Foundations of Cognitive Grammar, Vol I - Theoretical Prerequisites
Ronald W. Langacker, 1987

The general approach of this book is that theoretical linguistics is in a serious state of disarray and badly needs a makeover. "The absence of any kind of theoretical consensus is painfully apparent as we thrash about in an almost impenetrable thicket of conflicting theories, which continue to proliferate." Langacker uses this book to set out and update ideas he has been working with for a little more than a decade. The framework was originally called space grammar, and was later renamed as cognitive grammar.

Introduction and Overview
Cognitive grammar represents a new conception of grammatical structure. It uses images as a basis for meaning rather than any kind of formal logic. It claims that syntax and semantics are inseparably linked rather than being autonomous components. It considers the issues surrounding idiomatic phrases, metaphors, and figurative language and the role of these constructions in communication to be of primary interest rather than to be swept out of sight as ill-behaved nuisances. The approach draws upon advances and, in some cases, speculative issues, from the fields of cognitive psychology and artificial intelligence, although Langacker maintains that linguistic issues remain primary in his view of linguistic theory.

Part I. Orientation
This book presents a "fundamental revision in our view of language". Chapter 1 covers some "very general assumptions about the nature of language and the various aspects of naturalness in linguistic description". Chapter 2 then discusses the fundamental concepts of a cognitive grammar, particularly its nongenerational character and the indeterminacy of its scope. Grammar is said to be inherently symbolic.

Chapter 1. Guiding Assumptions

General Assumptions

"Language is symbolic in nature". However, it is not always completely arbitrary in the Saussurean sense.
"Language is an integral part of human cognition". Whatever form a language model (or module) takes, it must be integrated with other psychological structures of nonlinguistic natures.
"Much in language is a matter of degree". This section states most strongly Langacker's conviction that most of the psychological grounding of language uses mechanisms which work by approximation rather than by any type of formal logic. He believes that the basic nature of categorization is well stated by the prototype model and that most distinctions are based on gradients rather than dichotomies.
To be "substantive", a linguistic construct must be conceptually clear to the investigator and must correspond to something "real". "If our understanding of a notion is only preliminary and superficial, we must be wary of strong conclusions that ultimately depend on highly specific assumptions about that notion. This is no idle admonition"
Any scientific investigation requires simplification of the facts. But great care must be taken that the simplifications do not contribute to the structure of the resulting theories. One such simplification Langacker calls the exclusionary fallacy, which says that a particular linguistic phenomenon can only be explained in one way -- that a chosen explanation rules out all other competing explanations.

Methodological Assumptions

The Role of Methodology

Chapter 2. Fundamental Concepts
This chapter addresses the organiztion of language and the nature of linguistic description. Grammar is nongenerative and there is no clear distinction between linguistic and nonlinguistic elements. The notion that grammatical structure is inherently symbolic will be further clarified.

The Nature of a Grammar

Linguistic Units
Conventional Linguistic Units
An Inventory of Conventional Linguistic Units
Linguistic Creativity
A Structured Inventory of Conventional Linguistic Units

The Nature of Grammatical Structure

Semantic and Psychological Spaces
Grammar as Symbolization

Componentiality and Correspondence


Part II. Semantic Structure
"Meaning is a mental phenomenon that must eventually be described with reference to cognitive processing." After comparing his views to those of Chafe, Palmer, and Lyons, Langacker continues, "I assume it is possible at least in theory (if not yet in practice) to describe in a principled, coherent, and explicit manner the internal structure of such phenomena as thoughts, concepts, perceptions, images, and mental experience in general."

