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Review of  Cognitive Linguistics


Reviewer: Rosa Mammoli
Book Title: Cognitive Linguistics
Book Author: David A Lee
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Book Announcement: 13.1805

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Review:
Lee, David (2001) Cognitive Linguistics: An Introduction.
Oxford University Press, paperback ISBN 0-19-551424-6,
xiii+223pp, $24.95.

Rosa Mammoli
Dipartimento di Scienze Umane, Universita' per Stranieri di Siena

PURPOSE OF THE BOOK
In this book, David Lee defines the very basic concepts
of Cognitive Linguistics and shows their possible
application to a range of topics, setting out to
make the theory accessible to a wide audience, with no
prior knowledge of the discipline. In particular, Lee
highlights the vital role of meaning in the cognitive model
and the centrality of the notion of 'construal'. This makes
the theory greatly differ from earlier treatments of
semantics, in that it assumes linguistic expression as coding
a particular way of perceiving the relevant scene. Moreover,
in seeing language and cognition inextricably interwoven,
David Lee consistently illustrates throughout his work the
potential interaction between Cognitive Linguistics and
current trends in neighbouring disciplines (Literary Theory,
Cultural Study Theory, etc.).

CONTENTS
The book consists of 13 chapters, an appendix (transcript of
family argument, from the television series 'Sylvania
Waters'), references and an index.

Chapters 1-4 deal with basic concepts in Cognitive
Linguistics, coding of spatial relationships, metaphorical
uses of spatial expressions and categorisation.
Chapters 5-10 shed light on how the cognitive model may apply
to some central topics in linguistics (the nature of
constructions explained through mental spaces, language
change, aspects of nominal and verbal structure, agentivity
and causation).

Chapters 11-12 focus on the theory of discourse analysis.
Finally, the concluding chapter discusses some general issues
arising out of the cognitive approach (creativity in
language, the nature of meaning).

A set of exercises and suggested further reading follow the
end of every chapter.

CHAPTER 1 - BASIC CONCEPTS (pp. 1-17): Cognitive Linguistics
is concisely defined in opposition to Generative Grammar, as it
assigns a central role to meaning. Cognitivists argue that
linguistic structure reflects mechanisms of cognition rather
than being determined by a formal rule system, largely
independent of meaning. According to this view, there is no
direct mapping between the elements of a situation and
linguistic structure, but a particular situation can be
'construed' differently according to different
conceptualisations, according to different modes of
CONSTRUAL. Factors involved in alternative construals are
PERSPECTIVE, that is the viewpoint the speaker assumes by
referring to a 'landmark' and a 'trajector', FOREGROUNDING,
the relative salience of the various components of the
situation, and FRAMING, the background knowledge of the
situation. Finally, METAPHOR, far from being an unusual form
of discourse, peculiar to literature, is a medium through
which different construals can emerge. In interaction with
each other, these notions suggest that meaning is not a
property of utterances, but the result of connections between
an utterance and a human being's 'knowledge base'.

CHAPTER 2 - SPACE (pp. 18-29): The range of uses of three
basic locative prepositions of English (IN, ON, and AT) are
analysed. This examination demonstrates that the choice of a
preposition over another is not determined by the objective
properties of the situation observed, but, rather, it mostly
rests on the way the situation is construed in its various
elements. These findings in spatial relationships are also
relevant to other areas of language, since basic spatial notions
are so fundamental that we use space as a domain for organising
other aspects of our experience.

CHAPTER 3 - EXTENSION FROM SPATIAL MEANINGS (pp. 30-52):
The ways in which
we use spatial terms and spatial concepts to structure non-spatial
domains
is here further analysed. The prepositions OUT and UP are examined
as
examples and the author points out that the range of meanings
expressed by
them are organised in a network structured around a core meaning.
On this
purpose, RADIAL CATEGORIES are first and briefly introduced. A
whole case
study is then dedicated to the preposition THROUGH. Not only can
the basic
locative schema of this preposition be subject to processes of
abstraction
and idealisation, but its various uses also demonstrate that there is no
clear-cut boundary between semantics and pragmatics. Our real-word
knowledge of the traverse of a trajector through a landmark can
activate
different meanings, so that, for example, trajector can be seen as
impacting or changing landmark, which, in turn, can constitute an
obstacle
or an instrument. In dealing with causative, resultative and temporal
uses
of 'through', the concept of SUBJECTIFICATION is explained.

