Cognitive Linguistics And The Branch Of Cognitive Science English Language Essay

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Cognitive Linguistics is the branch of Cognitive Science, and it tries to describe and explain various aspects of language both dynamically and statically based on a comprehensive framework which presumes that language is shaped by the way we think and conceptualize the world (Bechtel and Graham 1998). In traditional approaches of Linguistics, i. e. Generative Grammar, linguistic competence is considered to be autonomous module, and it is separated from nonlinguistic cognitive abilities (Chomsky 1995). In Cognitive Linguistics, on the other hand, linguistic ability is considered to be motivated by cognitive abilities in general. In this approach, the particular area which focuses on the meaning of the language expression is called Cognitive semantics, where meaning of language is seen not as a reflection of the real world which is isolated from our conceptual system but as embodiment of cognition for the outer world which is made by a language user based on bodily experience.

Due to the advent of the Cognitive Semantics, it has been revealed that meaning of the expression is not fully predicted but motivated by bodily experience (Croft and Cruse 2004, Kövecses 2002, Lakoff 1987, Lakoff and Johnson 1980). In particular, meaning extensions motivated by such cognitive processes as metaphor, metonymy, and synecdoche have been one of the most popular themes, and various aspects of these have been frequently argued until now because the study on these cognitive processes reveals, at least partly, human mind.

The aim of this paper is to show the Japanese conceptualization of "involvement" on the basis of idiomatic expressions, and to reveal the similarity and difference of this conceptualization compared to English language. That is to say, this paper contrasts the ways to conceptualize involvement in Japanese language with that in English language. This paper begins with a brief definition on conceptual metaphor in the second section, and then moves on to the third section which reveals Japanese conceptualization of involvement (3.1) and contrasts it with that of English language (3.2). Finally, concluding remarks is given in the last section.

Theoretical Framework: Conceptual Metaphor

A wide variety of the conventional expressions is used to talk about a particular concept as is often the case in all languages. What enable this phenomenon are cognitive processes such as metaphor or metonymy. This section introduces conceptual metaphor which is related to an analysis in this paper.

Lakoff (1993) defines metaphor as a conceptual mapping between the source domain which underlies the literal meaning of the expression and the target domain which underlies the actual meaning of the expression. A mapping, which is the term often used in mathematics, is a rule that controls correspondence between elements of a set and those of another set. The reason why this term is used for conceptual metaphor is that there is the correspondence relationship across two distinctive domains behind a group of expressions. Here are some partial excerpts of expressions about love from Lakoff (1993: 206).

a. Look how far we've come.

b. It's been a long, bumpy road.

c. We're at a crossroads.

d. We may have to go our separate ways.

e. Our relationship is off the track.

These expressions are considered to reflect the conceptual metaphor LOVE IS A JOURNEY which has conceptual mapping from the source domain A JOURNEY to the target domain LOVE. Lakoff (1987: 387) contends that this mapping involves two types of correspondence, namely ontological and epistemic correspondences.

Ontological correspondences are correspondences between the entities in the source domain and the corresponding entities in the target domain … Epistemic correspondences are correspondences between knowledge about the source domain and corresponding knowledge about the target domain.

As Lakoff (1993) explains, regarding expressions in (1), entities such as the travelers, a vehicle, and impediments to motion in the source domain of a journey corresponds to entities such as the lovers, the love relationship, and difficulties in the target domain of love respectively. Moreover, the knowledge about a journey that, when a vehicle does not move because of bumping against impediments, the travelers have choices of repairing a vehicle to reach their destinations or giving up on journey with throwing away a vehicle corresponds to the knowledge about love that, when the relationship fails because of having some difficulty, the lovers have choices of restoring the relationship to reach their common life goals or giving up on love with breaking off their relationship.

Furthermore, according to Lakoff, this conceptual metaphor enables us to interpret the meaning of the novel expression as "We're driving in the fast lane on the freeway of love" (Lakoff 1993: 193). Lakoff points out that, although this sentence is less conventionalized than expressions in (1), almost people who belong to the same speech community and share the love-as-journey metaphor in their mind can easily understand what this means (i.e. rapid progress of love, its risk, and its excitement). In other words, it can be said that people can produce and understand such a novel expression because ontological and epistemic correspondences between two domains, A JOURNEY and LOVE, have already become a part of the conceptual system.

Lakoff's discussion shows that metaphor is not merely a matter of language in nature but a matter of conceptual structure because the correspondences between two domains are represented in the conceptual system. What can be derived from this is that studying conceptual metaphor underlying a series of expressions reveals the way we think about a particular concept. The following section analyzes figurative expressions based on this point of view.

