Introduction to Cognitive
Graduate Institute of Linguistics
Fu-Jen University
Lecture 1
September 28, 2005
Overview of the course; Theoretical
foundations and early research: The
importance of theory, history, and
research methods
Required readings:
de Saussure, F. (1972). Linguistic value. In C. Bally & A. Sechehaye (eds.), Course in general linguistics.
Open Court La Salle, Illinois. pp. 111-120
Wang, W. S-Y. (1978). The Three Scales of Diachrony. In B. B. Kachru (ed.). Linguistics in the Seventies:
Directions and Prospects. Department of Linguistics, University of Illinois. pp. 63-76.
Dirven, R. & Verspoor, M. (1998). Cognitive Exploration of Language and Linguistics. Amsterdam:
Benjamins. Chapter 1: The cognitive basis of language: language and thought. pp. 1-24
Recommended readings:
Evans, V., & Green, M. (2005). Introduction to Cognitive Linguistics. Chapter 1. pp. 1-33.
Janda, L. (2000). Cognitive Linguistics. SLING2K Position Paper
What is Cognitive Linguistics
• Cognitive Linguistics is a new approach to the study of
language that emerged in the 1970’s as a reaction
against the dominant generative paradigm (Ruiz de
Mendoza 1997).
– Some of the main assumptions underlying the generative
approaches to syntax and semantics are not in accordance with
the experimental data in linguistics, psychology and other fields
– E.g., Mental images, general cognitive processes, basic-level
categories, prototype phenomena, the use of neural foundations
for linguistic theory and so on, are not considered part of these
The Line of Research in Cognitive Linguistics
• To examine the relation of language
structure to things outside language:
– cognitive principles and mechanisms not
specific to language
• including principles of human categorization
• pragmatic and interactional principles
• functional principles in general
– e.g., iconicity and economy
• Cognitive Linguistics is not a totally
homogeneous framework.
• Three main approaches:
– Experimental view
– the Prominence view
– the Attentional view of language
(Ungerer and Schmid, 1997)
The Experiential view
• This view pursues a more practical and empirical description of
• It is the user of the language who tells us what is going on in their
minds when they produce and understand words and sentences.
• The first research within this approach - the study of cognitive
categories led to the prototype model of categorisation (Eleanor
Rosch et al.,1977, 1978)
• The knowledge and experience human beings have of the things
and events that they know well is transferred to those other objects
and events, which they are not so familiar with, and even to abstract
• Lakoff and Johnson (1980) were among the first ones to pinpoint
this conceptual potential, especially in the case of metaphors.
The Prominence view
• It is based on concepts of profiling and figure/ground
segregation, a phenomenon first introduced by the
Danish gestalt psychologist Rubin (1886-1951).
• The prominence principle explains why, when we look at
an object in our environment, we single it out as a
perceptually prominent figure standing out from the
– This principle can also be applied to the study of language;
especially, to the study of local relations (cf. Brugman 1981,
1988; Casad 1982, 1993; Lindner 1982; Herskovits 1986;
Vandeloise 1991; among others).
– It is also used in Langacker’s (1987, 1991) grammar, where
profiling is used to explain grammatical constructs and, figure
and ground for the explanation of grammatical relations.
Figure-ground is another Gestalt psychology principle. It
was first introduced by the Danish phenomenologist Edgar
Rubin (1886-1951).
The classic example:
The Attentional view
• This view assumes that what we actually
express reflects which parts of an event attract
our attention.
• A main concept of this approach is Fillmore’s
(1975) notion of ‘frame’, i.e. an assemblage of
the knowledge we have about a certain
– Depending on our cognitive ability to direct our
attention, different aspects of this frame are
highlighted, resulting in different linguistic expressions
(Talmy 1988, 1991, and 1996).
The Tenets to Follow in Cognitive Linguistics
– The design features of languages, and our
ability to learn and use them are accounted
for by general cognitive abilities, kinaesthetic
abilities, our visual and sensimotor skills and
our human categorisation strategies, together
with our cultural, contextual and functional
parameters (Barcelona 1997: 8).
