Does Cognitive Linguistics live up to its name?1

Bert Peeters

There can be no doubt that structural linguistics, which flourished half a century ago on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, lived up to its name: it was structural because it considered languages to be self-contained entities that had either to be shaped into a rigorous structure, or actually possessed a structure which was real and merely waiting to be discovered. There can be no doubt either that transformational grammar, which in its heydays pushed structuralism into quasi-total oblivion, lived up to its name: it was transformational because it posited several successive strata or structures in sentence generation which were linked by means of transformations of all sorts. On the contemporary scene, there can be no doubt that functional linguistics lives up to its name: it attaches a great deal of importance to the way in which languages function and to the functions of language. The question that will be raised in the next few pages is the following: does Cognitive Linguistics, as we know it today, live up to its name?2

Before I answer the main question, let me ask, and answer, another one. I mentioned structural linguistics, transformational grammar, and functional linguistics, and spelled all of them with lower case initials. Why did I use upper case initials when referring to Cognitive Linguistics (and why am I doing it again)? It is certainly not common practice. Langacker (1998: 1), for instance, points out that the "movement called cognitive linguistics [lower case, B.P.] belongs to the functionalist tradition". He then goes on to add, quite crucially, that "although its concern with cognition hardly makes it unique, the label cognitive is not entirely arbitrary" (ibid.). The subordinate clause indicates why, in my view, the use of upper case initials is warranted. There is a lot of cognitive linguistics going on outside the movement described by Langacker. Generativists in particular have more than once expressed their annoyance regarding what they see as the "misappropriation" of the term by Cognitive Linguists. Their research interests, and that of many others, carry an equal entitlement to identification by means of the label cognitive linguistics. It is an entitlement which, in the current climate, they will find increasingly difficult to claim.3

Instead of pondering the possible implications of the terminological skirmishes that are taking place, let us return to our main question. Does Cognitive Linguistics (with upper case initials) live up to its name? At one stage (Peeters 1998), the answer (or rather, my answer) came much closer to a two-letter word than it does today. I now suspect that after all there is some room around the cognitive science table for Cognitive Linguistics. However, Cognitive Linguists must do their homework first.4

An increased commitment to certain aspects of reality (to be defined below) is likely to result in much-needed closer ties with, and increased visibility in, the cognitive science community at large (in which, it would seem, they have not as yet acquired their rightful place, in spite of the fascinating facts of language which they have been able to unearth). Only when such closer ties obtain will it be possible to change the answer to the question from `not yet' to `yes'.

I do realise that even a more considered answer such as this one (more considered at least than the one I formulated in Peeters 1998) is likely to raise many eyebrows. Those who are twitching should recall that the Cognitive Linguistics movement as we know it today was born out of polemical opposition to Chomskyan linguistics. Cognitive Linguists, therefore, ought to be able to handle a bit of polemical opposition directed at themselves. Although possibly corrosive, my remarks intend to be constructive. I see my role as that of a gadfly, and hope that those people who are being bitten won't ache too much.

1. Reflexions on psychological and biological reality

God's truth from structural linguistics to the present day

I started off by saying that structural linguistics was structural because it considered languages to be self-contained entities that had either to be shaped into a rigorous (phonological, morphological, possibly lexical) structure, or actually possessed a (phonological, morphological, possibly lexical) structure which was real and merely waiting to be discovered. In his celebrated review of Zellig Harris' Methods in structural linguistics (Harris 1951), Householder (1952:260) referred to those two ideological positions by means of the labels God's truth and hocus-pocus.5

The details are as follows:

On the metaphysics of linguistics there are two extreme positions, which may be termed (and have been) the `God's truth' position and the `hocus-pocus' position. The theory of the `God's truth' linguists [...] is that a language has a structure, and the job of the linguist is (a) to find out what that structure is, and (b) to describe it as clearly, economically, and elegantly as he can, without at any point obscuring the God's truth structure of the language. The hocus-pocus linguist believes (or professes to believe - words and behavior are not always in harmony) that a language [...] is a mass of incoherent, formless data, and the job of the linguist is somehow to arrange and organize this mass, imposing on it some sort of structure (which must not, of course, be in any striking or obvious conflict with anything in the data).6

The hocus-pocus position was fairly widespread. Householder himself did not object to what he called "a certain amount of hocus-pocus" (Householder 1952: 261; emphasis added); in fact, he went on to say that in his view "all linguists indulge in it frequently, for fun; and it is the greatest fun of linguistics" (ibid.).

