The Cognitive Linguistic Enterprise

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The Cognitive Linguistics Enterprise: An Overview* Vyvyan Evans, Benjamin K. Bergen and Jörg Zinken [In press for 2006. To be published in ‘The Cognitive Linguistics Reader’, by Equinox Publishing Company]

1. Introduction Cognitive linguistics is a modern school of linguistic thought and practice. It is concerned with investigating the relationship between human language, the mind and socio-physical experience. It originally emerged in the 1970s (Fillmore 1975, Lakoff & Thompson 1975, Rosch 1975) and arose out of dissatisfaction with formal approaches to language which were dominant, at that time, in the disciplines of linguistics and philosophy. While its origins were, in part, philosophical in nature, cognitive linguistics has always been strongly influenced by theories and findings from the other cognitive sciences as they emerged during the 1960s and 1970s, particularly cognitive psychology.1 Nowhere is this clearer than in work relating to human categorization, particularly as adopted by Charles Fillmore in the 1970s (e.g., Fillmore 1975) and George Lakoff in the 1980s (e.g., Lakoff 1987). Also of importance have been earlier traditions such as Gestalt psychology, as applied notably by Leonard Talmy (e.g., 2000) and Ronald Langacker (e.g., 1987). Finally, the neural underpinnings of language and cognition have had longstanding influence on the character and content of cognitive linguistic theories, from early work on how visual biology constrains colour terms systems (Kay and McDaniel 1978) to more recent work under the rubric of the Neural Theory of Language (Gallese and Lakoff 2005). In recent years, cognitive linguistic theories have become sufficiently sophisticated We are grateful to Michael Israel, George Lakoff and Chris Sinha for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. 1 For a review of historical antecedents of cognitive linguistics see Nerlich and Clarke (In press). *

2 and detailed to begin making predictions that are testable using the broad range of converging methods from the cognitive sciences. Early research was dominated in the 1970s and early 1980s by a relatively small number of scholars, primarily (although not exclusively) situated on the western seaboard of the United States.2 During the 1980s, cognitive linguistic research began to take root in northern continental Europe, particularly in Belgium, Holland and Germany. By the early 1990s, there was a growing proliferation of research in cognitive linguistics throughout Europe and North America, and a relatively large internationally-distributed group of researchers who identified themselves as ‘cognitive linguists’. This led, in 1989, with a major conference held at Duisburg, Germany, to the formation of the International Cognitive Linguistics Association, together with, a year later, the foundation of the journal Cognitive Linguistics. In the words of one of the earliest pioneers in cognitive linguistics, Ronald Langacker (1991b, p. xv), this event “marked the birth of cognitive linguistics as a broadly grounded, self conscious intellectual movement.” Cognitive linguistics is best described as a ' movement'or an ‘enterprise’, precisely because it does not constitute a single closely-articulated theory. Instead, it is an approach that has adopted a common set of core commitments and guiding principles, which have led to a diverse range of complementary, overlapping (and sometimes competing) theories. The purpose of this article is to trace some of the major assumptions and commitments that make cognitive linguistics a distinct and worthwhile enterprise. We also attempt to briefly survey the major areas of research and theory construction which characterize cognitive linguistics, areas which make it This applies to the history of cognitive linguistics in the English-speaking academic world. It adds to the importance of cognitive linguistics as a new ‘paradigm’ to note that cognitive linguistic theories with very similar...
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