Cognitive foundations of linguistic usage patterns

Cognitive foundations of linguistic usage patterns: Empirical studies. Ed. by Hans-Jörg Schmid and Susanne Handl. (Applications of cognitive linguistics 13.) Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2010. Pp. x, 277. ISBN 9783110205176. $137 (Hb).

Reviewed by Taras Shmiher, Ivan Franko National University

This book implements a usage-based methodology of cognitive linguistics, linking lexical and grammatical patterns with assumptions about their cognitive foundations. The authors bring together observed patterns of linguistic usage with cognitive-linguistic concepts and models having an empirical basis and they show a high level of awareness of theoretical and methodological limitations.

The collection is divided into two parts: the first set of five articles deals with psycholinguistic experimentation, quantitative corpus, and computational simulation; the second set verifies the applicability and explanatory potential of conceptual metaphor theory, the theory of idealized cognitive models, and construction grammar on the basis of empirical data. All of these principles are described in the introduction by the editors (1–9).

George Dunbar (13–32) shows how key properties for analyzing the distinction between ambiguity and vagueness can also be properties of a particular type of neural network–based computation. Factually, these turn out to be general principles of cognition, but not specific ones of a linguistic unit. Having extracted linguistic material from the 2000–2002 English and German public discourse on embryonic stem cell research, Olaf Jäkel (33–61) examines how contested issues of life and death can be seen as ‘boundary disputes’ over the denotations of some crucial lexical terms. The aim of the article by Brigitte Nerlich (63–88) is to contrast the scientific, social, and ethical implications of conceptual metaphors and those of discourse metaphors in the framework of generating expectations about science. Dylan Glynn (89–117) studies new usage-based techniques to identify semantic relations between near-synonymous words by applying a statistical method and by experiment with direct semantic analysis. Susanne Handl and Eva-Maria Graf (119–47) hypothesize, and prove, that in language acquisition the status of multi-item units changes from being used in a particular situation only to first-language (L1) speaker–like usage and also from representing unanalyzable blocks to a rich combinatorial application.

Ewa Dąbrowska (151–70) summarizes the results of several experimental studies on English questions with long-distance dependencies to show if speakers’ representations of linguistic patterns are indeed as general as the rules defined by contemporary linguistics. The article by Klaus-Michael Köpcke, Klaus-Uwe Panther, and Davis A. Zubin (171–94) is devoted to gender agreement in German and to the circumstances that motivate the conceptualization of the target of an agreement relation. Ulrich Detges (195–223) involves fundamental issues of synchronic and diachronic linguistics in discussing the usage of past-tense forms in polite questions. Thomas Herbst (225–55) integrates the findings of corpus and valence studies along with those of construction grammar and addresses the nature and degree of generalizations in L1 speakers’ minds. Patric Bach and Dietmar Zaefferer (257–74) focus on the question-assertion distinction and on how it derives from grammaticalization in the forms of declarative and interrogative sentences.

The book concludes with the list of contributors and an index of subjects.