CHAPTER 4 - RADIAL CATEGORIES (pp. 53-69): This chapter
complements the previous one, by introducing the PROTOTYPE-
BASED MODEL and profusely exploring the importance of
RADIALITY in language. First, it is shown that the range of
meanings of the suffix '-ABLE' emerge from the interaction
between its frame and the frame associated with the verb with
which the suffix combines. Then COUNTERFACTUAL uses of the
English past tense are explained as the result of a process
of foregrounding. Finally, the author provides evidence of
radiality in adjectives (STRONG and GOOD are analysed), in
the area of processes (as examples, CLIMB and TURN) and in
nouns (with some interesting notes on OVEREXTENSION in
children).

CHAPTER 5 - CONSTRUCTIONS (pp. 70-96): This chapter suggests
an alternative approach to syntax. The process of combining
words into sentences is seen as the result of the speaker
ability to construct generalisations about form-meaning
relationships, rather than as a grammatical process involving
word-class concepts and rules of combination. In this
approach, the role of grammar is to map linguistic units that
refer to relevant semantic entities onto a particular
position, so that the meaning of a construction is the
product of a complex interaction between the frames
associated with the relevant words. The notion of
constructional meaning is plainly illustrated through the
example of ''DATIVE ALTERNATION'' (Langacker 1990), which
raises related issues, such as constraints on generalisation
in child language, the question of acceptability of a
sentence and the high degree of ICONICITY in language assumed
by cognitive linguists. This latter claim about iconicity is
further developed in the foregrounding approach to the so-
called 'OBJECT/SUBJECT-RAISING' constructions. Eventually,
distributional patterns of the CAUSED-MOTION CONSTRUCTION are
examined to show that the range of meanings expressed by this
construction organise themselves in a radial network
(Goldberg 1995). Finally, the involvement of experiental
knowledge in syntactic phenomena is demonstrated through the
example of the constructions that different verbs of removal can
undergo (Levin and Rappaport Hovav 1991). Generative Grammar
comes in for harsh criticism throughout the whole chapter.

CHAPTER 6 - MENTAL SPACES (pp. 97-115): The THEORY OF
MENTAL
SPACES (Fauconnier 1994) is introduced, either as it meshes
closely with many of the concepts previously treated, or
since it paves the way for the following topics. The chapter,
therefore, is presented as the hub of the essay. The
pervasive nature of metonymy as a general process of
exploiting the relationship between a trigger and a target
through the means of pragmatic functions leads the author to
emphasise the power of the mental spaces model. Mental Spaces
provide a unitary explanation for a varied range of phenomena
such as APPARENT SEMANTIC ANOMALIES and REFERENTIAL
AMBIGUITIES. This latter topic is given wider attention
through sections dedicated to CHANGE PREDICATES (Sweetser
1996) and to REFLEXIVE PRONOUNS.

CHAPTER 7 - LANGUAGE CHANGE (pp. 116-136): This chapter
explores the ways in which concepts from Cognitive
Linguistics can shed light on semantic change. The notion of
'FORCE DYNAMICS' (Talmy 1988), for example, accounts for the
non-temporal meaning of SOON, together with subjectification
(see Ch. 3). This, in turn, plays a major role also in the
shift from the root meaning of the modal verbs CAN and MAY to
their epistemic and deontic meanings. Foregrounding of
intentionality at the expense of movement is shown to be the
main feature of the development of 'GO-FUTURES'. Besides, the
growth of the radial range of meanings expressed by STILL is
analysed in its main stages, in order to demonstrate the more
general connection between radial network and linguistic change.