Analysis and Discussion

This section shows the Japanese conceptualization of "involvement" on the basis of idiomatic expression, and then contrasts it with English language to reveal similarity and difference between these two languages. Although there are several ways to conceptualize and express "involvement," this paper will mainly deal with expressions whose literal meaning express a physical action/movement relating to feet. [1] 

Characteristics of Conceptualization of "Involvement" in Japanese: BEING INVOLVED IN AN ACTIVITY IS STEPPING IN A SWAMP

This section proposes a conceptual metaphor BEING INVOLVED IN AN ACTIVITY IS STEPPING IN A SWAMP which motivates a series of Japanese expressions for involvement. As mentioned above, a metaphorical mapping involves ontological and epistemic correspondences between the source and the target domain. Here are these two types of correspondences for this conceptual metaphor.



a swamp

an activity

manner of stepping in a swamp

manner of involvement

a depth of a swamp

degree of involvement

viscosity of a swamp

unmanageability of an activity

dirtiness of mud

wrongness of an activity

Table 1: Ontological correspondences in BEING INVOLVED IN AN ACTIVITY IS STEPPING IN A SWAMP



You step in a swamp

You are involved in an activity

The more viscous (or muddy) a swamp is, the less freely you control your feet

The more heavily you are involved in an activity, the less freely you behave yourself

The more deeply you step in a swamp, the more difficult it is for you to pull your feet out of it

The more heavily you are involved in an activity, the more difficult it is for you to end involvement in an activity

You pull out your feet of a swamp

You stop being involved in an activity

You clean your feet of mud after pulling out them of a swamp

You become normal state after ending involvement in a wrong activity

Table 2: Epistemic correspondences in BEING INVOLVED IN AN ACTIVITY IS STEPPING IN A SWAMP

The following idiomatic expression literally expresses a physical movement relating to feet and figuratively expresses involvement in a certain activity. In other words, the meaning is extended from the source domain of physical action/movement to the target domain of involvement by metaphor. [2] 

Kare-wa seikai-kara asi-o nui-ta

He-TOP politics-from feet-ACC pull.out-PAST

'He pulled his feet out of politics' [literal]

'He resigned from politics' [figurative]

This example shows the correspondence between pulling out one's feet in the source domain and stop involvement in the target domain.

In this expression, the target activity of involvement is a certain kind of activity, namely politics. The target place of a physical movement in the literal meaning, on the other hand, is a certain kind of water such as a swamp. This is also the case in asi-o humiireru ('to make one's feet step in something') and asi-o tsukkomu ('to stick one's feet into something'). To be exact, the target place of a physical action expressed by verbs, nuku ('to pull out'), humiireru ('to step in'), and tsukkomu ('to stick') is not restricted to a swamp. For example, it is possible to say zubon-kara asi-o nuku ('to pull one's feet out of trousers'), doukutsu-ni asi-o humiireru ('to make one's feet step into the cave'), or buutsu-ni asi-o tsukkomu ('stick one's feet into boots'). In above cases, however, the target place of a physical movement could be a swamp because these phrases often co-occur with doronuma ('a swamp') when they are figuratively used.

doronuma-ni asi-o tsukkomu

swamp-GOAL feet-ACC stick

'to stick one's feet into a swamp' [literal]

'to have at bother' [figurative]

When we put our feet into such viscous water as a swamp, we cannot move our feet freely in it and it becomes more difficult for us to pull our feet out of it. This experience corresponds to some aspects of involvement: when we are heavily involved in some activity, we cannot behave ourselves freely and it becomes more difficult for us to leave from it. In other words, the viscosity of a swamp which we step in corresponds to unmanageability of an activity as seen in table 1 and 2. In addition, correspondence between manner of stepping in a swamp and manner of involvement can be observed in example (3) because tsukkomu implies movement with momentum and its figurative meaning expresses involvement with impetus.

