Study of cognitive linguistics

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Before we go to cognitive linguistics, we should answer some questions, which are very important to those who make a study of linguistics. Everybody knows that there are many rules in language. å¿«, for example, is used to show our warmth to people: 快请进, 快请坐, å¿«å-æ¯æ°´, å¿«å-æ¯èŒ¶, 快吃个苹果… However, æ…¢is used to indicate goodbye: 慢走, 慢慢吃, 慢慢å-, 慢慢聊, 慢慢倾(Cantonese), 慢慢压(Cantonese, said to someone who goes cycling), etc. Because these rules in Chinese do not exist in English, we cannot say "*Come in quickly", "*Sit down quickly", or "*Walk slowly." Rules like this are concerned with use of words. At the same time, there are rules in grammar. In English, for example, "I" is followed by "am", and "you" by "are", and "he" by "is".

1) Are such rules in language formed gradually through everyday use or prescribed by linguists? (It is very important for us to answer such questions correctly before we are engaged in making a study of linguistics.)

2) All language users can speak their mother tongue correctly, fluently and appropriately. An illiterate woman in Guangzhou, for example, can speak Cantonese correctly, fluently and appropriately. Do you think she knows Cantonese grammar?

3) Some people, even some university teachers say that many great scholars have made a lot of research and published many books on linguistics and grammar. These people think that the famous scholars have solved all language problems and there's nothing left for us to make a study. What's your opinion about this?

4) Language is always changing. It is one of the properties of language. Do you think it is possible to avoid its change or it is necessary to do so?

5) There are many linguistic schools studying language in the world. Can you explain why there are so many schools?

(Cognitive linguistics is one of the so many schools. I don't know if you are interested in it or not. For me, I firmly believe it and also interested in it, because it can explain many phenomena in language. The explanations from the perspective of cognitive linguistics help us know about how language is formed and why it is formed in this way instead of the other way. Most importantly, such explanations can help both teachers teach foreign languages and learners learn them effectively.)

6) Where is meaning?

In order to understand these sentences we must call upon our knowledge about the world, which does not reside in the sentences or in any of the words of the sentences. (Scollon & Scollon 2000: 7)

…we tend to look for meaning in words themselves, but we are incorrect if we think that words possess meaning. It is more accurate to say that people possess meaning and that words elicit these meanings. (Samovar et al 2000: 123)

Language does not itself do the cognitive building-it "just" give us minimal, but sufficient, clues for finding the domains and principles appropriate for building in a given situation. Once these clues are combined with already existing configurations, available cognitive principles, and background framing, the appropriate construction can take place, and the result far exceeds any overt explicit information.

This fundamental property of language is counterintuitive: In our folk theory, it is the words that carry the meaning: We "say what we mean," we "put meaning into words," and so on. The difference between the folk-theoretic conception and the actual (backstage) reality goes unnoticed for very interesting reasons. … We notice only the tip of the iceberg-the words-and we attribute all the rest to common sense. (Fauconnier 1994: xviii) Language does not carry meaning, it guides it. As Mark Turner felicitously put it:

Expressions do not mean; they are prompts for us to construct meanings by working with processes we already know. In no sense is the meaning of (an) … utterance "right there in the words." When we understand an utterance, we in no sense are understanding "just what the words say"; the words themselves say nothing independent of the richly detailed knowledge and powerful cognitive processes we bring to bear (Turner 1991: 206)

Language, as we use it, is but the tip of the iceberg of cognitive construction. As discourse unfolds, much is going on behind the scenes: New domains appear, links are forged, abstract mappings operate, internal structure emerges and spreads, viewpoint and focus keep shifting. Everyday talk and commonsense reasoning are supported by invisible, highly (p. xxii) abstract, mental creations, which grammar helps to guide, but does not by itself define. (Fauconnier 1994: xxiii)

On this view, words do not really have meanings, nor do sentences have meanings: meanings are something that we construe, using the properties of linguistic elements as partial clues, alongside non-linguistic knowledge, information available from context, knowledge and conjectures regarding the state of mind of hearers and so on. (Croft & Cruse 2004: 98)

The core idea in Cognitive Linguistics is that meanings are mental entities in conceptual space. Meanings are in people's minds. They are not independent entities in the external world, as is the case in objectivist models. The external world is only indirectly relevant in that meanings are constrained by how human beings perceive of the world.