CHAPTER 8 - COUNT AND MASS NOUNS (pp. 137-146): The
question
of ARBITRARINESS in language is here more openly faced,
although this problem have been alluded to in the
discussion so far (see, in particular, Ch. 5). Much as
it is vital not to argue that grammar is wholly determined by
cognitive or pragmatic factors, count/mass distinction is
here demonstrated to be more strongly motivated than has
traditionally been thought the case. Such a demonstration is
allowed by the crucial concept of construal. Nouns LACKING A
SINGULAR FORM and nouns WITH IDENTICAL SINGULAR AND
PLURAL
FORMS are analysed along with count and mass phenomena.

CHAPTER 9 - PERFECTIVE AND IMPERFECTIVE USES OF VERBS
(pp.
147-156): A parallel is drawn, on the one hand, between count
phenomena and perfective situations and, on the other, between
mass phenomena and imperfective situations. The former
entities are bounded and internally heterogeneous, whereas
the latter are unbounded and internally homogeneous.
In general, this supports the idea that such a pervasive
pattern of semantic features reflects overarching phenomena
deeply rooted in human cognition. More specifically, this
conceptualisation can account either for the fact that
PROGRESSIVE ASPECT normally does not co-occur with
imperfective verbs, or for the fact that in English the SIMPLE
PRESENT TENSE form of perfective verbs cannot generally be
used to refer to an ongoing action in present time. The
progressive requires that the event be conceptualised not
only as a moment in time, but also as an individuated,
bounded situation. Therefore, it is incompatible with
imperfective situations, inherently unbounded. Conversely,
the simple present tense imposes that there must be
congruence between temporal duration of the relevant
situation and that of the utterance. Therefore, this tense
naturally occurs with situations that have any internal
segments equivalent to any other segment. This implies that it
is incompatible with an imperfective situation, inherently
heterogeneous. Interestingly, this latter argument is derived
from the analysis of a number of exceptions, such as the
NARRATIVE PRESENT USE, PERFORMATIVE UTTERANCES and
the use of
simple tense-present form of an action verb in DEMONSTRATIONS
and SPORT COMMENTARIES.

CHAPTER 10 - CAUSATION AND AGENCY (pp. 157-169): Through an
overview of the difficulties faced by the theory of Case
Grammar (Fillmore), Cognitive Linguistics is illustrated to
have played a crucial part in explaining agency by
introducing the idea that causation and agency are subject to
PROTOTYPICALITY effects. The discussion is based on Nishimura
(1993), in whose work a number of useful examples are highlighted
whereby Japanese and English differ in dealing with non-
prototypical cases of agency. Constant attention is also paid
to the consequences that assigning responsibility leads to in
everyday social talk.

CHAPTER 11 - COGNITIVE LINGUISTICS AND DISCOURSE
ANALYSIS
(pp. 170-182): In this chapter, Cognitive Linguistics proves
to be a potentially effective and coherent theory also in the
discursive dimension of language. The examination of some excerpts
of FAMILY ARGUMENT, from a real television series, as well as a
study of a scene from E.M.Forster's novel 'A PASSAGE TO INDIA'
lead the reader through some possible applications of the
cognitive model to discourse analysis. Words invoke frames
for one person that are quite different from those evoked for
another (the word PARTY is taken as example), and radial
networks of meaning are sometimes exploited by language users
to achieve, consciously or unconsciously, particular
rhetorical ends (examples are the range of meanings of LEAVE,
YOU, WARN and LIVE).

CHAPTER 12 - CONSTRUCTIVIST PROCESSES IN DISCOURSE (pp.
183-
197): In this chapter, the relationship between concepts in
Cognitive Linguistics and Discourse Analysis is further
pursued. First, it is suggested that prototypicality provides
CONSTRUCTIVISM with an elegant theoretical structure, by
allowing categories to include peripheral members and to be
open-ended. A useful example of this point involves different
ways of referring to the European colonisation of Australia
(SETTLEMENT/INVASION). Moreover, by using fragments of
discourse (an INFORMAL INTERVIEW on the social disadvantage
of Maori people- Wetherell & Potter 1992), the author shows
the relevance of radiality, selectivity, foregrounding,
framing and perspectivisation in constructivist processes
such as ASSIGMENT OF CAUSATION and COUNTERDISCOURSES.

