cognitive linguistics

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

cognitive linguistics
"Cognitive linguistics is on its way to becoming a cognitive science," says Anatol Stefanowitsch, "but a number of problems remain" (in Bi-Directionality in the Cognitive Sciences, 2011). (Gary Waters/Getty Images)


Cognitive linguistics is a cluster of overlapping approaches to the study of language as a mental phenomenon. Cognitive linguistics emerged as a school of linguistic thought in the 1970s.

In the introduction to Cognitive Linguistics: Basic Readings (2006), linguist Dirk Geeraerts makes a distinction between uncapitalized cognitive linguistics ("referring to all approaches in which natural language is studied as a mental phenomenon") and capitalized Cognitive Linguistics ("one form of cognitive linguistics").

See the observations below. Also see:


  • "Language offers a window into cognitive function, providing insights into the nature, structure and organization of thoughts and ideas. The most important way in which cognitive linguistics differs from other approaches to the study of language, then, is that language is assumed to reflect certain fundamental properties and design features of the human mind."
    (Vyvyan Evans and Melanie Green, Cognitive Linguistics: An Introduction. Routledge, 2006)
  • "Cognitive Linguistics is the study of language in its cognitive function, where cognitive refers to the crucial role of intermediate informational structures with our encounters with the world. Cognitive Linguistics . . . [assumes] that our interaction with the world is mediated through informational structures in the mind. It is more specific than cognitive psychology, however, by focusing on natural language as a means for organizing, processing, and conveying that information. . . .

    "[W]hat holds together the diverse forms of Cognitive Linguistics is the belief that linguistic knowledge involves not just knowledge of the language, but knowledge of our experience of the world as mediated by the language."
    (Dirk Geeraerts and Herbert Cuyckens, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics. Oxford University Press, 2007)
  • Cognitive Models and Cultural Models
    "Cognitive models, as the term suggests, represent a cognitive, basically psychological, view of the stored knowledge about a certain field. Since psychological states are always private and individual experiences, descriptions of such cognitive models necessarily involve a considerable degree of idealization. In other words, descriptions of cognitive models are based on the assumption that many people have roughly the same basic knowledge about things like sandcastles and beaches.

    "However, . . . this is only part of the story. Cognitive models are of course not universal, but depend on the culture in which a person grows up and lives. The culture provides the background for all the situations that we have to experience in order to be able to form a cognitive model. A Russian or German may not have formed a cognitive model of cricket simply because it is not part of the culture of his own country to play that game. So, cognitive models for particular domains ultimately depend on so-called cultural models. In reverse, cultural models can be seen as cognitive models that are shared by people belonging to a social group or subgroup.

    "Essentially, cognitive models and cultural models are thus just two sides of the same coin. While the term 'cognitive model' stresses the psychological nature of these cognitive entities and allows for inter-individual differences, the term 'cultural model' emphasizes the unifying aspect of its being collectively shared by many people. Although 'cognitive models' are related to cognitive linguistics and psycholinguistics while 'cultural models' belong to sociolinguistics and anthropological linguistics, researchers in all of these fields should be, and usually are, aware of both dimensions of their object of study."
    (Friedrich Ungerer and Hans-Jörg Schmid, An Introduction to Cognitive Linguistics, 2nd ed. Routledge, 2013)
  • Research in Cognitive Linguistics
    "One of the central assumptions underlying research in cognitive linguistics is that language use reflects conceptual structure, and that therefore the study of language can inform us of the mental structures on which language is based. One of the goals of the field is therefore to properly determine what sorts of mental representations are constructed by various sorts of linguistic utterances. Initial research in the field (e.g., Fauconnier 1994, 1997; Lakoff & Johnson 1980; Langacker 1987) was conducted by way of theoretical discussions, which were based on the methods of introspection and rational reasoning. These methods were used to examine diverse topics such as the mental representation of presupposition, negation, counterfactuals and metaphor, to name a few (cf Fauconnier 1994).

    "Unfortunately, the observation of one's mental structures via introspection may be limited in its accuracy (e.g., Nisbett & Wilson 1977). As a result, investigators have come to realize that it is important to examine theoretical claims by using experimental methods . . .."

    "The methods that we will discuss are ones that are often used in psycholinguistic research. These are:
    a. Lexical decision and naming features.
    b. Memory measures.
    c. Item recognition measures.
    d. Reading times.
    e. Self report measures.
    f. The effects of language comprehension on a subsequent task.
    Each of these methods is based on observing an experimental measure to draw conclusions about the mental representations constructed by a certain linguistic unit."
    (Uri Hasson and Rachel Giora, "Experimental Methods for Studying the Mental Representation of Language." Methods in Cognitive Linguistics, ed. by Monica Gonzalez-Marquez et al. John Benjamins, 2007)
  • Cognitive Psychologists vs. Cognitive Linguists
    "Cognitive psychologists, and others, criticize cognitive linguistic work because it is so heavily based on individual analysts' intuitions . . ., and thus does not constitute the kind of objective, replicable data preferred by many scholars in the cognitive and natural sciences (e.g., data collected on large numbers of naive participants under controlled laboratory conditions)."
    (Raymond W. Gibbs, Jr., "Why Cognitive Linguists Should Care More About Empirical Methods." Methods in Cognitive Linguistics, ed. by Mónica González-Márquez et al. John Benjamins, 2007)