Theory and Data in Cognitive Linguistics
Author: Nikolas B. Gisborne , Willem Hollmann
Publisher: John Benjamins Publishing Company
ISBN: 978 90 272 6960 7
The genesis of this volume was a workshop at the Societas Linguistica Europaea conference in Vilnius in 2010. One of the motivations for the workshop was the observation that cognitive linguistics has an honourable tradition of paying respect to naturally occurring language data. In a tradition which typically describes itself as “usage based”, it makes sense to consider linguistic data in terms of what can actually be found. However, not all linguistic data is simply naturally occurring or derived from experiments with statistically robust samples of speakers. Other traditions, especially the generative tradition, have fruitfully used introspection and questions about the grammaticality of different strings to uncover patterns which might otherwise have gone unnoticed. Some of the data sets considered by generative linguists have been subject to cognitive analyses. There is also a diachronic tradition which, by necessity, must pay attention to real language data (because it could not otherwise describe phenomena) but where the degree to which data are (necessarily) idealized is contingent on whether language change is viewed as sudden and abrupt and incremental. The assumption that language change is catastrophic was first developed in the generative tradition. The gradualist tradition is in line with cognitive assumptions about the organization of lexical and grammatical categories, and although it is usually not explicit, most (functionalist) work in grammaticalization is consistent with many of the research results of the cognitive tradition. Indeed, there is now an emerging body of work in diachronic construction grammar. However, there are areas where cognitive linguists have neglected some of the data sets which have been important in generative theorising. There are several generative studies of changes in word order, just as there are studies of changes in patterns of negation. Linguistic typology has not received as much attention from cognitive linguists as one would perhaps expect, given that crosslinguistic facts may give clues to cognitive structure. Nevertheless, there has been enough work to see how a cognitive approach might differ from a generative one. Generative work is generally motivated by a search for Universal Grammar and tends to be based on relatively small language samples. Cognitive work on linguistic typology, by contrast, continues the legacy of the Greenbergian approach by using relatively large language samples, and by arguing that what is universal does not lie in language structure as such, but in speakers’ conceptual spaces and in the constraints on the mappings between functions and structures. Summing up the observations made thus far, we can see that the divide between generative and cognitive approaches to language is intimately connected to the kinds of data drawn upon, the way in which generalisations are derived from these data, and how data is gathered. The divide is wide, but we note that there have been attempts to bridge it, to some extent on the cognitive side.