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Topic 2. The main trends of modern cognitive linguistics


Lecture 4. Stages of cognitive linguistics’ development


· To distinguish the main stages of cognitive linguistics’ formation as a science

· To define the role of a language in world acquisition


Cognitive linguistics is a modern school of linguistic thought and practice. It is concerned with investigating the relationship between human language, the mind and socio-physical experience. It originally emerged in the 1970s (Fillmore 1975, Lakoff& Thompson 1975, Rosch 1975) and arose out of dissatisfaction with formal approaches to language which were dominant, at that time, in the disciplines of linguistics and philosophy. While its origins were, in part, philosophical in nature, cognitive linguistics has always been strongly influenced by theories and findings from the other cognitive sciences as they emerged during the 1960s and 1970s, particularly cognitive psychology. Nowhere is this clearer than in work relating to human categorization, particularly as adopted by Charles Fillmore in the 1970s (e.g., Fillmore 1975) and George Lakoff in the 1980s (e.g., Lakoff 1987). Also of importance have been earlier traditions such as Gestalt psychology, as applied notably by Leonard Talmy (e.g., 2000) and Ronald Langacker (e.g., 1987). Finally, the neural underpinnings of language and cognition have had longstanding influence on the character and content of cognitive linguistic theories, from early work on how visual biology constrains colour terms systems (Kay and McDaniel 1978) to more recent work under the rubric of the Neural Theory of Language (Gallese and Lakoff 2005).

In recent years, cognitive linguistic theories have become sufficiently sophisticated and detailed to begin making predictions that are testable using the broad range of converging methods from the cognitive sciences. Early research was dominated in the 1970s and early 1980s by a relatively small number of scholars, primarily (although not exclusively) situated on the western seaboard of the United States. During the 1980s, cognitive linguistic research began to take root in northern continental Europe, particularly in Belgium, Holland and Germany. By the early 1990s, there was a growing proliferation of research in cognitive linguistics throughout Europe and North America, and a relatively large internationally-distributed group of researchers who identified themselves as ‘cognitive linguists’. This led, in 1989, with a major conference held at Duisburg, Germany, to the formation of the International Cognitive Linguistics Association, together with, a year later, the foundation of the journal Cognitive Linguistics. In the words of one of the earliest pioneers in cognitive linguistics, Ronald Langacker (1991b, p. xv), this event “marked the birth of cognitive linguistics as a broadly grounded, self-conscious intellectual movement.” Cognitive linguistics is best described as a 'movement' or an ‘enterprise’, precisely because it does not constitute a single closely-articulated theory. Instead, it is an approach that has adopted a common set of core commitments and guiding principles, which have led to a diverse range of complementary, overlapping (and sometimes competing) theories. The purpose of this article is to trace some of the major assumptions and commitments that make cognitive linguistics a distinct and worthwhile enterprise.

The new insights into the system of conceptual structuring in language that have been coming from the relatively recent tradition of cognitive linguistics have

rested mainly on the methodologies already standard in the field of linguistics overall: introspection in conjunction with theoretical analysis. The aim of the workshop that the present volume arises from was to help foster the application of additional methodologies to this emerging body of understanding. The spirit of the workshop and the papers here has been to value all of the applicable methodologies for their distinctive contribution to the total picture. Each methodology can be seen as having certain capacities and limitations that accord it a particular perspective on the nature of conceptual organization in language. In this respect, no single methodology is privileged over others or considered the gold standard of investigation. Though not all of them were represented at the workshop or are in this volume, the range of methodologies that apply to conceptual structure in language includes the following: introspection into the meanings and structures of linguistic forms and expressions, whether in isolation or in context, as well as the comparison of one’s own introspections with those reported by others (the more recent notion of "metacognition" largely overlaps with that of introspection); the comparison of linguistic characteristics across typologically distinct languages and modalities (e.g., spoken and signed language); the examination of how speech events interact with context, such as with the physical surroundings, the participants’ background knowledge, or the cultural pattern; the analysis of audiovisual recordings of naturally occurring communication events, including their text, vocal dynamics, gesture, and body language; the (computer-aided) examination of collated corpora, often annotated; the examination of cumulatively recorded observations of linguistic behavior, as by children acquiring language; the experimental techniques of psycholinguistics; the instrumental probes of the brain’s linguistic functioning in neuroscience; and the simulations of human linguistic behavior in artificial intelligence. Used in conjunction with all of these is the methodology of analytic thought, which includes the systematic manipulation of ideas, abstraction, comparison, and reasoning, and which is itself introspective in character, though with its object of attention not limited to language, as in the case of the linguistic introspection otherwise treated here. A selection of these methodologies is considered next for their respective capacities and limitations, so as to demonstrate their complementary character.

