual metaphor theory can be fruitfully applied in psychotherapy, as metaphors can allow the counsellor to access the client’s emotions. In turn, the counsellor can make use of metaphors to provide new frames of reference for the clients.


In 2013, the 12th International Cognitive Linguistics Conference in Edmonton, Canada, celebrated “25 years of Cognitive Linguistics”. In the quarter of a century that has passed since the publication of two foundational works of Cognitive Linguistics (Lakoff 1987; Langacker 1987), the field has evolved significantly. Cognitive Linguistics has become more interdisciplinary, more empirical, and even broader in scope. In addition, it intersects with a variety of related frameworks such as (some varieties of) Construction Grammar, functional linguistics, and usage-based approaches to language. Littlemore and Taylor’s “Bloomsbury Companion to Cognitive Linguistics” provides a valuable snapshot of the past and present of this continually evolving research paradigm.

As Phil Bennett points out in his chapter on Cognitive Grammar, Langacker (1986: 1) began an early sketch of Cognitive Grammar with the words: “What follows is a minority report.” To this day, cognitive linguists like to construe themselves as a minority arguing against the “mainstream” view of generative grammar. However, things have changed. While generative grammar remains influential, Cognitive Linguistics is no longer a minority view, as is witnessed, for example, by the growing number of textbooks, journals, and book series dedicated to Cognitive Linguistics. In addition, numerous handbooks try to give an overview of the quite diverse and heterogeneous research conducted within the framework. Littlemore and Taylor’s “Companion” has appeared almost simultaneously with Dąbrowska and Divjak’s upcoming “Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics”, and both works complement previous handbooks such as Geeraerts and Cuyckens’ (2007a) “Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics”, which can still be seen as the most comprehensive overview of topics in Cognitive Linguistics. However, the field has seen important development since Geeraerts and Cuyckens’ volume, both in terms of theoretical modelling and in terms of methodological approaches. Therefore, two questions emerge for the evaluation of this “Companion”: a) Does it have a special focus which sets it apart from comparable publications? b) Does it reflect recent trends and developments in Cognitive Linguistics appropriately?

As for the first question, it can clearly be said that the volume has some focal points which run like a common thread through most chapters of the book. First, conceptual metaphor theory is a recurrent theme in almost every chapter, which is of course hardly surprising given the major influence of CMT on Cognitive Linguistics. Second, potential applications of Cognitive Linguistics in language pedagogy are discussed in many chapters. Third, many chapters discuss implications of cognitive-linguistic theories beyond language. The latter two areas of emphasis are highly welcome as they reflect the interdisciplinary outlook of Cognitive Linguistics as well as its grounding in cognitive science. In addition, issues of practical application and interdisciplinary approaches exploring the relation of language and mind have become more and more important in Cognitive Linguistics.

This leads us directly to the question of whether the “Companion” reflects recent trends and developments within Cognitive Linguistics. While the answer is clearly in the affirmative for the areas just mentioned, other areas could arguably have been discussed in more detail. For example, the importance of research on gesture studies and signed language research in current Cognitive Linguistics can hardly be overestimated. While the importance of regarding language as a multimodal phenomenon is occasionally mentioned, these areas of research would have deserved a chapter of their own.

The four-part structure of the volume has its advantages and shortcomings, as well. The final part on “New Directions and Applications” could easily have been extended, especially given that the only chapter dealing with “new directions” in methodological terms is Gries’ contribution on quantitative corpus methods. While there are still too many studies relying exclusively on introspective methods and made-up example sentences, quantitative corpus studies are fortunately already fairly widespread in Cognitive Linguistics and not necessarily a “new direction”.

The main part of the volume, which introduces “Topics in Cognitive Linguistics Research”, could easily have been extended as well, but given the broad scope of Cognitive Linguistics, the editors can hardly be blamed for being highly selective here. The introductory part on “Major Figures in Cognitive Linguistics” is certainly the most original one of the present volume, combining an overview of influential theories with a glimpse into the history of Cognitive Linguistics. In contrast to most comparable handbooks (e.g. Geeraerts and Cuyckens 2007; Robinson and Ellis 2008; Heine and Narrog 2010, among many others), the respective theories are not presented by the scholars who proposed them, which offers a fresh perspective on some of the major topics in Cognitive Linguistics. Again, the editors inevitably had to be fairly selective. Nevertheless, it is quite surprising that there is no chapter on Leonard Talmy, who is often considered one of the three “founding fathers” of Cognitive Linguistics along with George Lakoff and Ronald Langacker (cf. e.g. Geeraerts and Cuyckens 2007b: 7; Geeraerts 2010: 41). Especially Talmy’s theory of Force Dynamics (Talmy 1988) has proven highly influential. For instance, it has been applied successfully to account for the historical development of modals in different languages (cf. e.g. Sweetser 1990; Boye 2001).

