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Review of  What is Applied Cognitive Linguistics?

Reviewer: Daniel Walter
Book Title: What is Applied Cognitive Linguistics?
Book Author: Andrea Tyler Lihong Huang Hana Jan
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Computational Linguistics
Cognitive Science
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 30.1062

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In ''What is Applied Cognitive Linguistics: Answers from current SLA research'', Andrea Tyler, Lihong Huang, and Hana Jan put forth an argument for the advancement of Cognitive Linguistics (CL) by drawing on current Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research. The structure of the book includes an overarching introduction and three major subsections. The introduction to the topic includes a description of CL, the relevance of each article to the overall theme, and the interconnection of the chapters to one another. The three major subsections of the book are ''Categories and constructions in context'', ''Teaching construal and viewpoint'', and ''Polysemy''. Each subsection begins with a chapter that contains more detailed information about the subsection in general which acts as a guide to the related subsection chapters.

The introduction to the book begins by focusing the reader on the current state of SLA research, which, according to the authors, is being invigorated by new discoveries from a broad array of fields, including ''cognitive science, psycholinguistics, first language learning and linguistic theory,'' (p. 1). The authors then go on to describe the major tenets of CL, which are a commitment to explaining linguistic complexity through ''general cognitive processes'' (p. 1). A major aspect of CL which is repeated throughout the book is a dedication to usage-based and embodied explanations of second language (L2) phenomena and justification for L2 pedagogical interventions. The introduction then goes on to outline how each of the authors and chapters in the book intertwine towards this shared CL perspective.

The first subsection of the book, ''Categories and constructions in context'' is separated into four chapters. The first chapter, ''Teaching usage and concepts: Toward a cognitive pedagogical grammar'' by Michel Achard, begins with a critique of the previous inability of linguistic models to have a real impact on second language instruction. As a remedy, he posits that CL can overcome this gap for two reasons. First, the identification of constructions as the goal broadens the scope of what can and should be taught in the second language classroom, and second, instructors are given flexibility because both ''grammar as use'', which I interpret as implicit instruction, and ''grammar as concepts'', which I interpret as a type of explicit instruction, are seen as complementary (p. 37). The rest of the chapter focuses on two impersonal forms in French, the middle personal and the indefinite impersonal, and how they can be taught from a CL perspective. The author first describes the French impersonal forms, their difficulties for second language learners of French, their distinct functions and contexts. He then outlines what a dual usage and conceptual approach should entail. To end the chapter, the author describes how this dual approach can be applied to the teaching of French impersonal forms.

The second chapter of the first subsection, ''L2 constructions and interactional competence: Subordination and coordination in English L2 learning'' by Søren W. Eskildsen, espouses a closer-look into the development of a particular linguistic feature, in this case English subordination and coordination, using microanalytic procedures taken from Conversation Analysis (CA). The author begins with a short description of usage-based linguistics and language development, as well as bi-clausality, formulaic language, and interactional competence. The majority of the chapter details the development of one ESL learner over the course of a four-year period. The focal data are the learner's use of coordinating and subordinating constructions over time. The author uses this data to argue that the development of these linguistic forms is rooted in interactional competency and that their usage in relevant contexts is the driving force behind the learner's linguistic change. Throughout the chapter, he places special emphasis on the emergence of these forms in situated interactions.

The third chapter of the first subsection, ''Optional that in complementation by German and Spanish learners'', by Stefanie Wulff, Stefan Th. Gries, and Nicholas Lester, provides a statistical analysis of constructions in context. In their study, the authors are interested in the optional use of that in complementation by non-native speakers (NNS) of English. The data in this chapter come from first language (L1) speakers of German and Spanish. The authors provide an initial comparison of that-variation in English, German, and Spanish, and then contrast that with the same variation in L2 production. In order to analyze this data set, which is comprised from multiple corpora, the authors utilize an advanced statistical procedure, MuPDAR (Multifactorial Prediction and Deviation Analysis using Regressions) (p. 109). This tool is then used to look at how much the different complement types deviate from one another across groups (English, German, Spanish) and languages (English spoken by native English speakers, German spoken by German native speakers, Spanish spoken by Spanish native speakers, and English spoken by NNS with L1 German and Spanish). Using these results, the authors argue that learner behavior, overall, is not much different from native speaker (NS) behavior and that particular psycholinguistic aspects of processing are the likely cause for both the similarities and differences in group behavior, which is key to a usage-based, CL approach that sees general psychological processes as the foundation for language.

