Cognitive Linguistics

Catherine Warren

Cognitive Psych 02

Dr. Rettinger

31 March 201

Blog 3

Lately our class has explored some elements of language, including topics within terminology, phonology, and syntax. As this is an area of interest for me, I chose to use this blog as an reason to explore the field known as “cognitive linguistics.” This is discussed by Ariadna Stugielska in her work titled “Between Galileo and Darwin, or Towards a Unified Mode of Idealization in Cognitive Linguistics.”

To paraphrase, cognitive linguistics describes how language interacts with cognition. This may take the form of exploring how language forms our thoughts, or “the evolution of language parallel with the change in the common mindset across time.” Stugielska first points out that “cognitive linguistics” in many regards is lacking uniformity. I am a psychology major with a linguistics minor, and one day hope to become a speech language pathologist. In my experience at UMW the closest I’ve come to sharpening these skills was in psycholinguistics class, where we often discussed concepts best described as forms of “cognitive linguistics.” Perhaps what sticks out the most was our section on language acquisition. It feels highly difficult to me to refute that language is an essential element of cognition.

If we understand cognition as the process of acquiring knowledge through thoughts, experiences, and the senses, there seems a lot of interplay there with language. How differently would our thoughts be if we’d never learned a language to begin with? The thought truthfully hurts my head. As a slight aside, I like to point out that linguistics acknowledges all forms of  human communication as forms of language. The most valuable tidbit of information I took out of linguistics 101 is that just because the spoken utterance used isn’t considered grammatically or socially “correct,” that has no effect on how much meaning it has. For lack of a better word, “slang” carries great value in understanding any new culture. Academic culture has normalized slashing out sentences in red pen because of passive voice, sentence fragments, or any other grammatical blunder, but many linguists value the errors a means to understand semantics and other overlooked language tendencies.

Stugielska centers her research around two main points: “Cognitive linguistics as a Theory of Meaning” and “Idealization in Cognitive Linguistics.” But before these, she discusses that if cognitive linguistics is to be taken seriously as a scientific field, it requires a more unified level of framework, rather than a jumbled assortment of idealizations.

Her points on “Cognitive Linguistics as a Theory of Meaning” begins with a recap of our understanding that language is thoroughly symbolic and its basic component is a symbolic unit-  a form-meaning pairing. She tells us that “symbolic units are thus bipolar, with a phonological unit constituting the form and a semantic unit defining the other pole.” Linguistic meaning combines the ideas that meaning “involves knowledge of the world coupled with our cognitive capacities.” Our cognitive capacities are contingent upon our biological properties and our life experience depending on sociocultural identity. As we know, these two things are not set in stone but change frequently for many people. So, each person’s interpretation of “meaning” behind a symbolic linguistic unit is inevitably open for construal.

Stugielska discusses three levels to“Idealization in Cognitive Linguistics:” The problem, the solution, and the challenge. In short, the problem is that cognitive linguistics’ origins can be traced back to Chompsky, Galileo, and Darwin and their theories are not particularly cohesive. The solutions she discusses include several semantic frames introduced by academics like Charles Fillmore in the 1970s, and  Lakoff’s Idealized Cognitive Model (ICM) in 1987. The challenge then remains that it’s difficult to establish uniformity among an area that even by definition is a blend.

My own opinion on the matter is that cognitive linguistics deserves attention, and more highlighted research. I agree that it’s difficult to study cognitive linguistics without a consensus on what is exactly is, or how to specifically apply it. But regardless, I think language and cognition are implicitly related, just as many concepts are we’ve discussed in class are, and it goes without saying that it’s a challenge to go about one without the other.

1 thought on “Cognitive Linguistics

  1. sierrahorton

    When discussing language and speech in class, I was also very intrigued! Language is such a quintessential part of cognition and it is honestly kind of mind-blowing to learn about. Language is the basic foundation of our communication as humans and, therefore, it’s important that we at least attempt to understand how it works. As you mentioned, so many of these questions we think of when discussing language are nearly impossible to even fathom and I believe that’s one of the many reasons why so many people study linguistics. To think of ‘cognitive’ linguistics, meaning the speech in our heads, opens a completely new and rarely discussed topic. The article that you mentioned contained some very valid points and contained information that I was unaware of before reading through your blog post. I appreciate how you summarized and simplified the meaning of linguistics, as well as your own take-away points from the research. I completely agree with you in that cognitive linguistics deserves more research, how it works for different people, the ways in which we use it, and more attention from researchers in general.

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