• The Modularity Hypothesis (cf. Chomsky
1986; Fodor 1983)
– The ability to learn one’s mother language as
a unique faculty, as a special innate mental
– Language is understood as a product of
general cognitive abilities.
Embodiment as the most fundamental tenet
in the Modularity Hypothesis
• According to Johnson 1987; Lakoff 1987;
Lakoff and Johnson 1980, 1999
– Mental and linguistic categories are not
abstract, disembodied and human
independent categories
– We create them on the basis of our concrete
experiences and under the constraints
imposed by our bodies.
Three levels - the ‘embodiment of concepts’
(Lakoff and Johnson, 1999)
• The ‘phenomenological level’
– “consists of everything we can be aware of,
especially our own mental states, our bodies,
our environment, and our physical and social
interactions” (1999: 103).
• This is the level at which one can speak about the
feel of experience, the distinctive qualities of
experiences, and the way in which things appear
to us.
Three levels - the ‘embodiment of concepts’
(Lakoff and Johnson, 1999)
• The ‘neural embodiment’
– deals with structures that define concepts and
operations at the neural level
• The ‘cognitive unconscious’
– concerns all mental operations that structure and
make possible all conscious experience
It is only by the descriptions and explanations at
these three levels that one can achieve a full
understanding of the mind.
The theory of linguistic meaning
• For Cognitive Linguistics, meanings do not exist
independently from the people that create and use them
(Reddy 1993).
– All linguistic forms do not have inherent form in
themselves, they act as clues activating the meanings
that reside in our minds and brains.
– This activation of meaning is not necessarily entirely
the same in every person,
• because meaning is based on individual experience as well
as collective experience (Barcelona 1997: 9).
Thus, according to cognitive linguists,
• we have no access to a reality independent of
human categorisation, and that is why the
structure of reality as reflected in language is a
product of the human mind.
• Semantic structure reflects the mental
categories which people have formed from their
experience and understanding of the world.
Methodological Principles
• Human categorisation is one of the major issues in Linguistics.
• The ability to categorise, i.e., to judge that a particular thing is or is
not an instance of a particular category, is an essential part of
• Categorisation is often automatic and unconscious, except in
problematic cases.
– This can cause us to make mistakes and make us think that our
categories are categories of things, when in fact they are categories of
abstract entities.
• When experience is used to guide the interpretation of a new
experience, the ability to categorise becomes indispensable.
• How human beings establish different categories of elements has
been discussed ever since Aristotle.
The Three Scales of Diachrony (Wang, 1978)
• The microhistory of language
– Is reckoned across a very thin slice of time, in years or decades.
• The mesohistory of language
– deals with the middle time scale.. A classic question in language
mesohistory has been the manner or means by which a change
is implemented.
• The macrohistry of language
– In considering language change within the largest time
The Cognitive Basis of Language: Language and
Thought (Dirven, R. & Verspoor, M. 1998).
Some fundamental aspects of language and linguistics
• Semiotics - the systematic study of signs which analyzes
verbal and non-verbal systems of human communication as
well as animal communication.
• Semiotics distinguishes between three types of signs:
– indices
– icons
– symbols
• They represent three different structural principles relating
form and content.
• Linguistic categories not only enable us to communicate,
but also impose a certain way of understanding the
What is a sign?
• In its widest sense, a sign may be defined as a form
which stands for something else, which we
understand as its meaning.
• Different types of signs in sign systems
– raising our eyebrows -> indexical
– drawing the outline of a woman by using our hands ->
– expressing our thoughts by speaking -> symbolic
• All these methods of expression are meaningful to us
as “signs” of something.
An indexical sign/index
• An indexical sign/index (meaning ‘pointing finger’
in Latin) - points to something in its immediate
• e.g.