Just under half a century later, a bewildering variety of descriptive frameworks are doing the rounds. Even if the terms are no longer on everyone's lips, the distinction, widely accepted by the American structuralists of the classical era (as pointed out on 23 March 1999 by Esa Itkonen on Funknet), remains valid.7

At the same time, most (if not all) contemporary linguists firmly believe in the reality or objective existence of the (sub)structures they describe. Unfortunately, this appears to be another instance where "words and behavior are not always in harmony" (Householder). The structures that are put forward in the present day and age by an ever increasing number of often incompatible accounts are so hugely different that they cannot all exist as such in the material that is being described. They are at best "interpretations" of an internal organisation which remains more or less elusive. The map, as is often said, is not the territory. In some forms of linguistics, it may be more complex (contra Hutton, this volume).

One important difference between the fifties and the nineties needs to be highlighted. For many linguists, psychological and biological reality (or at least likelihood) are more important than ever before. Behaviourism, in the crude form in which it had been imported into linguistics by Bloomfield, had little or no such reality value. With that in mind, the terms God's truth and hocus-pocus may be redefined (and have been).8

In his Funknet posting, Itkonen presented a set of updated definitions:

The `hocus-pocus' view (without any negative connotations) has been and is (and will be) represented by those who just want to present the facts of a given language [...] in a maximally simple (sic) and general way. Most of the time, this way has or is meant to have NO psychological or biological reality. [...] The `God's truth' position (without any either positive or negative connotations) is represented by those who do not merely wish to capture the psychological and/or biological reality, but who actually succeed in doing so, at least to some extent.9

Cognitive Linguistics has come a long and arduous way, but it has an even longer and more arduous way to go: to increase its chances of real integration in and recognition by the cognitive science community at large, it must engage with this new form of God's truth, i.e. with psychological and with biological reality - the mind as well as the brain - in a way it has not done hitherto.10

1.2 Psychological vs. biological reality

Nobody would want to deny that Cognitive Linguists have made inroads into the area of the mind. They have done so by asking questions relating to psychological reality at large, and in particular to the nature of categorisation, to the issue of storage versus computation, etc. Hence, I am not saying that there is nothing cognitive about Cognitive Linguistics. However, for most Cognitive Linguists, cognitive seems to be synonymous with psychological. This is not the way the term is used, for instance, among cognitive psychologists, whose subject area is of course not "psychological psychology". For them, cognitive means `pertaining or related to knowledge'. Just as it is wrong to reduce cognition to neurocognition (as I did more or less in Peeters 1998), it is wrong to reduce cognition to psychology. Nonetheless, when it comes to matters of the brain (i.e. biological reality), there is not a lot of interest just yet. There are certainly multiple references in the literature to the "mind/brain", but that is often as close as one gets to the brain. In fact, mind and brain are vastly different entities: the former is psychological, the latter biological. As I have pointed out elsewhere (Peeters 1996): "The mind is what the brain does for a living".11

I would be remiss not to mention at this point the work of scholars such as George Lakoff, Paul Deane and Terry Regier. Deane is the author of a very impressive volume called Grammar in Mind and Brain (Deane 1992), and of a paper (Deane 1996) which examines the effects of agrammatic aphasia on neurological support for Cognitive Linguistics. Regier (1996) has shown that spatial relations as expressed in language have no objective existence in the world, but depend directly upon the structure of the human brain. He is a close associate of Lakoff, who, for the last ten years or so, together with cognitive scientists Jerry Feldman, Lokendra Shastri, David Bailey and Srini Narayanan, has been working at a "neural theory of language".12

In a recent interview with John Brockman, following the release of Lakoff & Johnson (1998), Lakoff provided the following comment (using the metaphor of neural circuitry defined by Lakoff & Johnson 1998:104, quoted by Jones, this volume; cf. note 10):

A human brain consists of a very large number of neurons connected up in specific ways with certain computational properties. How is it possible to get the details of human concepts, the forms of human reason, and the range of human languages out of a lot of neurons connected up as they are in our brains? How do you get thought and language out of neurons? That is the question we are trying to answer in our lab through the computational neural modeling of thought and language.13

Unfortunately, at this stage, Lakoff remains much better known for his equally important work in metaphor and prototype theory (Lakoff/Johnson 1980, Lakoff 1987, Lakoff/Turner 1989 etc.).14

If there is one Cognitive Linguist who is widely known for having succeeded in capturing the biological reality not just to some extent, but (in my view) to a very considerable extent, and to present that reality, in its full complexity, to his fellow linguists in a relatively easy-to-follow way, it must be Sydney Lamb. According to him (Funknet, 26 March 1999), interest in "God's truth" can be reformulated for modern times as an interest in what is in the mind and/or the brain. In his newly published Pathways of the Brain (Lamb 1999), which appears set to become a highly controversial work, he provides a fascinating neurocognitive account of the workings of language (and other cognitive abilities). Instead of isolating linguistics from other scientific endeavours, as ignorance of those other scientific endeavours often compels individual scholars to do, he builds bridges to other disciplines. Whether they will stand the test of time, only time can tell.

