Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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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.