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Review of  Quantitative Methods in Cognitive Semantics: Corpus-Driven Approaches

Reviewer: Natalia Levshina
Book Title: Quantitative Methods in Cognitive Semantics: Corpus-Driven Approaches
Book Author: Dylan Glynn Kerstin Fischer
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Text/Corpus Linguistics
Cognitive Science
Issue Number: 22.3011

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EDITORS: Glynn, Dylan and Fischer, Kerstin
TITLE: Quantitative Methods in Cognitive Semantics: Corpus-driven approaches
SERIES TITLE: Cognitive Linguistics Research 46
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2010

Natalia Levshina, RU Quantitative Lexicology and Variational Linguistics,
Department of Linguistics, K.U. Leuven


Created as a follow-up of a workshop at the International Cognitive Linguistics
Conference 2007 in Krakow, ''Quantitative Methods in Cognitive Semantics:
Corpus-driven approaches'' provides an insight into the main tendencies in this
dynamic research field. The book is primarily targeted at readers with
background in Cognitive Linguistics and Cognitive/Construction Grammar --
disciplines where the methodological standards are subject to considerable
debate. The volume provides general epistemological arguments in favour of the
empirical approach to semantics, and demonstrates how this approach can work in
a number of case studies. It also identifies some conceptual and practical
caveats and pitfalls in this challenging enterprise, and charts a path for
future research.


The volume opens with two introductions. The first one, written by Dylan Glynn,
introduces the field of empirical Cognitive Semantics. Going back to the roots
of Cognitive Linguistics, Glynn shows that the empirical 'bomb' was already laid
in the foundations of the discipline, and argues that the fundamental concepts
of entrenchment and categorization can be successfully operationalized in a
quantitative way. His contribution includes a comprehensive yet concise survey
of the field (two tables on pp. 23-24) and an extensive list of references. The
second introduction, written by Kerstin Fisher, presents the structure and the
contents of the volume. It outlines the statistical methods employed in the
studies and discusses the semantic aspects that the contributors focus on. The
introduction contains a short summary of each contribution and describes its
place in the structure of the volume.

Section I ''Corpus Methods in Cognitive Semantics'' discusses the main
methodological principles and challenges of contemporary corpus-based Cognitive
Semantics, setting the stage for the following case studies.

The first contribution of the volume is Dirk Geeraerts's paper entitled ''The
doctor and the semantician''. Beginning with a metaphorical comparison between
semantic analysis and medical diagnostics, the paper explores the relationships
between introspection and empirical methods in semantic research. Geeraerts
argues that neither approach is sufficient on its own. On the one hand,
introspection fails in such fundamental tasks as demarcating and observing
linguistic objects. On the other hand, Geeraerts warns against empirical
fetishism and demonstrates that a linguist's intuition is an important component
of the empirical cycle.

In his paper ''Balancing acts: Empirical pursuits in Cognitive Linguistics'' John
Newman shares his concerns about the current practices in corpus-driven
semantics. He points out that communicative context is not taken into account
sufficiently, and that the fundamental genre of discourse -- spontaneous
face-to-face conversation -- is underrepresented in corpus studies. Newman also
discusses hurdles and caveats of corpus tagging and states that inflected forms
are commonly overlooked in favour of lemmas. He concludes with a plea for a
balance between various kinds of evidence and different statistical methods.

Hans-Jörg Schmid asks a fundamental question: ''Does frequency in text
instantiate entrenchment in the cognitive system?'' in his contribution of the
same title. There is no clear answer to this question yet, which leads to a
range of methodological problems with frequency-based corpus-driven measures of
mutual attraction between constructions and lexemes. Comparing his own
attraction-reliance method and Collostructional Analysis (Stefanowitsch and
Gries 2003), Schmid shows that the measure of attraction used in the latter may
mask different distributional relationships. Another major issue of concern is
the relationship between the frequency of a lexeme in a corpus and its relative
frequency in a construction. The author believes that resolving these and
related issues is possible through integration of corpus-based and experimental

Section II ''Advancing the science: Theoretical questions'' contains four papers
that offer empirical approaches to such core concepts in Cognitive Semantics as
force dynamics, mood, aspect and semantic productivity.