2. Cognitive Linguistics versus cognitive linguistics

2.1 From cognitive linguistics to Cognitive Linguistics

Just over two decades ago, it was Lakoff, not Lamb, who was taken to task by Chomsky (1979: 150) for "working on `cognitive grammar', which integrates language with nonlinguistic systems". Chomsky (1979) is the English version of a text originally published in French in 1977, two years after the term cognitive grammar had first surfaced in Lakoff's writings (cf. Lakoff/Thompson 1975). Chomsky, for one, did not "see any theory in prospect there". This flippant remark raises the interesting question of the (hidden) impact which the man from MIT may have had on the Lakoff-Langacker agreement to use a common label for their work (in replacement for Langacker's term space grammar, which was still in use in the early eighties). In other words, did Chomsky's criticism backfire? Did Lakoff read Chomsky (1979), and did he think that cognitive grammar was too beautiful a term not to be made use of by Langacker and himself (against Chomsky)?

Whatever the case may be, it is quite ironical that Lamb (1999) felt unable to freely use the term he too had proposed (cf. Lamb 1971), earlier than Lakoff (or Chomsky), earlier even than Lewis Sego, who in late February 1999 reported on Cogling that - I quote - "almost twenty-seven years ago (precisely 13 April 1972), when I synthesized two separate doctoral programs I had nearly completed and therefrom coined the term cognitive linguistics, I considered the underlying concept a possible source of philosophical and scientific peacemaking".15

Lamb decided instead to resort to the more explicit term neurocognitive linguistics, for fear of being mistaken for one of the many linguists who, by the end of the eighties, had started to use terms such as cognitive linguistics and cognitive grammar in a rather different and much broader way.

Let us recall some of the evidence. Although a preprint had been in circulation since 1984, the year 1987 saw the (official) publication of the first volume of Langacker's Foundations of Cognitive Grammar (Langacker 1987-1991). Lakoff (1987) was published almost at the same time, and is of course another milestone, even though its title does not refer explicitly to either cognitive grammar or Cognitive Linguistics.16

This was followed in 1988 by a hefty volume on Topics in Cognitive Linguistics (Rudzka-Ostyn 1988), and in 1989 by a gathering in Duisburg (Germany), which was proclaimed to be the first International Cognitive Linguistics Conference. A selection of the papers read during that meeting was published four years later, in a volume (Geiger/Rudzka-Ostyn 1993) which became the pretext for my much-maligned (but also, in other quarters, much-applauded) review article called "Cognitive Musings" (Peeters 1998).17

In other words, what had been, until the end of the eighties, a collocation like any other one, gained the status of a proper name, an ideological label rather than a purely descriptive one, chosen in order to gain legitimacy, and to outdo other cognitivists. The term cognitive linguistics had been around for almost twenty years, but its consistent use as a name to refer to what is today a broadly defined paradigm with a very respectable following was new. It became the name adopted by one particular group of people, led by Lakoff and Langacker, to refer to the sort of work they were undertaking. It also became - quite naturally - the name used by others to identify that particular group of people.

In his interview with John Brockman (cf. section 1.2), Lakoff summarises his contribution to contemporary linguistics as follows:

I set about, along with Len Talmy, Ron Langacker, and Gilles Fauconnier, to form a new linguistics one compatible with research in cognitive science and neuroscience. It is called Cognitive Linguistics, and it's a thriving scientific enterprise.18

he question arises whether compatibility with research in cognitive science and neuroscience is enough. I am inclined to think that it is necessary, but not sufficient. The trouble for those who think that the work they are undertaking fits Lakoff's description is that compatibility implies (at least some) awareness. Unfortunately, large numbers of Cognitive Linguists remain unaware of what is happening in cognitive science and especially neuroscience. They practice what Sydney Lamb, in the Funknet posting referred to above, calls analytical linguistics. The latter, he says, is the familiar kind. "In this mode one is mainly concerned with accurately describing linguistic productions (without concern for the process of production or that of comprehension or the system that makes those processes possible)". Neurocognitive linguistics, on the other hand, aims at "understand[ing] that system and those processes".19

Geeraerts (1995: 111-112) provides the following useful summary of the sort of work in which most Cognitive Linguists today are engaged:

Because cognitive linguistics [what I call Cognitive Linguistics; B.P.] sees language as embedded in the overall cognitive capacities of man, topics of special interest for cognitive linguistics include: the structural characteristics of natural language categorization (such as prototypicality, systematic polysemy, cognitive models, mental imagery and metaphor); the functional principles of linguistic organization (such as iconicity and naturalness); the conceptual interface between syntax and semantics (as explored by cognitive grammar and construction grammar); the experiential and pragmatic background of language-in-use; and the relationship between language and thought, including questions about relativism and conceptual universals.