CHAPTER 13 - CREATIVITY AND THE NATURE OF MEANING (pp.
198-
210): This conclusive chapter focuses on the general question
of CREATIVITY in language use. As a logical conclusion of the
concepts previously treated (mental spaces, radiality and
frames), creativity in language is said to result from endless
plasticity of cognitive processes rather than being a
consequence of infinite combination of syntactic means. This
implies a change in our understanding of the nature of
meaning. In the cognitive model, texts are the product of
complex interaction between linguistic and contextual factors
impinging on the producer of a text at a particular time in a
particular situation, so that meanings cannot be seen as
object-like entities in the minds of individuals.

CRITICAL EVALUATION
David Lee's Cognitive Linguistics is a pleasant reading and a
carefully constructed textbook. Thanks to his consistent
avoidance of jargon, not only are basic concepts crystal-
clear, but also more advanced notions appear easy to grasp.
The discussion flows smoothly and a balanced structure is
apparent in the sequence of topics. In particular, the author
tends to refer to an inductive method, by first presenting
linguistic problems and eventually offering a theoretic
solution (see the case of radial categories - Chs. 3-4; that
of mental spaces - Chs. 5-6; and, finally, Chs. 11-12 about
discourse analysis). A wide set of appropriate examples is
given and the choice of the excerpts analysed may be
appealing to students. Moreover, theories and concepts are
elucidated in their development, so that the student can
appreciate the historical dimension of the discipline even
before browsing the references. As specific examples, one can
see the comparison between Generative and Cognitive
assumptions drawn throughout the whole book, the passage
about Sapir and Whorf in the first chapter (p. 12), the
careful discussion about Fillmore in chapter 10, and,
finally, the amount of references quoted in chapters 11 and
12 about analysis of spoken and written texts, which
constitutes an enduring area of interest on behalf of the author.

Probably, the part dedicated to Language Change (Ch. 7) could
have been slightly wider, including, together with semantic
change, some cases of phonological or morphological change,
on which the cognitive model shed a great deal of light (see,
for example, Bybee and Moder 1983 on the STRING/STRUNG verb
class in English or Lazzeroni 1997 about the Sanskrit perfect
SASA:DA/SEDUR). The author's constant focus on meaning,
however, well motivates his choice.

Finally, David's Lee meticulous attention to the potential
applications of cognitive linguistics to cross-cultural
issues makes his book close to everyday life and suitable for
a wide audience.

REFERENCES
Balboni, Paolo E. (1999) Parole comuni culture diverse,
Venezia, Marsilio Editori, Saggi Marsilio.
Barlow, Michael and Suzanne Kemmer (eds.) (2000) Usage-based
models of language, Stanford, CSLI Publications.
Bybee, Joan L. and Carol Lynn Moder (1983) Morphological
classes as natural categories, Language 59, 251-270.
Dirven, Rene and Marjiolijn Verspoor (1998) Cognitive
exploration in of language and linguistics, Amsterdam, John
Benjamins Publishing Company.
Lazzeroni, Romano (1997) Mutamento morfologico e diffusione
lessicale. Il contributo del sanscrito, in Tristano Bolelli e
Saverio Sani (eds.) Scritti scelti di Romano Lazzeroni, Pisa,
Pacini Editore.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Rosa Mammoli, after having graduated in Historical
Linguistics from the University of Pisa, attended a PhD
programme on Linguistics and Pedagogy of Italian as L2 at the
Universita' per Stranieri di Siena (University for Foreigners
of Siena). During this course, she carried out some research
about the acquisition of verb morphology in Italian as L2,
from a cognitive perspective, which resulted in the
Dissertation "Paradigmi e morfologia verbale in italiano L2:
strategie di acquisizione in un approccio linguistico basato
sull'uso" ("Paradigms and verb morphology in Italian as L2:
strategies of acquisition in a usage-based approach"). Her
research interests, focused on L1/L2 Acquisition/Learning,
also cover Psycholinguistics Corpus Linguistics and
Historical Linguistics.

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