Chapter 3. Cognitive Abilities

Mental Experience

The Mind as Process
Although we use nouns such as "mind", "thought", and "concept" to refer to things in the brain, we must keep in mind that these terms refer to actions, dynamic patterns in the brain. Langacker uses the term event to mean a pattern of neural activity of any level of complexity. "Mental experience is thus a flow of events: it is what the brain does. "
One of our basic mental functions is the ability to compare events. Any mental activity will consist of a large number of simultaneous comparisons between events or portions of events. Langacker gives the example of listening to a symphony and being able to make comparisons of extracted properties of selected sounds, such as the pitch of an oboe note, and to detect patterns, such as an identical difference in the pitch between successive notes in a downward cascade. The items being compared may also be separated by some time interval, requiring the use of short-term memory. Some of these comparisons may become conscious, but most do not.
The Imposition of Structure
When a percept has been compared and found to be identical to a specific standard of reference, we say that the percept has been recognized as being an instance of the referenced standard. In the process of recognition, components of the patterns being compared may be grouped in various ways, resulting in alternate recognition events.
Scanning Chains

Autonomous Processing

The term image is used in several related, but distinct ways; sometimes as the referent for metaphor or figurative language, sometimes as in sensory images, visual images, or auditory images. Langacker uses the term in another related way, as mental images which for the cognitive basis for a simple or complex concept. As an example, he lists 4 sentences.
The clock is on the table.
The clock is lying on the table.
The clock is resting on the table.
The table is supporting the clock.
Each of these evokes a slightly different image of the same (or similar) objective situation. As a result, each sentence has a slightly different semantic content. Langacker distinguishes between autonomous mental events and preipherally connected mental images. For the purposes of this review, let me call the latter connected images. Connected images may be sensory or motor images. If you think of doing something, but do not do it, the thought temporarily took the form of an autonomous image. If you actually did it, the controlling thought would be a connected motor image.
Imagination and Reality
Langacker states that "A large portion of our mental experience in autonomous". He cites the experience of emotions as being inherently autonomous . By connecting other events we can construct new autonomous images which could not physically take the form of connected images. Examples would include unicorns or Donald Duck. "It is our conception of reality (not the real world per se) that is relevant to linguistic semantics". Such conceptions of reality, though they may differ between speakers and may be inconsistent and include errors on many levels, "are crucial for the semantic analysis of certain predicates and grammatical constructions."

Focal Adjustments



Alternate Construals
Complex Scenes

Chapter 4. Domains
"Every predicate is characterized relative to one or more cognitive domains, collectively called its matrix. This chapter explores the nature of domains and how they combine to form multi-domain matrices."

Types of Domains

Basic vs. Abstract Domains
Locational vs. Configurational Domains

Dictionaries and Encyclopedias

Why an Encyclopedia?

Motion, Ordering, and Distance

Spatial Motion
Abstract Motion
Ordering and Directionality

Chapter 5. Things
"A nominal predication designates a thing, while a relational predication designates either an atemporal relation or a process."

Profile and Base
The base of a predication is the general area of applicability, while its profile is the specific concept central to the predication. For example, a circle has general two-dimensional space as its base, while it has a specific collection of points in the space as its base. An arc, on the other hand, has a circle as its base, and a specific portion of the circle as its profile. Langacker describes additional examples of this base/profile structure from kinship relations and an object, a plane moving through the sky.

Bounded Regions

An Abstract Characterization

Spatial Bounding and Shape

Chapter 6. Atemporal Relations

Relational Profiles

Basic Conceptual Relations

Trajector and Landmark

Chapter 7. Processes

The Temporal Profile

Perfective vs. Imperfective Processes

Dimensions of Complexity

Part III. Grammatic Organization

Chapter 8. Valence Relations


Profiling within Constructions

Autonomy and Dependence


Canonical Valence Relations

Chapter 9. Symbolic Units

The Phonological Pole

The Semantic Pole

Symbolic Relationships

Chapter 10. Categorization and Context

Complex Categories

Schematic Networks

Bipolar Networks


Chapter 11. Sanction and Distribution

Constructions and Distribution

Systemic Motivation

Actualization, Computation, and Analogy

Chapter 12. Composition

Analyzability and Related Phenomena

Composition as Categorization

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