A broader use of the label cognitive linguistics than was originally the case (in Lamb's earlier work) is entirely legitimate, because there is indeed more to cognition than neurocognition. The crucial thing, however, is that in the broader meaning of the label there should be a clearly visible spot for the original use. Unfortunately, for those who were expecting to find them included, neurocognitive issues are conspicuously absent from Geeraerts' list. They are not among the "topics of special interest" to Cognitive Linguists. And yet, it cannot be denied that the study of neurocognition and of its implications for language is a legitimate part of the study of language and cognition, not something that can be left to a few individuals in the Cognitive Linguistics community (who, by the way, also involve themselves with non-neurocognitive issues).

2.2 The need for more "neurocognitive depth"

More Cognitive Linguistics research is needed in the neurocognitive arena; we must stop thinking that others will do it for us and will by themselves ensure visibility for Cognitive Linguistics outside the narrow bounds of linguistics as a scientific endeavour. Neurocognitive linguistics, the "non-analytical" counterpart to the various "analytical" issues listed by Geeraerts, is an important branch of the overall cognitive enterprise. Sadly, it is hardly even described or referred to in the increasing number of introductions to Cognitive Linguistics which are currently being released. And here, of course, we end up in a vicious circle. As long as only a handful of Cognitive Linguists are doing neurocognitive work, those with enough knowledge of the field to write introductory texts will not find it worthwhile to report on the work of that minority. The introductory texts are being read by newcomers to the field who then, typically, start doing the sort of work that is reported on, without reaching out further.

It is my personal conviction, which I know many others do not share, that the lack of "neurocognitive depth" in Cognitive Linguistics is one reason why cognitive scientists in general do not take more notice of Cognitive Linguistics than they currently do. This is easily verifiable when one inspects the contents of the most commonly used introductions to and readers in cognitive science: whereas some go as far as to ignore linguistics altogether, in any of its forms, others often limit themselves to work which Cognitive Linguists readily dismiss as ill-conceived (e.g. generative grammar, truth-conditional semantics).20

Admittedly, it could be argued that the poor visibility of Cognitive Linguistics in cognitive science texts has an altogether different reason. In his comments on the now superseded abstract which lies at the origins of this paper, Langacker referred to "the utter dominance of generative grammar for several decades and the length of time it realistically takes for a different set of ideas to become known outside (even inside) the field, especially when they depart from the `mainstream consensus' that outsiders initially look to". It is quite clear, though, that outside the USA generative grammar is no longer as dominant as it once was. In fact, Cognitive Linguistics itself, and many similarly oriented functional schools, have seriously undermined what used to be an almost unassailable position. There is no such thing as a "mainstream consensus" anymore, and there has not been one for a long time. Finally, whether length of time is an issue can also be questioned: it did not take Chomsky a long time to get noticed by psychologists, and his "set of ideas" was certainly very different from anything that had been heard before. As is well known, he gained early prominence with a lengthy review (Chomsky 1959) in which Skinner's Verbal Behavior (Skinner 1957) was shred to pieces.21

Skinner, of course, was just about the most respected psychologist of the day. I am reasonably confident that if anyone within the Cognitive Linguistics community were to similarly attack one of today's outstanding cognitive scientists, the cognitive science community at large would not fail to take notice. And it would not take very long either. But it is not necessarily the best way forward. Chomsky gained prominence among psychologists, less on the merits of his own work (which many found problematical) than on the ferocity with which he destroyed one of theirs, and not just anyone. I do not think that Cognitive Linguists would want to engage in that sort of activity.

3. Whereto from here?

3.1 Innateness and modularity

In March 1999, on Cogling, a step was made in the right direction. A few weeks before, Dick Hudson had asked for suggestions for introductory readings on Cognitive Linguistics for undergraduates. On 10 March, he produced an annotated bibliography which covered not only Cognitive Linguistics, but also innateness and modularity. These were actually the three sections which, in his own words, he had distinguished "rather arbitrarily". That judgment was wrong inasfar as it is in fact common practice for introductory textbooks in Cognitive Linguistics to refer to innateness and modularity without exploring either at great length (in contrast, there are entire chapters about prototypes, metaphor, frames, or about the traditional disciplines of linguistics such as lexicology, morphology, syntax, phonetics etc.). Hudson's judgment was however right inasfar as both innateness and modularity are important themes in cognitive linguistics, and should figure much more prominently in Cognitive Linguistics as well. Questions to be asked include the sort of evidence, if any, that can be found in favour or against innateness, in favour or against modularity. Those who provide that sort of evidence (or theoretical justification) are not normally associated with the Cognitive Linguistics movement.22

It is to be hoped that Hudson's bibliography will actually be put to good use, so that students who learn about Cognitive Linguistics also learn, and read, about innateness and modularity, in more detail than appears to be currently the case.