Another reason why the target place in the literal meaning is considered to be a swamp is that they often co-occur with the onomatopoeia doppuri which expresses the manner of soaking something in water, for example:

Kare-wa engeki-no sekai-ni doppuri asi-o


He-Top drama-Gen world-Goal deeply.Onomatopoeia feet-Acc

'He made his feet step deeply in the world of drama.' [literal]

'He immersed himself in the world of drama' [figurative]

This shows that soaking one's feet deeply in a swamp corresponds to being involved heavily in an activity. Furthermore, the correspondence between a depth of a swamp and degree of involvement makes the following expression possible:

Hetani kono giron-ni asi-o tukkomu-to

nukedase-naku-naru-node itumonoyouni asaku

Halfheartedly this argument-GOAL foot-ACC

pull.out-NEG-become-because as usual shallowly

'(I will deal with) this argument shallowly as usual because, if (I) make my feet step into it halfheartedly, (I) will not be able to pull them out of it'


'(I will deal with) this argument superficially as usual because, if (I) am involved in it halfheartedly, (I) will not be able to escape from it'


In contrast to doppuri in (4), asaku ('shallowly') which relates to a depth of water indicates that involvement is relatively small in degree. To put it another way, shallowness corresponds to minor involvement in an activity. One interpretation can be that the knowledge about stepping in a swamp, that it is easier to pull our feet out of a swamp if they are not deeply caught in it, corresponds to some aspect of involvement: when we are slightly involved in some activity, it is easier to leave from it. Therefore, this expression also result in correspondence between a depth of a swamp and degree of involvement. Moreover, this correspondence can also be observed in kata.asi-o tukkomu/humiireru ('stick one foot in/make one foot step in') or cyotto asi-o tukkomu/humiireru ('stick one's feet slightly in/make one's feet step slightly in').

In addition, an activity in the figurative meaning of the following expression is restricted to iniquities or vulgarities while those of the above expressions are not restricted to them.

Kare-wa dorobou-kara asi-o arat-ta

He-TOP thief-from feet-ACC wash-PAST

'He washed his feet from a thief' [literal]

'He quit a thief' [figurative]

The reason why the target activity in (6) is restricted to wrong one is because washing is usually removing the dirt, hence, asi-o arau ('to wash one's feet') focuses on dirtiness of mud in a swamp while the expression (3) focuses on viscosity of a swamp and (4) and (5) on its depth. It has already pointed out that this correspondence between dirtiness and amorality or immorality constitutes a conceptual metaphor MORALITY IS CLEANLINESS (Lakoff and Johnson 1999: 307) or AMORAL IS DIRTY / ETHICAL IS CLEAN (Kövecses 2002: 210) which are exemplified by catch somebody red-handed, have clean hands and so on (ibid).

In a precise sense, washing itself does not always indicate removing the dirt; when we say, for example, wash the paint off my hand, the paint is not inherently dirt. However, correspondences between the source CLEANLINESS/DIRTINESS and the target MORALITY/AMORALITY is fully motivated our bodily experience. One interpretation can be that, with regard to CLEANLINESS/DIRTINESS, the following knowledge is assumed in our dairy experience: the body gets dirty when we touch dirt, but it can be cleaned off by washing dirt away; dirt induces a negative feeling while cleanliness induces a positive feeling, hence we are expected to keep our bodies clean; it is easy to make our bodies dirty while it is difficult to keep our bodies clean. This corresponds to the knowledge about MORALITY/AMORALITY: we become amoral or immoral when we are involved in an iniquity, but we can be right by quitting an iniquity; amorality induces a negative feeling while morality induces a positive feeling, hence we are expected to be moral men; it is easy for us to go wrong while it is difficult for us to stick to morals. Therefore, it can be said that dirtiness of mud in a swamp represents amorality, and washing our feet of mud represents quitting an iniquity.

As exemplified so far, there is structural correspondence between STEPPING IN A SWAMP and BEING INVOLVED IN AN ACTIVITY which is shown in the tables in the forepart and this correspondence constitutes a conceptual metaphor BEING INVOLVED IN AN ACTIVITY IS STEPPING IN A SWAMP. Consequently, the Japanese conceptualize involvement in terms of a physical movement of stepping in a swamp, and interpret various aspects of involvement through various aspects of this movement. The next section contrasts this conceptualization with English language.

Contrast with Conceptualization of "Involvement" in English

BEING INVOLVED IN AN ACTIVITY IS STEPPING IN A SWAMP described above is the specified version of more general, simpler conceptual metaphor ACTIONS ARE SELF-PROPELLED MOVEMENTS. Lakoff and Johnson (1999) characterize the Event-Structure metaphor in English language. In this metaphor, different aspects of events such as states, changes, causes, actions, purposes, and means, are comprehended by means of physical locations, movements, forces, destinations, paths, and so on. Among them, actions included in events are seen as physical movements that are made by agents themselves. Lakoff and Johnson (1999: 187-188) describe it as ACTIONS ARE SELF-PROPELLED MOVEMENTS which has the following submappings:

AIDS TO ACTION ARE AIDS TO MOVEMENT: It's all downhill from here.