The second question concerns the relation between lexical items and meaning. Lexical items map on to concepts, and meaning is the relation between the lexical item and the domain matrix that it activates. Lexical meaning is constrained by encyclopaedic knowledge, conventionalized mappings between lexical items and concepts, conventional modes of thought in different contexts and situational frames. (原注:In cognitive approaches to meaning, all linguistic expressions are profiled according to a 'base' (Langacker 1987a), or a 'frame' (Fillmore (1982), an 'idealized cognitive model' of a situation (Lakoff 1987) or a cycle of contextualization and decontextualization of word meaning based on linguistic and encyclopaedic knowledge (Warren 1999). All these constructs represent presupposed information in an expression that the speaker infers in situations. In my model the appropriate construal is employed on the basis of such knowledge. See also Croft (forthcoming) for a similar approach to verbs.) Meanings are thus not inherent in the lexical items as such, but they are evoked by lexical items. Moreover, there is no purely linguistic level of representation that is intermediate between concepts and lexical items, and there is no static one-to-one relationship between lexical items and meanings. (原注:This is the case in approaches to meaning that assume a lexicon consisting of formal features, e.g. Bierwich & Schreuder (1992), Levelt (1989), Pustejovsky (1998), Borschev & Partee (2001), Jackendoff (2002).) Multiple readings are natural and expected in a dynamic usage-based model. The components of the framework are shown in Figure 1.

The third question concerns the dynamics of language in terms of synchronic flexibility and diachronic change. Different readings in different contexts emerge from the intention that activates the expression or the wish to interpret the expression in a relevant way in order to obtain socially viable (capable of working, functioning, or developing adequately; capable of existence and development as an independent unit) mappings between words and concepts. In other words, cognitive processes (construals) operate on the conceptual structures on all occasions of use. These operations are the source of all readings, conventional as well as ad hoc (used for specific or immediate needs) contextual readings, and possible lexical change takes place through new conventional, entrenched links between linguistic expressions and conceptual structures (Paradis 2003b). (Paradis, 2004: 53)

The precise semantic contribution of any word is a function of the utterance context in which it is embedded, and, moreover, the sorts of (conceptual) knowledge these lexical entities provide access to. In other words, words don't have 'meanings' in and of themselves. Rather meaning is a function of the utterance in which a word is embedded, and the complex processes of lexical concept integration. (Evans, 2006:492)

More recently, a number of scholars have suggested that in fact word-meaning is less a discrete body of circumscribed knowledge. Rather, words serve as points of access to larger-scale encyclopaedic knowledge structures, which are potentially vast in scope as argued in detail below. On this view, words provide access to what I will refer to as a semantic potential, with different sorts of knowledge being potentially activated. (Evans, 2006: 493)

One way of thinking about the meaning of words is to see them as tools for causing speakers to access specific parts of their knowledge base (Moore & Carling 1982:11, quoted in Lee, 2001:5). At any given moment, individuals have a huge store of knowledge available to them (Lee, 2001:5). Meaning is not a property of utterances but a product of the interaction between an utterance and a human being's 'knowledge base' (Lee, 2001:12). The function of the noun cat in the utterance The cat wants something to eat is to cause the addressee to home in on (meaning "to find") a very specific region of that knowledge base-specifically on those neural structures that constitute her store of knowledge concerning cats in general and the family cat in particular. (Lee, 2001:5)

Meaning in language can be summarized as:

1) To understand words or sentences is to call upon the knowledge about the world.

2) The knowledge does not reside in the sentences or in any of the words of the sentences. That is, words do not possess meaning.

3) People possess meaning and words as tools elicit meanings.