For completeness, I shall add a few comments on both. Innateness, according to widespread opinion, is a matter of belief rather than of research. It is a theoretical claim. But this, of course, depends on how much you want to assume is innate, the two extremes being the physiology to acquire a language, given appropriate circumstances, vs. an entire universal grammar. The former position is easier to research than the latter, which has indeed defied scientific scrutiny. Even so, evidence is scant and debatable, and the ethical implications of this sort of research loom large. For a recent appraisal, cf. Elman et al. (1996).

Modularity, on the other hand, is a slippery concept as well (Hilferty 2000). In discussions among linguists, the term module is used, not only with reference to language as a whole (as opposed to other presumed modules such as vision), but also - often at the same time - with reference to semantics and syntax, etc., even with reference to components within the latter, all of which according to some can be shown to be separate modules (submodules, sub-submodules). Uriagereka (1999: 268) reminds us that Fodor (1983), who is often identified as the most important catalyst for the recent modularity debate in linguistics, never intended the concept of "module" to be used in that way; he intended it as a... theoretical construct at the higher level (e.g. language, vision), where modularity, like innateness, therefore does appear to remain very much a matter of belief. At lower levels, though, some sort of (limited) modularity does seem to occur, although finding proof of more promises to be a very difficult enterprise.

3.2 Matters of the brain

I shall give another example of what, I believe, also ought to belong in Cognitive Linguistics. I remember watching a television documentary a few years ago, which had been produced in 1994 for the BBC. Its title was The man who made up his mind,23

and it focussed on work by Gerald Edelman. Edelman is not a linguist, let alone a Cognitive Linguist; he is a neurobiologist. But his work on so-called neural Darwinism (Edelman 1987) has implications for language, which I believe the documentary briefly referred to. In Peeters (1998), I report what happened after that. I asked the readership of Cogling for more information on Edelman, thinking Cognitive Linguists would know everything about him that there is to know. The results were contrary to expectation. Two or three replies came in, one of which stated in unambiguous terms that I was asking the wrong people... This left me puzzled. There is hardly anything more cognitive than the question of how language is processed in the brain. For that reason, exploration of brain processes, with special reference to language, ought to be part of the overall brief of Cognitive Linguists.24

In his comments on the abstract of this paper (cf. section 2.2), Langacker wrote as follows:

Maybe we should all study and cite Edelman, but does that tell us how to characterize the meaning of dative case in Polish or describe an antipassive construction? Should we all go work in wetlabs, or can mental spaces and blending be studied without that experience? [...] There has to be a large quantity of work that is specifically linguistic in nature, work that is specifically psychological or neurological, and work that tries to bring these together in one way or another. All are legitimate and important, requiring their own expertise, and they should all be welcomed for their contribution to what is an immense overall investigatory enterprise.

I could not agree more. In fact, we should not "all study and cite Edelman". But a few more than are currently taking any notice should read him more attentively, in an attempt to understand the implications of his research for our understanding of how language is processed in the brain, and they should tell the rest of us what they have discovered. However, what is really needed is a book of the kind that is now invading computer stores all over the world, a book titled, for instance, Edelman for dummies. Those who have tried to read Edelman will have noticed that he is not an easy author to follow, not even in his so-called popularising account Bright air, brilliant fire (Edelman 1992), in which he approvingly quotes Lakoff, and criticises Chomsky.25

But what if Edelman has got it wrong? Or what if he is not entirely right? The latter stand is taken by Sydney Lamb, who was singled out earlier for his contribution to neurocognitive linguistics. Lamb arrived independently at the basic idea of what Edelman so appropriately calls "neural Darwinism". In a private e-mail message dated 25 May 1999, he reports that, as he became aware of Edelman's work, he started to read selectively (as one is often obliged to do these days) and found himself in sufficient agreement to include a few, overall favourable, references in Pathways (Lamb 1999). Later, more exhaustive, readings produced disappointment: having struggled through Edelman (1987), which was a challenging read even to him, Lamb found that Edelman "comes close", but does not quite understand after all how the brain actually stores information. One is tempted to conclude that Lamb's exposition of the theory of neural Darwinism may be more accurate than Edelman's...26

Skeptics who have some idea of what is happening in the brain but do not really want to know more might at this point say the sort of thing that Aya Katz quite aptly expressed on Funknet, on 29 March 1999:

Brain configurations vary. Persons with severe brain damage in early childhood are often capable of normal language processing and production, even though the connections in their brains are very different from the norm.

What if we found that even in normal, undamaged brains, there is an immense variety of ways in which the same item can be stored and processed by native speakers of the same language? If we concentrated on the biological entity that produces it, we'd lose the generalization involved in the communicative function of language.

Speakers don't know how their interlocutors' brains are configured. Communication is based on the abstract system of contrasts set up in the language. We react to electronically programmed simulations of human speech just as we would to those produced by actual people, if it's close enough. We read manuscripts written thousands of years ago, and the information is communicated, even though the brain that produced it has long ago been consumed by worms.