Because Cognitive Linguistics sees language as embedded in the overall cognitive capacities of man, topics of special interest for Cognitive Linguistics include: the structural characteristics of natural language categorization (such as prototypicality, systematic polysemy, cognitive models, mental imagery, and metaphor); the functional principles of linguistic organization (such as iconicity and naturalness); the conceptual interface between syntax and semantics (as explored by Cognitive Grammar and Construction Grammar); the experiential and pragmatic background of language-in-use; and the relationship between language and thought, including questions about relativism and conceptual universals. Crucially, there is no single, uniform doctrine according to which these research topics are pursued by Cognitive Linguistics. In this sense, Cognitive Linguistics is a flexible framework rather than a single theory of language. In terms of category structure (one of the standard topics for analysis in Cognitive Linguistics), we might say that Cognitive Linguistics itself, when viewed as a category, has a family resemblance structure: it constitutes a cluster of many partially overlapping approaches rather than a single welled-fined theory.

Even so, the recognition that Cognitive Linguistics has not yet stabilized into a single uniform theory should not prevent us from looking for fundamental common features and shared perspectives among the many forms of research that come together under the label of Cognitive Linguistics. An obvious question to start from relates to the ‘‘cognitive’’ aspect of Cognitive Linguistics: in what sense exactly is Cognitive Linguistics a cognitive approach to the study of language?

Terminologically, a distinction imposes itself between Cognitive Linguistics, and (uncapitalized) cognitive linguistics (all approaches in which natural language is studied as a mental phenomenon). Cognitive Linguistics is but one form of cognitive linguistics, to be distinguished from, for instance, Generative Grammar and many forms of linguistic research within the field of Artificial Intelligence. What, then, determines the specificity of Cognitive Linguistics within cognitive science? The question may be broken down in two more specific ones: what is the precise meaning of cognitive in Cognitive Linguistics, and how does this meaning differ from the way in which other forms of linguistics conceive of themselves as being a cognitive discipline? Against the background of the basic characteristics of the cognitive paradigm in cognitive psychology, the philosophy of science, and related disciplines (see De Mey 1992), the viewpoint adopted by Cognitive Linguistics can be defined more precisely.

Cognitive Linguistics is the study of language in its cognitive function, where cognitive refers to the crucial role of intermediate informational structures in our encounters with the world. Cognitive Linguistics is cognitive in the same way that cognitive psychology is: by assuming that our interaction with the world is mediated through informational structures in the mind. It is more specific than cognitive psychology, however, by focusing on natural language as a means for organizing, processing, and conveying that information. Language, then, is seen as a repository of world knowledge, a structured collection of meaningful categories

that help us deal with new experiences and store information about old ones. From this overall characterization, three fundamental characteristics of Cognitive Linguistics can be derived: the primacy of semantics in linguistic analysis, the encyclopedic nature of linguistic meaning, and the perspectival nature of linguistic meaning. The first characteristic merely states that the basic function of language involves meaning; the other two characteristics specify the nature of the semantic phenomena in question. The primacy of semantics in linguistic analysis follows in a straightforward fashion from the cognitive perspective itself: if the primary function of language is categorization, then meaning must be the primary linguistic phenomenon. The encyclopedic nature of linguistic meaning follows from the categorical function of language: if language is a system for the categorization of the world, there is no need to postulate a systemic or structural level of linguistic meaning that is different from the level where world knowledge is associated with linguistic forms. The perspectival nature of linguistic meaning implies that the world is not objectively reflected in the language: the categorization function of the language imposes a structure on the world rather than just mirroring objective reality. Specifically, language is a way of organizing knowledge that reflects the needs, interests, and experiences of individuals and cultures. The idea that linguistic meaning has a perspectivizing function is theoretically elaborated in the philosophical, epistemological position taken by Cognitive Linguistics (see Johnson 1987; Lakoff 1987; Geeraerts 1993). The experientialist position of Cognitive Linguistics vis-a`-vis human knowledge emphasizes the view that human reason is determined by our organic embodiment and by our individual and collective experiences.