– a signpost for traffic pointing in the direction of the next
– facial expressions
– raising one’s eyebrows or furrowing one’s brows
– “point” to a person’s internal emotional states of surprise or
An iconic sign/icon
An iconic sign/icon, (from Greek eikon ‘replica’)
provides a visual, auditory or any other perceptual image of the thing it stands for.
is similar to the thing it represents.
Temporary Conditions
Warning Signs
Information and Direction Signs
These images are only vaguely similar to reality but their general meanings are very
The gestural drawing of something (e.g., a woman’s shape with one’s hands) with
one’s finger is an iconic sign.
A symbolic sign/symbol
• does not have a natural link between the form
and the thing represented,
• only has a conventional link.
• the traffic sign of an inverted triangle:
– does not have a natural link between its form and its
meaning “give right of way.”
– the link between its form and meaning is purely
• signs for money
–£ $
military emblem
Most of language has no natural link at all
between the word form and its meaning.
“symbolic” used in linguistics
• understood in the sense that, by general
consent, people have “agreed” upon the
pairing of a particular form with a particular
A hierarchy of abstraction
amongst the three types of signs
Indexical signs
• “primitive” and the most limited signs
– restricted to “here” and “now”
• very wide-spread in human communication
– e.g., in body language, traffic and advertising
Iconic signs
• more complex
– their understanding requires the recognition of
– The iconic link of similarity needs to be consciously
established by the observer.
• may be fairly similar as with icons or may be
fairly abstract
– e.g. pictures of men and women on toilet doors, cars
or planes in road signs.
• probably not found in the animal kingdom.
Symbolic signs
• The exclusive prerogative of humans.
• Humans have more communicative needs than
pointing to things and replicating things
• Humans want to talk about things which are more
abstract in nature
• The most elaborate system of symbolic signs is
natural language in all its forms
– A spoken language as the most universal form
– a written form of language develops due to civilization and
intellectual development
– a sign language largely based on conventionalized links
between gestures and meanings.
The three types of signs are illustrated in Table 1 and reflect
general principles of coping with forms and meanings.
Principles of indexicality, iconicity and symbolicity
• Indexical signs reflect a more general principle,
whereby things that are contiguous can stand for
each other.
• Iconic signs reflect the more general principle of
using an image for the real thing.
• Symbolic signs allow the human mind to go
beyond the limitations of contiguity and similarity
and establish symbolic links between any form
and any meaning.
Structuring Principles in language
• Principle of indexicality in language
• The principle of indexicality in language means that we can “point” to
things in our scope of attention.
• We consider ourselves to be at the centre of the universe – everything
around us is seen from our point of view.
• e.g.
– The ego-centric view shown in language
– Deictic expressions: here, there, now, then, today, tomorrow, this, that, come,
go, etc.
– relate to the speaking EGO, who imposes his perspective on the world.
– depend for their interpretation on the situation in which they are used.
• The EGO serves as the “deictic centre” for locating things in space.
• The EGO serves as the “deictic centre” for locating things with respect to
other things as well.
• e.g.
– the bicycle and tree example – deictic orientation changes
– the car and bicycle examples – inherent orientation stays constant
Anthropocentric perspective – a more general level
led by human psychological proximity
• Our anthropocentric perspective of the world follows
from the fact that we are foremost interested in humans
like ourselves.
• We human beings always occupy a privileged position in
the description of events.
• e.g.
– A human subject is very often used in expressing events and
• She knows the poem by heart.
• *The poem is known by heart by her.
– Personal pronouns for males and females as opposed to it
– Special interrogative and relative pronouns referring to humans
as opposed to things
– A special possessive form for human (the man’s coat but not *
the house’s roof)
The principle of iconicity in language
• The principle of iconicity in language means that we conceive a
similarity between a form of language and the thing it stands for.
• Three sub-principles:
– the principle of sequential order
• a phenomenon of both temporal events and the linear
arrangement of elements in a linguistic construction.
