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Cognitive linguistics (CL) is an interdisciplinary branch of linguistics, combining knowledge and research from both psychology and linguistics. It describes how language interacts with cognition, how language forms our thoughts, and the evolution of language parallel with the change in the common mindset across time.
According to Merriam-Webster, the word "cognitive" is defined as "of, relating to, being, or involving conscious intellectual activity (such as thinking, reasoning, or remembering)". Merriam-Webster also defines linguistics as "the study of human speech including the units, nature, structure, and modification of language". Combining those two definitions together to form cognitive linguistics would provide the notion of the concepts and ideas discussed in the realm of CL. Within CL, the analysis of the conceptual and experiential basis of linguistic categories is of primary importance. The formal structures of language are studied not as if they were autonomous, but as reflections of general conceptual organization, categorization principles, processing mechanisms, and experiential and environmental influences.
Since cognitive linguistics sees language as embedded in the overall cognitive capacities of human beings, topics of special interest for cognitive linguistics include: the structural characteristics of natural language categorization (such as prototypicality, systematic polysemy, cognitive models, mental imagery, and conceptual metaphor); the functional principles of linguistic organization (such as iconicity and naturalness); the conceptual interface between syntax and semantics (as explored by cognitive grammar and construction grammar); the experiential and pragmatic background of language-in-use; and the relationship between language and thought, including questions about linguistic relativity and conceptual universals.
What holds together the diverse forms of cognitive linguistics is the belief that linguistic knowledge involves not just knowledge of the language, but knowledge of the world as mediated by the language. In addition, cognitive linguistics argues that language is both embodied and situated in a specific environment.
Cognitive linguistics is a relatively modern branch of linguistics. It was founded by George Lakoff and Ronald Langacker. Lakoff coined the term "cognitive linguistics" in 1987 in his book "Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things", one of his most famous writings. Lakoff had already previously written many publications discussing the role of various cognitive processes involved in the use of language. Some of these previous publications include "The Role of Deduction in Grammar" and "Linguistics and Natural Logic".
In 1975, he published the paper "Cognitive Grammar: Some Preliminary Speculations", in which he also coined the term "cognitive grammar". Soon after the field of cognitive linguistics had emerged, it was criticized by many prominent linguists. However, by the end of the 1980s, the field had attracted the attention of many people and started to grow.
The journal Cognitive Linguistics was established in 1990 as the first journal specialized in research in that field.
Cognitive linguists deny that the mind has any module for language-acquisition that is unique and autonomous. This stands in contrast to the stance adopted by Noam Chomsky and others in the field of generative grammar. Although cognitive linguists do not necessarily deny that part of the human linguistic ability is innate, they deny that it is separate from the rest of cognition. They thus reject a body of opinion in cognitive science suggesting that there is evidence for the modularity of language. Departing from the tradition of truth-conditional semantics, cognitive linguists view meaning in terms of conceptualization. Instead of viewing meaning in terms of models of the world, they view it in terms of mental spaces.
They argue that knowledge of linguistic phenomena — i.e., phonemes, morphemes, and syntax — is essentially conceptual in nature. However, they assert that the storage and retrieval of linguistic data is not significantly different from the storage and retrieval of other knowledge, and that use of language in understanding employs similar cognitive abilities to those used in other non-linguistic tasks.
Cognitive linguistics suffers from three defective dogmas, which are the scope of much of the criticism CL receives. These three dogmas are from the hypotheses of embodiment engendered by CL.
Two basic commitments were described by George Lakoff in 1990. These two commitments are the basis of orientation and approach followed by cognitive linguists:
Cognitive linguistics is divided into three main areas of study:
Aspects of cognition that are of interest to cognitive linguists include:
Related work that interfaces with many of the above themes:
Cognitive linguistics, more than generative linguistics, seeks to mesh together these findings into a coherent whole. A further complication arises because the terminology of cognitive linguistics is not entirely stable, both because it is a relatively new field and because it interfaces with a number of other disciplines.
Insights and developments from cognitive linguistics are becoming accepted ways of analysing literary texts, too. Cognitive poetics, as it has become known, has become an important part of modern stylistics.
There is significant peer review and debate within the field of linguistics regarding cognitive linguistics. Critics of cognitive linguistics have argued that most of the evidence from the cognitive view comes from the research in pragmatics and semantics, and research in metaphor and preposition choice. They suggest that cognitive linguists should provide cognitive re-analyses of topics in syntax and phonology that are understood in terms of autonomous knowledge (Gibbs 1996).
There is also controversy and debate within the field concerning the representation and status of idioms in grammar and the actual mental grammar of speakers. On one hand it is asserted that idiom variation needs to be explained with regard to general and autonomous syntactic rules. Another view says such idioms do not constitute semantic units and can be processed compositionally (Langlotz 2006).
In his lectures and many of his publications, Noam Chomsky discussed the cognitive components that are related to the languages and its use -- in other words, studying language as a branch of cognitive sciences. He thinks that the two fields address language aspects that are complementary to each other. However, he sees that his generative grammar linguistic theory and cognitive linguistic philosophical foundations oppose each other. He also sees that cognitive linguistics needs to accept some foundation from the theory of generative grammar.
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