2. What is cognitive linguistics

2.1 The importance of cognitive linguistics

Cognitive linguistics is expected to be one of the most important approaches in the field of linguistics in the 21 century. Some linguists even say that the 21 century will belong to cognitive linguistics. Cognitive linguistics originated from America in 1970's the last century. Many linguists in China have turned to cognitive linguistics. Papers about cognitive linguistics, papers introducing cognitive linguistics and papers analyzing language structures with cognitive approaches can be found in almost every academic journal or magazine related to language study in China in recent years. If we pay little attention to this approach, we are sure to lag behind. That is why we offer you the course of cognitive linguistics.

2.2 The definition of cognitive linguistics

As you know, each linguistic school has its own attitudes towards language and its own approach to language. So does cognitive linguistics. According to this textbook, cognitive linguistics is an approach to language that is based on our experience of the world and the way we perceive and conceptualize our experience of the world (p.F36). (Who would like to explain "conceptualize our experience"? When we say "conceptualize our experience", we mean that we have the idea for our experience or that we form concepts of our experience.)

2.3 The objective of cognitive linguistics

The objective of cognitive linguistics is to investigate and to study "cognitive or mental structure and organization by analyzing cognitive strategies used by humans in thinking, storing information, comprehending, and producing language". (Bussmann, Hadumod. 2000. Routledge Dictionary of Language and Linguistics. p.80. Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press & Routledge)

2.4 Two different meanings of the term "cognitive linguistics"

It is very important to notice that "cognitive linguistics" has two different meanings, which come from the word "cognitive". It has the following two meanings:

1) cognitive - related to knowledge (This is the logical view. This view accepts logical rules and objective definitions.)

2) cognitive - related to human experience based on practical and empirical knowledge.(This is the cognitive linguistics we mean. Such cognitive linguistics includes three views or approaches: the experiential view, the prominence view and the attentional view.)

3. Experiential view: Different explanations of "Our car has broken down"

3.1 Traditional explanation

Traditionally, most teachers use the following methods in class:

1) paraphrasing the meanings of words

2) analyzing the clause pattern

3) discussing the use of the present perfect tense

How do you help your students with this sentence? Talk about your teaching, please?

If someone does not know the word "car", the teacher just tells him that it means "4-wheeled motor vehicle". Usually the teacher takes into consideration the so-called "difficult points". In this sentence, the difficult point may be the phrasal verb "break down", which has at least as many as 35 meanings according to a dictionary. The first four meanings are:

1) to become separated into pieces or fragments

2) to become cracked or split

3) to give way; collapse

4) to become unusable or inoperative/stop operating or functioning e.g. The television broke down.

The 4th meaning is suitable to explain the phrasal verb "break down", so the teacher chooses "stop operating or functioning" to replace the original phrase, such as "Our car has stopped operating" or "Our car has stopped functioning".

3.2 Explanation with the logical view (of modern linguistics)

In the logical view, some 'objective' semantic features must be found. The following are a set of 'objective' semantic features of "car":

1) inanimate

2) concrete

3) movable

4) self-propelled

The meaning of "car" in this explanation equates "objective features." This explanation seems to be 'cognitive', because it is related to knowledge. But it is not the cognitive linguistics we are studying. The cognitive linguistics we mean is not based on logical knowledge, but on practical and empirical knowledge.

The logical view cannot explain the phrasal verb "break down", because the phrase is used as a metaphor, which is excluded from the study of the logical view.

3.3 Explanation with the experiential view

1) Meaning is in our experience.

a. attribute

Before we explain this sentences with the experiential view, we must first pay special attention to the term "attribute", which is frequently used in cognitive linguistics so it is a very important term in cognitive linguistics, especially when we explain language with the experiential view. Simply to say, "attribute" is characteristic of an entity (Word Web)

What are the attributes of 'car'?

The answer is on P. F37, where you can see that the concept "car" has 9 attributes in all. Both our communal experience and personal or subjective experience are related to the word 'car'. Of the 9 attributes, some are shared by most people's experience and some others are very personal and subjective. The attributes of 'first love affair' and 'injury' are very personal and subjective. The meaning of "car" in this explanation is communal experience + personal (subjective) experience. These two types of experience equate attributes in all.

b. Two important aspects of attributes

a) Attributes are from laypersons

We should notice that such attributes are collected from laypersons (common people/ persons who are not trained in linguistics) instead of dictionaries or scholars. So to a great extent, these attributes can reflect the way every language user perceives the world and interacts with it.

b) Attributes help identify similar objects

To every word dictionaries give definitions which are sometimes not helpful. The word "car", for example, is defined as "4-wheeled motor vehicle". This definition cannot help people identify a 3-wheeled motor vehicle when they see such a vehicle for the first time. But it is obvious that attributes from laypersons can do that. People can identify it as a car because it agrees with some of the attributes. That is why the experiential view is superior to the logical view.