The fourth and final chapter of the first subsection, ''French onions and Dutch trains: Typological perspectives on learners' descriptions of spatial scenes'' by Maarten Lemmens and Julien Perrez, explores how the concept of space varies in its representation in languages. In this particular case, the authors are interested in the typological differences between languages that encode direction of movement in the main verb and the manner is optionally expressed, and languages that encode manner in the main verb and direction in a satellite (p. 122). The study outlined here is a picture description task completed in L1 French, L1 Dutch, and L2 Dutch by L1 speakers of French at three different proficiency levels. The results show the various interactions of language, proficiency, and construction type across learners, and also indicate a strong effect of individual variation. The chapter title comes from their description of French and Dutch differences in their representations of multiple locative events. The French speakers tend to nest an initial locative event within another through subordination (like layers of an onion), while the Dutch speakers follow one locative event with another (like two train cars linked to one another). Their emphasis in the conclusion is that the major hurdle L1 French learners of Dutch face is a one-to-many, rather than one-to-one mapping of lexical items and their relevant constructions.

The next subsection of the book, ''Teaching construal and viewpoint'', is separated into three chapters. The first chapter, ''Since it is everywhere: Viewpoint in second language teaching'' by Barbara Dancygier and Carol Lynn Moder, acts as an introduction to the way viewpoints and mental spaces are conceptualized and realized by L2 learners. The authors begin with an overview of how grammatical choices and constructions are intertwined in the viewpoint presented by a speaker. The focal point of this chapter is on verb form choices as they relate to a speaker's perception of events, and how they change depending on their usage across constructions. As a case in point, the authors delineate how ‘since’ constructions work together with different tenses to create particular viewpoints. The authors then conclude the chapter with a teaching outline of the various ‘since’ constructions in an L2 English environment. The elicited student responses to the teaching method showed a raised awareness of the link between construction, tense, and meaning. The conclusion draws attention to the need to focus on viewpoint as a way to provide meaning to grammar teaching, as well as the larger topic of teaching constructions rather than isolated grammar points.

The second chapter of Subsection Two, ''Using blending theory to teach the English conditionals'' by Natalia Dogova Jacobsen, displays the results of a study comparing the effects of three approaches to the instruction of English conditionals. After an initial introduction to construal and CL for language teaching, the author moves to define blending theory and its relevance for English conditionals. Thereafter, the author presents the study. One group receives no instruction on English conditionals and two experimental groups receive explicit instruction, one of which follows a CL approach. The findings indicate that both groups who received explicit instruction outperformed the control group, while the CL group performed the best. The author argues that these findings show that CL theory can be used effectively to inform L2 pedagogy.

The third and final chapter of subsection two, ''Making sense of the definite article through a pedagogical schematic'' by Benjamin White, engages the ''notoriously difficult'' English article system (p. 203). The author begins the chapter with an overview of existing pedagogies for the instruction of English articles and their shortcomings. He then moves to a CL approach centered around a schematic depiction that represents the abstract concept encompassed in this grammatical feature. This schematic depiction here is a shared conceptual space encompassing a discourse frame, which has three internal frames: a situation, concept, and text frame. To test this approach, the author's study involved L2 English graduate students whose intentions were to become ESL teachers. The author worked individually with each participant in six meetings, ranging from 60 to 100 minutes. The first meeting was an interview and explanation elicitation, the second was a presentation of the concept, meetings three through five were applications of the framework, and the sixth meeting was another elicitation task. The author used a change in elicitation response from meeting one to meeting six to show that these participants changed their understanding to a more consistent understanding of the use of the definite article over time by adopting the more abstract representation presented in the schematic.

The third and final subsection of the book, ''Polysemy'', has three chapters. The first chapter, ''Reexamining por and para in the Spanish foreign language intermediate classroom: A usage-based, cognitive linguistic approach'' by Elizabeth Kissling, Andrea Tyler, Lisa Warren, and Lauren Negrete, begins with an introduction on the disconnect between current linguistic theory and teaching practices and the implications thereof for the instruction of two polysemous words in Spanish, por and para. The authors first discuss the traditional approach to teaching por and para and its shortcomings. Then, a CL approach is introduced, where por and para are presented in ''semantically related mini-clusters'' over the course of an entire semester, rather than all at once (p. 236). The authors then present a study of the CL approach. Two test groups received the same clusters of meaning with visuals, but one also received an explicit explanation of a spatial schematic unifying the meanings. The results of the study showed that both groups had significant development from pre- to posttest; however, the results did not indicate any significant differences between groups. The authors suppose that because the words were presented in meaningful clusters over time, the group that did not receive explicit instruction could have figured out the unifying concept on their own, which they argue is fully in line with a usage-based approach. Finally, the authors note the limitation that there was no control group and no delayed posttest, but contend that the results are promising for CL approaches to polysemy and that por and para are not the only grammatical items in Spanish that could benefit from a change in instruction.