In his paper ''The aspectual coercion of the English durative adverbial,'' Stefan
Fuhs discusses the durative adverbial construction (e.g. ''work for three
hours''), which is frequently used in aspectual studies as a test for
(a)telicity. With the help of Collostructional Analysis of the verbal slot, he
shows that the construction also attracts a significant number of telic verbs.
He suggests that the construction can coerce a telic verb into an atelic
meaning, thus shifting the aspectual profile of the verb. This finding has
important theoretical consequences, as it questions the existence of inherent
lexical aspect.

Martin Hilpert's chapter entitled ''The force dynamics of English complement
clauses'' focuses on English gerund clauses with an infinitive complement, as in
''Learning to read is fun''. Hilpert performs a collexeme analysis to show that
the construction has a range of force-dynamic meanings (cf. Talmy 2000), such as
an attempt or obligation. The study thus indicates that force-dynamic semantics
can be expressed by complement clauses, besides the grammatical domains of
causation and modality. The author also demonstrates that the results of his
corpus-based analyses align with intuitive grammaticality judgments.

In her paper ''Accounting for the role of situation in language use in a
Cognitive Semantic representation of sentence mood,'' Kerstin Fischer studies how
the differences in speakers' construal of one and the same situation influence
their choice of sentence mood. Based on a unique corpus of human-robot
interaction, the study analyzes correlations between the use of declarative,
imperative and interrogative sentences, on the one hand, and the frequencies of
such discourse elements as politeness formulas and dialogue openings, on the
other hand. The correlated features are interpreted as evidence of different
construals of the human-robot communication situation. The author concludes with
an interpretation of the findings in terms of Embodied Construction Grammar.

Arne Zeschel's contribution ''Exemplars and analogy: Semantic extension in
constructional networks'' is a corpus-based study of polysemy of the German
adjective ''tief'' (''deep''). Trying to find out how speakers derive a schema from
the exemplars of a construction, Zeschel formulates the following hypothesis:
the distribution of novel adjective-noun combinations correlates with the number
of established adjective-noun combinations in different regions of the semantic
map. This hypothesis is tested and confirmed on three different levels of
semantic specificity.

Section III, entitled ''Advancing the scene: Methodological questions,'' focuses
mainly on specific methodological problems of empirical Cognitive Semantics,
although the issues discussed here are also theoretically important.

This section begins with Stefanie Wulff's contribution ''Marrying
cognitive-linguistic and corpus-based methods: On the compositionality of
English V NP idioms''. The paper is a case study of V NP-constructions in
English. The author proposes an original corpus-linguistic measure of
compositionality, which takes into account the semantic contributions of the
verb and the noun in the constructional meaning. The measure is based on the
distribution of collocates of the verb and the noun separately and together. The
results reveal a continuum of idiomaticity from the highly idiomatic ''make DET
headway'' to the fully compositional ''write DET letter'' (where DET stands for
Determiner) with metaphorical and quasi-metaphorical extensions in between.

The chapter written by Dylan Glynn is entitled ''Testing the hypothesis.
Objectivity and verification in usage-based Cognitive Semantics''. He discusses
the problem of operationalizing abstract semantic features in a corpus-based
analysis and illustrates it with a case study of the semantics of ''bother'' .
Using correspondence analysis and logistic regression, Glynn identifies three
senses of ''bother'', which correspond to specific constructional patterns,
forming thus a small onomasiological field within the lexeme. This finding
allows him to question the theoretical validity of the traditional distinction
between semasiology and onomasiology (e.g. Geeraerts, Grondelaers and Bakema 1994).

In his contribution ''Beyond the dative alternation: The semantics of the Dutch
aan-Dative'' Timothy Colleman argues that near-synonymous constructions
('alternations') should be studied in their own right, not (only) in terms of
their distinctive features (cf. Goldberg 2002). He performs an independent
semantic analysis of the aan-Dative in Dutch, which has been traditionally
described in contrast with the ditransitive construction. Using a collexeme
analysis of newspaper data, Colleman interprets the broad semantic range of the
construction in accordance with the multidimensional approach to polysemy
proposed in Geeraerts (1998).

Dagmar Divjak's chapter ''Corpus-based evidence for an idiosyncratic
aspect-modality relation in Russian'' raises the question how two fundamental
conceptual domains of aspect and modality interact in combinations of a modal
adverbial predicate and an (im)perfective infinitive. The author uses logistic
regression with mixed effects applied to data from a literary corpus to find out
that dynamic modality is usually associated with the perfective infinitive,
whereas the deontic modal predicates co-occur with the imperfective infinitive.
She argues that these associations reflect the similarities of aspect and
modality on a deep conceptual level, which involves ''knowledge about the way in
which time affects situations and the written and unwritten code that rules our
lives'' (p. 324).