– the principle of iconicity determines the order of two or more
• Julius Caesar’s historic words: veni, vidi, vici ‘I came, I saw, I
– the principle of iconicity also determines the sequential order of the
elements in “binary” expressions which reflect temporal succession:
e.g. now and then, now and never, sooner or later, day and night
– cause and effect, hit and run, trial and error, give and take, wait and
see, pick and mix, cash and carry, park and ride
• a possible word order of subject, verb and object in a sentence in a
The principle of distance
• accounts for the fact that things which belong
together conceptually tend to be put together
• things that do not belong to together are put in a
• e.g. types of subordinate clause:
– I made her leave
– I wanted her to leave
– I hoped that she would leave.
The iconic principle of quantity
• accounts for our tendency to associated
more form with more meaning
e.g. No smoking.
Don’t smoke, will you?
The principle of symbolicity in language
• Refers to the conventional pairing of form and
meaning as is typically found in the word stock
of a language.
• The link between the form and the meaning of
symbolic signs was called arbitrary (Saussure
• However, the whole range of new words or new
senses of existing words are motivated.
Linguistic and conceptual categories
Conceptual categories
• Such concepts which slice reality into relevant units are
called categories.
• Conceptual categories are concepts of a set as a whole.
• Languages only covers part of the world of concepts
which human have or may have.
• The notion of concept may be understood as “a person’s
idea of what something in the world is like’.
• The world is not some kind of objective reality existing in
and for itself but is always shaped by our categorizing
• Conceptual categories which are laid down in a
language are linguistic categories, or linguistic signs.
• The human conceptualizer, conceptual categories and
linguistic signs are interlinked (see Table 2 on page 15)
Lexical categories
• Lexical categories are defined by their specific
content, while grammatical categories provide
the structural framework for the lexical material.
• The conceptual content of a lexical category
tends to cover a wide range of instances.
• The best member, the prototypical member, the
most prominent member of a category, is the
subtype that first comes to mind when we think
of that category.
• Alongside prototypical members of a category
and less prototypical ones, we also hve more
peripheral or marginal members.
Grammatical categories
• The structural framework provided by
grammatical categories include abstract
distinctions which are made by means of word
classes, number, tense, etc.
• Most of the words classes were first introduced
and defined by Greek and Roman grammarians
as partes orationis ‘parts of speech’.
• The meanings traditionally associated with word
classes only apply to prototypical members.
• Prototypical nouns denote time-stable
phenomena, while verbs, adjectives and
adverbs denote more temporary phenomena.
Linguistics Value (Saussure)
• Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) - He is universally
regarded as ‘the father of structuralism.’ His structural
study of language emphasizes the arbitrary relationship
of the linguistic sign to that which it signifies. Saussure
distinguished synchronic linguistics (studying language
at a given moment) from diachronic linguistics (studying
the changing state of a language over time); he further
opposed what he named langue (the state of a language
at a certain time) to parole (the speech of an individual).
Saussure's most influential work is the Course in
General Linguistics (1916), a compilation of notes on his
Saussure’s general view about linguistics and
• There is a distinction between language (langue) and the
activity of speaking (parole).
• Speaking is an activity of the individual; language is the
social manifestation of speech.
• Language is a system of signs that evolves from the
activity of speech.
• language is a borderland between thought and sound,
where thought and sound combine to provide
• A linguistic sign is a combination of a concept and a
• The concept is what is signified, and the sound-image is
the signifier. The combination of the signifier and the
signified is arbitrary; i.e., any sound-image can
conceivably be used to signify a particular concept.
Saussure’s general view about linguistics and
language –cont’d
• Nothing enters written language without having been
tested in spoken language.
• The units of language can have a synchronic or
diachronic arrangement.
• The meaning or signification of signs is established by
their relation to each other.
• The relation of signs to each other forms the structure of
• Synchronic reality is found in the structure of language at
a given point in time.
• Diachronic reality is found in changes of language over a
period of time.
• Language has an inner duality, which is manifested by
the interaction of the synchronic and diachronic, the
syntagmatic and associative, the signifier and signified.
(Scott, 2001)

Introduction to Cognitive Linguistics