The second chapter of the final subsection, ''Polysemy and conceptual metaphors: A cognitive linguistics approach to vocabulary learning'' by Helen Zhao, Thomas Siu-ho Yau, Keru Li, and Noel Nga-yan Wong, begins with a broad overview of polysemy, semantic networks, image schema in relation to vocabulary learning, conceptual metaphor and metonymy, vocabulary instruction with metaphors and metonymies, and finally, a view into the vocabulary teaching practices in Hong Kong. The authors present a study on the vocabulary learning of ‘keep’ and ‘hold’, presented as embodied concepts from a semantically grounded action that moves towards abstraction. A control group received work with reading comprehension materials that contained the target words. The teacher highlighted them and discussed them using dictionary definitions. An experimental group received the same amount of time, but was given a presentation on the uses of the target words as conceptual metaphors and metonymies. The participants were given a pretest, posttest, and delayed posttest. The experimental group outperformed the control group on the posttest and even made gains between posttest and delayed posttest. Using these findings, the authors present the potential for future-learning from this CL approach, especially in relation to polysemous vocabulary that can be explained via embodiment. Also significant is that the learners in this group were between the ages of 12 and 13, which shows that young learners can also benefit from this type of instruction, not just fully cognitively developed learners.

The final chapter of subsection three and the final chapter of the book, ''Embodied experience and the teaching of L2 prepositions: A case of abstract in and on'' by Marlene Johansson Falck, investigates how abstract prepositional meanings can be linked to embodied origins and that this embodiment can act as a unifying concept for learners. The chapter begins with an explanation of abstract meaning of ‘in’ and ‘on’, and how they can be envisioned via embodied motivations. The final section discusses two implementations of this CL approach with young (12 to 13-year-old) L1 Swedish L2 English learners. From pre- to posttest questioning, the learners made significant changes in the way they understood the different motivations for using abstract ‘in’ and ‘on’.


Overall, this edited volume brings together a number of grammatical and linguistic topics, relevant to both linguistics and language education, under the umbrella of CL. The editors do a good job of organizing each of the three subsections under a unifying linguistic concept, as well as ordering the chapters within each subsection. The papers flow from a broader overview of CL and its relationship with the linguistic concept towards more specific studies. There is some repetitive information from one chapter to the next, but this is largely due to the initial chapter of each subsection covering a large swath of the material covered in more detail in the other chapters in the subsection.

As a tool for understanding CL, this book is an excellent example of the wide-reaching implications that this theoretical perspective can have for understanding linguistics and language education. The contributing authors come from a variety of backgrounds in terms of linguistic foci and research methods. The different types of quantitative and qualitative data included in this book, as well as the different research methods used to investigate the data, are important in showing that CL has applications for a broad array of research areas and interests, and that classroom and learning evidence for CL comes from a triangulation of evidence, not a single, rigid framework of understanding.

While this book offers a great overview of CL and many further areas of exploration, my biggest critique is the somewhat unfinished nature of some of the analyses in individual chapters. A number of the chapters are based on studies that seem, in some cases, to be incomplete. The data presented can be somewhat limited and hence the interpretations in some chapters seems a bit beyond what the evidence can support, especially in terms of generalization.

In spite of this, this book provides an interesting starting point for researchers pursuing effective educational practices for language learners and for language learning classrooms. Some of the content may be beyond the reach of the typical educator, but for those interested in second language acquisition theory, it provides solid footing for both rigorous experimental interventions and the adventurous action researcher.

A major point of emphasis that I draw from the book is the implication for both explicit and implicit forms of instruction and knowledge. The questions surrounding the effects of implicit versus explicit instruction have long been debated in SLA (Bialystock, 1982; Ellis, 2008); MacWhinney, 1997). However, this debate has, unfortunately, not had the direct impact on language teaching that it could. As evidenced in this literature, there are merits to both explicit and implicit teaching methods and knowledge, which can support the L2 learning process. As is the case in many of the chapters in this book, there is a call for both explicitness and implicitness in language pedagogy, not one or the other. The importance placed by many of these authors on the conscious, mature, explicit control of concepts and meaning making, along with unconscious, usage-based, statistical-learning process is, in my view, a necessary reframing for further connection between SLA research and classroom practices.

In sum, this book can be used by a variety of interested parties for exploration of CL in research and pedagogy. In particular, dedicated classroom and interventionist researchers can make important inroads with language teaching and provide a theory that supports a multi-faceted view of language instruction.


Bialystock, E. (1982). On the relationship between knowing and using linguistic forms. Applied Linguistics 3, 181–206.

Ellis, N. (2008). Implicit and explicit knowledge about language. In J. Cenoz and Nh. H. Hornberger (Eds.) Encyclopedia of Language and Education, 2nd Ed., Vol. 6: Knowledge and Language, 1-13. Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.

MacWhinney, B. (1997). Implicit and explicit processes: Commentary. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 19, 277–282.
Dr. Daniel Walter is a Visiting Assistant Professor of German and Linguistics at Emory University's Oxford College, where he teaches syntax and morphology, introductory and advanced German, and ESL and first-year composition. His research focuses on the intersection of usage-based and conceptual approaches to the instruction of second language morphosyntax and the emergence of forms in instructed SLA. His current research projects include implicit learning of agreement pattern cues in an artificial language, the use of cognitive tutors in the acquisition of German declension, and the effects of short-term alcohol consumption on grammatical accuracy in a second language.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9783110569711
Pages: 307
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