Cognitive linguistics is described as a ‘movement’ or an ‘enterprise’ because it is not a specific theory. Instead, it is an approach that has adopted a common set of guiding principles, assumptions and perspectives which have led to a diverse range of complementary, overlapping (and sometimes competing) theories.

Cognitive linguists, like other linguists, study language for its own sake; they attempt to describe and account for its systematicity, its structure, the functions it serves and how these functions are realized by the language system. However, an important reason behind why cognitive linguists study language stems from the assumption that language reflects patterns of thought. Therefore, to study language from this perspective is to study patterns of conceptualization. Language offers a window into cognitive function, providing insights into the nature, structure and organization of thoughts and ideas. The most important way in which cognitive linguistics differs from other approaches to the study of language, then, is that language is assumed to reflect certain fundamental properties and design features of the human mind. As we will see throughout this book, this assumption has far-reaching implications for the scope, methodology and models developed within the cognitive linguistic enterprise. Not least, an important criterion for judging a model of language is whether the model is psychologically plausible.

Cognitive linguistics is a relatively new school of linguistics, and one of the most innovative and exciting approaches to the study of language and thought that has emerged within the modern field of interdisciplinary study known as cognitive science. In this chapter we will begin to get a feel for the issues and concerns of practicing cognitive linguists. We will do so by attempting to answer the following question: what does it mean to know a language? The way we approach the question and the answer we come up with will reveal a lot about the approach, perspective and assumptions of cognitive linguists. Moreover, the view of language that we will finish with is quite different from the view suggested by other linguistic frameworks.

Cognitive linguistics took its plays in the paradigm of modern world linguistic concepts. Its appearance and rapid development today is a typical feature of language study of century boarder.

In cognitive linguistics we see new stage of study of difficult relationships between language and thinking, problems, which are typical particularly for national language study.

The beginning of the research was laid by neurophysiologists, doctors, psychologists (P. Broka, K.Vernike, I. Sechenov, V.Bechterev, I.Pavlovandn others). Neurolinguistics was formed on the basis of neurophysiology (L.Vigotsky, A. Luriya). It became clear that language activity is processing in people’s brains, and that different kinds of language activities (language acquisition, listening, speaking, reading, writing etc.) are connected with different parts of the brain.

The following stage of development of the problem of collocation of language and thinking was psycholinguistics, in the framework of which the processes of speech making and perception, processes of studying the language as a system of symbols saved in people’s mind, balance between the system of language and its usage and function were studied. (American psycholinguists are Ch. Osgud, T. Sebeok, J. Greenberg, J.Carrol and others, Russian linguists are A. Leontiev, I. Gorelov, A. Zalevskaya, U. Karaulov and others)

Cognitive linguistics has been forming for the last two decades of the 20th century, but its subject- peculiarities of assimilation and working with information, ways of mental representation of knowledge through the language – was noticed even in the first theoretical works on language study in 19th century. Thus, considering the theory of B. Humbold about national spirit, A. Potebnya admits the question about language foundation to be a question about phenomenon of spiritual life, going before the language, about rules of its formation and development, about its effect on the following spiritual activity, in this way to be only a psychological question.

A. Potebnya believes that there are the strongest notions moving forward and the notions staying behind in spiritual activity. Exactly the strongest believes take part in the development of new thoughts (Herbart’s law of apperception). A. Potebnya sees the role of association and the combination of associations in the development of images line very well.

Problem questions: What did the development of cognitive linguistics as a science start from? What play does a language take in cognitive science? What are the main problems which are placed before cognitive linguistics at every stage of its development?




Date: 2014-12-22; view: 2887

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