CAREFUL ACTION IS CAREFUL MOVEMENT: He is treading on thin ice.

SPEED OF ACTION IS SPEED OF MOVEMENT: He flew through his work.


trapped in my marriage.


to a standstill.

Involvement is, of course, one of actions which are complex and abstract concept, so mappings in BEING INVOLVED IN AN ACTIVITY IS STEPPING IN A SWAMP are specialized versions of these submappings. For instance, correspondence between manner of stepping in a swamp and manner of involvement which can be observed in asi-o tukkomu ('to stick feet in') is the specialized version of MANNER OF ACTION IS MANNER OF MOVEMENT.

ACTIONS ARE SELF-PROPELLED MOVEMENTS which consists of the above submappings can also be seen in the following English expressions whose figurative meaning is about involvement.

a. He stepped into a new job. / The government stepped in. / He set foot in


He stepped out from politics. / He decided to step back from his business. / He stepped away from the world of chemistry. / He walked away from unprofitable business. / He walked out on a relationship.

You just need to jump in the project with both feet. / The company jumped into local phone service.

He got off on the wrong [right] foot in the difficult industry of insurance.

Involvement and disinvolvement in an activity expressed in (7a, b) are motivated by physical movement of stepping in and out from some place, and examples in (7c, d) express particular manners of involvement. The latter two are considered to be motivated by MANNER OF ACTION IS MANNER OF MOVEMENT because, in (7c) for example, manner of jumping in some place corresponds to particular manner of involvement, that is, eagerness or hurry. As a whole, literal meaning of these expressions are related to physical movement by feet, but the target place of such movement is not restricted to water as Japanese. On the other hand, the target place is restricted to water in (8).

a. He tries to dip his toe in the water of political reform. / He got his feet wet

in recording industry.

He dived deep into the agriculture business.

The concern here is that, when the target place is water, physical movement in question is made not only by feet but by the entire body as in (8b). One possible interpretation on these expressions is that getting only toe or feet wet implies light involvement or an initial stage of involvement as in (8a), while getting the entire body wet implies heavy involvement as in (8b). This leads that, regarding to water as the target place of physical movement, English expressions convey the concept of degree of involvement in terms of "to what extent the body is soaked in," while Japanese expressions convey it in terms of "to what extent feet are soaked in."

Furthermore, the following sentence metaphorically expresses unmanageability of a target activity by means of a swamp or mud.

The marketplace is deeply stuck in a swamp [mud] of a recession.

The same conceptualization as Japanese can be observed here, that is, FREEDOM OF ACTION IS THE LACK OF IMPEDIMENT TO MOVEMENT which includes the specialized correspondence between viscosity or muddiness of a swamp and unmanageability of an activity in this case.

From these observations, Japanese and English language share conceptualization at a general level, namely they conceptualize involvement by means of a physical movement especially relating to feet. On the other hand, they vary in conceptualization at more specific level. In more detail, they share very schematic conceptual metaphor ACTIONS ARE SELF-PROPELLED MOVEMENTS, but vary in very specific level of this metaphor: they are different in that, in English, degree of involvement corresponds how deeply the entire body is soaked in, while, in Japanese, it corresponds to how deeply feet are soaked in, or simply in whether the target place of a physical movement is restricted to a swamp or not.


Metaphor is well motivated because it is based on bodily experience, and it can be said that a lot of conceptual metaphors are shared across languages. One of the reasons is that most of us as human beings have the same body and its functions in everyday life, and this provides a basis for metaphoric mappings. As shown in this paper, Japanese and English language share conceptualization of involvement at a general level, namely they conceptualize involvement in terms of a physical movement. On the other hand, there is variation across languages at more specific level; for example, whether the target place of a physical movement is restricted to a particular place or not is different between Japanese and English. This consequence supports the following claims by Kövecses (2005: 63) that, although there is a great deal of variation across languages, this is "only superficial diversity and variation," and universal or near-universal metaphors are "'simple' or 'primary' metaphors and/or complex metaphors that are based on universal human experiences."

To conclude, it can be suggested that there is a possibility to apply this kind of study to Second Language Acquisition or Foreign Language Teaching. Danesi (1993) argues that non-native speaker lacks "conceptual fluency" which equals "metaphorical competence," so it is useful to teach conceptual metaphors underlying expressions to language learners. Moreover, as some researchers suggests (Boers and Demecheleer 2001, Kövecses and Szabó 1996), awareness of similarity and difference in conceptualization between their native and target language could facilitate learning of figurative expressions because it could provide learners cue to store these expressions in memory and to recall them from memory.

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