I'm a german student of English and I have to make a short presentation (about 20 minutes) about the basic assumptions and terms of Cognitive Linguistics. I got a huge collection of books and articles dealing with this subject and I really have problems to define the most important points, all of the books have a different structuring. Can anybody help me?


This is actually not a bad question and one to which a fairly definitive and informative answer is possible. This would be useful for many other branches.

Key points of Cognitive Linguistics (this is in contrast to Chomskyan linguistics which is sometimes also referred to as 'cognitive' but with a small 'c'):

  • Language is part of our general cognitive ability rather than a separate module
  • Cognition is rich and embodied rather than algorithmic manipulation of abstract symbols
  • Language is an inventory of constructions which are pairings of form and meaning
  • Constructions span both the areas traditionally described as grammar and lexicon. In the most radical formulation the only relationship is part/whole and the only operation is unification. Under this conception the words and rules view of language disappears.
  • There is no sharp distinction between semantics and pragmatics (meanings are rich and encyclopedic)
  • Semantics is best defined through models (frames) which include propositional meaning as well as scripts, schemas, images, etc.
  • Figurative language (metaphor, metonymy) is not parasitic but one of the central structuring principles
  • Categories are subject to prototype effects and do not follow the rules of Aristotelian logic
  • The key syntactic and semantic operation is one of integration (blending)

Any introduction to Cognitive Linguistics (I'd recommend Croft and Cruse) will give you plenty of details about each of these points.

I'm sure I skipped something important and perhaps did not formulate everything quite as representatively as possible. Corrections and additions welcome.

  • Aside from the fourth point, this seems an admirable summary of most things. I mention the fourth point ("no words or rules") because, while in theory it makes sense to talk about the same processes operating at both the lexical and syntactic levels, in practice they work very differently. And aren't always clearly the same processes. So it's wise to keep words and rules in provisionally separate areas.
    – jlawler
    Dec 5 '14 at 16:33
  • 1
    I updated the formulation slightly to address your concern. I actually think Croft's Radical Construction Grammar is the best and most plausible model to deal with the whole range of phenomena one encounters across and within languages. However, I agree that it's much easier to use the lexicon/syntax/morphology distinctions to deal with many cases (e.g. paradigmatic variation). I've even done some work towards looking even at text and genre as types of constructions slideshare.net/bohemicus/… Dec 5 '14 at 16:48
  • It seems appropriate that the most radical conception is polysynthetic, like the most radical languages. But theory is just theory, and what's "best" is a chimera. What's best is what works in practice, never mind how pure it is.
    – jlawler
    Dec 5 '14 at 16:57

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