Speaking of historical development, the diachronic dimension is largely missing in the “Companion” as well. This is of course a result of the synchronic orientation of much work in Cognitive Linguistics. However, much recent work combining historical linguistics and Cognitive Linguistics has emphasized the importance of “relating synchrony and diachrony” (Winters 2010: 18), especially given the key hypothesis of usage-based linguistics that “[l]anguage continually evolves through usage; in other words, all of language is diachronic” (Croft 2012: 30).

All in all, however, the fact that this extensive enumeration of topics that could have been discussed in more detail should not detract from the fact that the volume covers all important aspects of Cognitive Linguistics, and most major topics are discussed in great depth. Also, it incorporates topics that are largely ignored in the established Cognitive Linguistics handbooks, e.g. variationist linguistics and non-linguistic applications of cognitive-linguistic concepts. It is therefore highly recommended to anyone interested in Cognitive Linguistics, conceptual metaphor theory, and the application of usage-based linguistics in language pedagogy and beyond.


Boye, Kasper (2001): The Force-Dynamic Core Meaning of Danish Modal Verbs. In: Acta Linguistica Hafniensia 33, 19–66.

Croft, William (2012): Verbs. Aspect and Causal Structure. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Dąbrowska, Ewa and Dagmar Divjak (eds.) (forthc.): Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics. Berlin, New York: De Gruyter.

Divjak, Dagmar and Stefan Th. Gries (2006): Ways of Trying in Russian. Clustering Behavioral Profiles. In: Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory 2 (1), 23–60.

Geeraerts, Dirk (2006): Methodology in Cognitive Linguistics. In: Gitte Kristiansen, Michel Archard, René Dirven and Francisco J. de Ruiz Mendoza Ibáñez (eds.): Cognitive Linguistics. Current Applications and Future Perspectives. Berlin, New York: De Gruyter, 21–49.

Geeraerts, Dirk and Hubert Cuyckens (eds.) (2007a): The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Geeraerts, Dirk and Hubert Cuyckens (2007b): Introducing Cognitive Linguistics. In: Dirk Geeraerts and Hubert Cuyckens (eds.): The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 3–21.

Grady, Joseph E. (1997): THEORIES ARE BUILDINGS revisited. In: Cognitive Linguistics 8 (4), 267–290.

Hart, Christopher (forthc): Cognitive Linguistics and Critical Discourse Analysis. In: Ewa Dąbrowska and Dagmar Divjak (eds.): Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics. Berlin, New York: De Gruyter.

Heine, Bernd and Heiko Narrog (eds.) (2010): The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Analysis. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

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

Langacker, Ronald W. (1986): An Introduction to Cognitive Grammar. In: Cognitive Science 10, 1–40.

Langacker, Ronald W. (1987): Foundations of Cognitive Grammar. Vol. 1. Theoretical Prerequisites. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Levshina, Natalia, Dirk Geeraerts and Dirk Speelman (2013): Mapping Constructional Spaces. A Contrastive Analysis of English and Dutch Analytic Causatives. In: Linguistics 54 (1), 825–854.

Nathan, Geoffrey S. (2008): Phonology. A Cognitive Grammar Introduction. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Robinson, Peter and Nick J. Ellis (eds.) (2008): Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition. New York, London: Routledge.

Sweetser, Eve (1990): From Etymology to Pragmatics. Metaphorical and Cultural Aspects of Semantic Structure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Taylor, John R. (2003): Linguistic Categorization. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Talmy, Leonard (1988): Force Dynamics in Language and Cognition. In: Cognitive Science 12, 49–100.

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

Winters, Margaret E. (2010): Introduction: On the Emergence of Diachronic Cognitive Linguistics. In: Margaret E. Winters, Heli Tissari and Kathryn Allan (eds.): Historical Cognitive Linguistics. Berlin, New York: De Gruyter, 3–27.

Zhong, Chen-Bo and Katie Liljenquist (2006): Washing Away Your Sins. Threatened Morality and Physical Cleansing. In: Science 313, 1451–1452.

Zinken, Jörg, Iina Hellsten and Brigitte Nerlich (2008): Discourse Metaphors. In: Roslyn M. Frank, René Dirven, Tom Ziemke and Enrique Bernárdez (eds.): Body, Language and Mind. Vol. 2: Sociocultural Situatedness. Berlin, New York: De Gruyter, 363–385.
Stefan Hartmann is currently a research assistant in historical linguistics at the University of Mainz, Germany. His research interests include historical and corpus linguistics, Cognitive Linguistics, sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, and the evolution of language.

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