The final Section IV, ''Towards an empirical Cognitive Semantics,'' discusses the
perspectives of the approach and deals with some of the criticisms leveled at
corpus-driven Cognitive Semantics by opponents.

The highly polemic contribution by Stefan Gries and Dagmar Divjak entitled
''Quantitative approaches in usage-based Cognitive Semantics: Myths, erroneous
assumptions and a proposal'' addresses the most vociferous criticisms against
corpus-based Cognitive Linguistics (e.g. Raukko 2003, Talmy 2000), claiming that
they are either truisms, misunderstandings or misrepresentations. The
contributors then propose their own Behavioral Profiles approach, a
multi-purpose corpus-driven bottom-up model of semantics, and show that the
results of this approach is supported by a range of validation techniques and
converging experimental evidence.

The final paper in the volume is Anatol Stefanowitsch's ''Empirical Cognitive
Semantics: Some thoughts''. He discusses four types (operationalizations) of
meaning, each with its own methods and techniques, and proposes the steps that
the research field should take to become a full-fledged scientific discipline,
instead of just an ''exercise in speculative psychology'' (p. 374). These steps
involve adopting the protocols of empirical research, redefining all theoretical
concepts in an empirically operationalizable way, and -- the most radical step
-- giving up the concepts that cannot be operationalized.


Overall, this volume is an important contribution to the development of
empirical Cognitive Semantics. This collection of high-quality papers provides
the reader with an insight into the most important empirical approaches in
corpus-driven semantic research. Originating from a conference event, the book
raises the questions that many empirically minded cognitive linguists are
concerned with nowadays. Inevitably, it also mirrors some of the biases in
contemporary empirical Cognitive Semantics: a strong theoretical focus on
English data and constructional semantics, with Collostructional Analysis as
arguably the most popular tool. Probably because it has taken the volume about
three years to appear, the book does not reflect a more recent trend of
integrating semantic and contextual variation (e.g. Geeraerts, Kristiansen and
Peirsman 2010), although Glynn does mention this tendency in his Introduction. A
minor criticism concerns the composition of the volume: the reviewer has found
at least four introductions to Collostructional Analysis in different papers. A
possible solution might have been to present the common quantitative methods
only once in an introduction or appendix.

From the stylistic point of view, the book contains very different voices, which
makes it an exciting reading -- from the metaphoricity of Geeraerts's paper to
Gries and Divjak's passionate polemic, and a glimpse into the future of the
field in Stefanowitsch's chapter. This diversity in combination with the high
professional level of the contributions makes one believe that the volume will
reach a broad audience and will have the desired impact on the development of
Cognitive Semantics.


Geeraerts, Dirk. 1998. The semantic structure of the indirect object in Dutch.
In Willy Van Langendonck and William Van Belle (Eds.), The Dative. Vol. 2.
Theoretical and contrastive studies, 185-210. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Geeraerts, Dirk, Stefan Grondelaers and Peter Bakema. 1994. The structure of
lexical variation. Meaning, naming and context. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Geeraerts, Dirk, Gitte Kristiansen and Yves Peirsman (eds.). 2010. Advances in
Cognitive Sociolinguistics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Goldberg, Adele E. 2002. Surface Generalizations: An alternative to
alternations. Cognitive Linguistics 13. 327-356.

Raukko, Jarno. 2003. Polysemy as flexible meaning: Experiments with English get
and Finnish pitää. In Brigitte Nerlich et al. (eds.), Polysemy: flexible
patterns in mind and language, 161-193. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Stefanowitsch, Anatol and Stefan Th. Gries. 2003. Collostructions: Investigating
the interaction of words and constructions. International Journal of Corpus
Linguistics 8(2). 209-243.

Talmy, Leonard. 2000. Toward a Cognitive Semantics. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Natalia Levshina is finishing her PhD at the University of Leuven. Her main research interests are in constructional and lexical semantics. She is particularly interested in quantitative corpus-driven methods of modeling semantic and contextual variation with the help of multivariate statistical techniques, and in integration of exemplar and prototype theories of categorization with corpus linguistics.