That's the magic of language. The concretes don't matter.

There was an immediate reaction from Tony Wright, who later apologised for having somewhat condescendingly referred to "those [linguists] who want to be neurologists" and for having expressed his disbelief that some people would actually "want to give up linguistics for bean counting (neuron-counting)". Wright knew of course that neurologists do a lot more than just count neurons (otherwise he would not have apologised). He also knew that "the concretes do matter", even though at the same time he was fascinated by the way Katz had summarised the position of a majority of linguists (including Wright himself) who feel that the brain, for them, is terra incognita.

Why do the concretes matter? First of all, because by looking at language processing in the brain we can subject the very theses that we constantly pay lip-service to but do not pursue any further to detailed scrutiny. We can begin to notice that the oft-repeated statements that we cherish are as extreme as the equally oft-repeated contrary statements heard in other circles. For instance, Cognitive Linguists like to say that there is no separate language module, that language is but one way humans use among several others to interact with the world, using general cognitive mechanisms. Langacker (1998: 1) puts it this way:

[Cognitive linguistics] contrasts with formalist approaches by viewing language as an integral facet of cognition (not as a separate "module" or "mental faculty"). Insofar as possible, linguistic structure is analyzed in terms of more basic systems and abilities (e.g., perception, attention, categorization) from which it cannot be dissociated.

Generativists, on the other hand, are generally ready to swear the exact opposite. A closer look at the brain, and at how things really work, is increasingly likely to show that neither position can be maintained in its extreme form. The truth is somewhere in the middle (Newmeyer 1999). There is a certain degree of modularity, in that language - and in fact every other cognitive mechanism - involves brain activity that is unique to it. But clearly, there is a lot of interaction as well.

The concretes also matter for another reason. There are things that they could teach us, say, about polysemy, which, according to most Cognitive Linguists, is an essential property of a majority of lexical material (see now Cuyckens/Zawada 1999). Polysemy is the norm, rather than monosemy. While I have on various occasions argued against this view, I am now ready to admit that I was looking at things from a purely systematic point of view, without any reference to real language processing. In the meantime, my awareness of storage and computation of language material in the brain has increased - or so I hope -, and I am ready to answer the question: "Is X - where X is a word of whichever language I am studying - polysemous or monosemous?" by saying: "Yes, of course", i.e. it is both.27

It depends on the speaker. But in order to be totally sure, we might want to check whether study of brain mechanisms is able to enlighten us further. If, for instance, a word which is potentially polysemous were inserted in different disambiguating contexts, and these contexts were read out to subjects whose brain activity is being measured, could we not tell, from the chemical processes and the neuron firings observed, whether that word is more likely to be monosemous (similar firings independent of context) or polysemous (rather dissimilar firings in each context of use)? I am not aware of any work that is being done in this area right now. If there is, we ought to know about it. The aim is to reach an understanding of polysemy which is, in Lamb's (1999) terminology, not only operationally and developmentally plausible, but also neurologically.28

The "immense variety of ways in which the same item can be sorted and processed by native speakers of the same language" (Aya Katz) is exactly one of the things we must try to understand: viz. why it is possible to have that variety of ways, without significant risk to normal communication being impeded.

Let us take another example. Many Cognitive Linguists undertake research on idealised cognitive models (i.e. cognitive simulations of reality, also known as ICMs). It would be interesting to explore whether, for instance, selling and buying should be associated with one such model (as appears to be current practice) or with two. The shift in simulation perspective may be too significant to stick with just one ICM. It appears to be more significant than the shift observed when an event is being verbalised by means of a passive rather than an active construction, or when a stealing event is looked at from the point of view of the person victimised (X was robbed of Y) rather than from that of the object taken (Y was stolen from X). Coming back to buying and selling, one could think of an experiment where subjects are asked to conceptualise either event, while having their brain activity subjected to detailed observation. I do not know the outcome, but would suggest that, perhaps, there are two models involved rather than a single complex one (or two frames, in Fillmore's sense; cf. Fillmore 1977, 1982, 1985).29

Someone who buys always buys from a vendor or a salesperson, but someone who sells something does not necessarily sell anything to anyone. He or she may just be trying to sell, be an unsuccessful tradesperson. ??I am buying a house, but there is nobody selling theirs sounds weird in a way that I am selling my house, but I haven't found a buyer yet does not.