2) Meaning in figurative language.

The original meaning for "break down" is "fall apart", "collapse". When it is used to express the event that the car suddenly stops working, it is a metaphorical use because the car does not become separated into pieces or fragments. Metaphor is no longer regarded as just a rhetorical device. In logical view, metaphor is excluded from the study of linguistics. But the fact is that metaphor is frequently used by everyone in their utterances every day. It goes without saying that "heart" as in "Beijing is the heart of China" is a metaphor. So is the eye of heaven in Sonnet 18 by Shakespeare. Everybody can identify this kind of metaphor. But metaphor in cognitive linguistics is in a much broader sense. The following are also examples of metaphor:

(1) You appear at the head of the list.

(2) the leg of a table

(3) He got into trouble yesterday.

In literature, "get into trouble" is no metaphor at all, but in cognitive linguistics it is because "trouble" is regarded as a container. Actually, people tend to make use of metaphor. In a metaphorical way it is easier to express abstract ideas or unfamiliar things. So concrete concepts are used to express abstract concepts and familiar things are used to indicate unfamiliar things. We can say, metaphor is pervasive in language, that is to say, figurative language is everywhere in language. If a linguistic theory pays no attention to metaphor or figurative language, such a theory can be said not to be immature. A good linguistic theory should explain every phenomenon in language. Cognitive linguistics is such a linguistic theory which makes a study of every aspect of meanings in language.

4. Prominence view

The prominence view concerns the selection and arrangement of the information that is expressed. It is actually an explanation of how the information in a clause is selected and arranged. Compare the following pairs of examples:

(4) a. The garden is swarming with bees.

b. Bees are swarming in the garden.

In traditional grammar, the two sentences are regarded as the same in meaning. But in fact they do not mean the same because prominence in the sentences are different. (4a) means that there are bees everywhere in the garden, but (4b) means that there are bees in part of the garden.

5. Attentional view

The attentional view is an approach based on the assumption that what we actually express reflects which parts of an event attract our attention (p. F39). That is, an utterance reflects what is paid attention to. In language the same event can be expressed in different ways because of our different attentions. Take learn and teach for example:

(5) a. Xiao Li learned English from Mr. Smith.

b. Mr. Smith taught Xiao Li English.

When the speaker's attention is on Xiao Li, he uses the first sentence, but when his attention is on Mr. Smith, he uses the second one. In paraphrase, we usually tell the students that the two sentences are in the same meaning, but in the attentional view, their meanings are in fact different.

6. The contents of this book

1) This book contains six chapters, with Chapters 1, 2, 3 introducing the experiential view, Chapter 4 dealing with the prominence view, Chapter 5 discussing the attentional view and Chapter 6 briefing iconicity, grammaticalization, lexical change and language teaching.

2) This book talks chiefly about the three views of cognitive linguistics.

It is important for you to make clear the three views first, because they are initiated by cognitive linguistics and therefore they are basic theories of cognitive linguistics. And then you should also go on to study iconicity, grammaticalization, lexical change and language teaching. Though iconicity and grammaticalization are not initiated by cognitive linguistics, many scholars are working at them because the two approaches can also explain many language problems. The last section of this book also talks about foreign language learning and teaching. For us, this section may be helpful. But until now, few people have discussed this topic, so what is presented in the last section of this book is just the potential of cognitive approach to foreign language teaching. We can benefit from the discussion about foreign language learning and teaching in this book so as to begin with our own researches of English teaching and learning.


What is cognitive linguistics? What's the difference between the logical view and the experiential view?

How do you understand the term "attribute" in cognitive linguistics? Talk about attributes of "bicycle".