And yes, there are multiple areas of research where so-called "neuron counting" is not going to be of any help. Clearly, the dative case in Polish and antipassive constructions in Australian aboriginal languages and zillions of other phenomena are unlikely to be better understood if we observe what is happening in the brain when they are being uttered or perceived. I must stress once again that not every single Cognitive Linguist is supposed to "study and cite Edelman" (or Lamb for that matter). Similarly, not every single cognitive scientist is supposed to engage in neuroscience. There is a lot of other work to be done, and lots of people are needed to do it. Still, more linguists - and especially more Cognitive Linguists - should start looking at the neurocognitive side of things. More linguists - and especially more Cognitive Linguists - should set out to explore what remains a largely unknown part of God's truth, instead of exclusively devoting themselves to the mapping of psychological reality. And, crucially, God's truth linguists and hocus-pocus linguists at large should keep talking to one another, in an effort to inform each other's ventures into uncharted territory.

4. Conclusion

The relative lack of "neurocognitive depth" in Cognitive Linguistics, on the one hand, and the scarcity of coverage of Cognitive Linguistics in broadly based introductions to cognitive science, on the other hand, provide powerful arguments for a soul-searching exercise. The time has come to take stock, not only of the achievements, but also of the possible vulnerability of Cognitive Linguistics. I consider the scarcity of neurocognitive research within Cognitive Linguistics to be its Achilles' heel (in the sense that Cognitive Linguistics has not yet engaged in it with sufficient visibility). It is reassuring to see that some Cognitive Linguists, and several onlookers, have been increasingly vocal in this respect and fully endorse the need for an open discussion.

I, for one, have argued that Cognitive Linguistics (as it currently stands) has to broaden its scope even further than it has done hitherto. For now, it is essentially just another competing linguistic model - an attractive one, for sure, but for linguistic-theoretical reasons, not because of an all-encompassing cognitive outlook (one which visibly includes neurocognitive issues). Biological reality is to be taken more seriously. I have pointed out that more Cognitive Linguists (but by no means all of them) will need to follow the lead taken by colleagues such as Lakoff, Deane and Lamb. More of us need to be doing - and to be seen to be doing - the same sort of work.

But perhaps I am missing something. To quote Langacker again:

Are we really doing so badly? I notice that the pages of Cognitive Linguistics are starting to fill up with the results of experimental investigations, and that is symptomatic of what is happening in the field in general.

If that is the case, let us make sure that this new exciting research is given increased visibility. Cognitive Linguists must combat the widespread feeling out there that all they are good at is prototype theory, conceptual metaphor, blending and other such phenomena (i.e. psychological reality). The best way to combat that feeling is by shifting attention to other (neurocognitive) issues, but without neglecting the (analytical) work that has rightly turned Cognitive Linguistics into a force to be reckoned with.30

If, on the other hand, my impression is correct and Langacker's is premature, then those of us who feel that the connection between Cognitive Linguistics and cognitive science remains weak have a right to speak out. If my impression is correct, the worst that unconvinced Cognitive Linguists can do is put their heads in the sand and hope for the clamours and murmurs to go away. They will not. There has to be a clear recognition that neurocognitive linguistics and analytical cognitive linguistics are both valid forms of Cognitive Linguistics, but that, in the interest of outside recognition, increased visibility, and greater integration with the other cognitive sciences, and to improve the standing of Cognitive Linguistics both among linguists and in the cognitive science community as a whole, more research activity than is currently being undertaken by Cognitive Linguists is needed in the neurocognitive arena. Only then will we be able to truthfully state that Cognitive Linguistics does indeed live up to its name.


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The "cognitive musings" in this paper are a rethink of those that were published under the author's name in the August 1998 issue of the journal Word. They owe their existence, and much of their formulation, to René Dirven, who kindly requested that I take part in the "Linguistics and Ideology" theme session at the 6th International Cognitive Linguistics Conference held in Stockholm in July 1999. I hope he does not now regret his insistence, because what I am about to say remains certain to ruffle many feathers. I am grateful to René Dirven, Dirk Geeraerts, Joe Hilferty, Ron Langacker, Sydney Lamb, Francis Steen and John Taylor for having provided me with ideas for which, of course, they do not bear any responsibility. I have also profited from discussions on Funknet, the electronic discussion forum dealing with issues in (American style) functional linguistics based at Rice University (" "), and on Cogling, Cognitive Linguistics' own electronic discussion forum based at the University of California San Diego ("").


Minimalism (Chomsky 1995), the successor of Government and Binding, itself an outgrowth of classical transformational grammar, does not. Although a lot of excess apparatus has been disposed of, the remnants of previous approaches are too numerous for the framework to be really "minimalist".


Schwarz (1992) did use the label cognitive linguistics to refer to the wider field of "approaches to natural language as a mental phenomenon" (Geeraerts 1995: 112). This includes not only Cognitive Linguistics, but also approaches such as those taken by Noam Chomsky and by Manfred Bierwisch. Schwarz's example has been followed by, e.g., Taylor (1995) and Newmeyer (1999). Geeraerts (1995) provides a brilliant summary of how Cognitive Linguistics and generative grammar differ in their commitment to cognition.


Rohrer (this volume) argues for a broad-based theoretical framework which would tie Cognitive Linguistics in with cognitive science. The latter is redefined as a patient-, problem- and pragmatically-centered multi-disciplinary entreprise that binds together levels of investigation ranging from the cognitive neurosciences through the computer sciences and psychology to anthropology.


In fact, as the following quote indicates, he claimed that the terms had been used before. To my knowledge, no earlier source has ever been identified.


Note that Householder, in true structuralist fashion, talks about languages and not about language. God's truth is not that "language has a structure", a view that most linguists nowadays, unless they believe in universal grammar, would reject out of hand. Cognitive Linguists, for instance, rightly start from conceptual structures, which can be reflected in thousands of different ways in the languages of the world, where they are shaped in part by the building blocks of those languages.


In the printed literature, the terms resurface (quite exceptionally for the nineties) in Houben (1993) and in Lamb (forthcoming). In the early seventies, they made a fleeting appearance in proverb studies (Krikmann 1971, Kuusi 1972; cf. Grzybek 1995). In the sixties, anthropologists became familiar with them thanks to Burling (1964).


I am almost quoting Householder now, not because I want to be facetious, but because this time there really is an earlier source.


Itkonen's quote shows the effects that political correctness is now having on everyday discourse. Why else was it necessary to qualify those very labels that Householder used with no precautions other than the usual inverted commas?


Pursuing God's truth, as defined here, is different from "taking up God's perspective, which is impossible" (Mark Johnson apud Hutton, this volume). God's truth does not necessarily correspond to a God's eye view of truth, to the truth as it exists prior to any description, to the objective truth about the workings of a language. If it did, it would be unattainable, at least according to the Cognitive Linguistics canon set out in Lakoff (1987) but questioned by Jones (this volume). For reasons known to everyone, Cognitive Linguists will be among the first to recognise that Householder's terminology is metaphorical. "Because of the pervasiveness of metaphor in thought, we cannot always stick to discussions of reality in purely literal terms" (Lakoff apud Hutton, this volume). This is true as well when we go one step further and actually set out to study the brain (cf. the quote from Lakoff in section 1.2).


Until the present day, it has been impossible to track down the exact source of this amazing aphorism. I would love to be in a position to claim authorship for it. As it happens, I encountered it somewhere or other, but I failed to write down who had said or written it first.


The team is based at the International Computer Science Institute at Berkeley. There are of course other collaborators whom I have not mentioned. More information is available on the Institute's website ( ).


The entire interview is a worthwhile read for those who are interested in the philosophical revolution that Lakoff and Johnson have been involved in. It can be found in the 51st issue of the electronic magazine Edge (<>).


What matters here is not what (and how much) Lakoff has produced, but what (and how much) he has produced that is actually being read and/or taken further by a majority of Cognitive Linguists.


Sego is now the editor of the electronically published Pedagogical Quarterly of Cognitive Linguistics (<>).


Lakoff preferred a more "commercial" title, one that would sell - and sell it did (100,000 copies, according to René Dirven, p.c.).


Geiger/Rudzka-Ostyn (1993) is the third volume (after Langacker 1990 and Deane 1992) in the now well-established CLR (Cognitive Linguistics Research) series published, together with the journal Cognitive Linguistics, by Mouton de Gruyter. Among the later volumes, Casad (1996) and Achard (1998) deserve special mention.


The upper case initials are in the original text. Work published by the three authors referred to by Lakoff includes Talmy (2000) (a revision and digest of earlier work), Langacker (1987/1991, 1990), Fauconnier (1995, 1997). Talmy introduced the principles of Gestalt psychology into linguistic analysis. Langacker, among other things, developed Talmy's insights into a coherent overall framework. Fauconnier brought the philosophical questions of reference and mental representation to bear on Cognitive Linguistics.


Perhaps neurocognitive linguistics is the answer of one Cognitive Linguist (Lamb) to Givón's (1998: 64) call for a "combined metadiscipline that is yet to be born cognitive neuro-linguistics". This is not quite the same as what is commonly referred to as neurolinguistics (tout court). The latter predominantly looks at language disorders (agrammatism, selective language impairments and other aphasias). For a recent "tutorial overview", see Levy/Kavé (1999).


In saying this, I rely on my experience with the cognitive science texts that I have seen over the last few years. I could have produced a list, and in fact tried to as I was writing this paper. But that list soon became unwieldy, even though I had set 1995 as a terminus post quem for my planned survey (which would have required a full-fledged bibliographical report of its own).


Chomsky's review, published about two decades before Dennett (1978), could no doubt be dubbed the "Skinner Skinned" of linguistics.


The Cognitive Linguistics heading in Hudson's bibliography contains items by Cognitive Linguists such as René Dirven, Dirk Geeraerts, Ron Langacker, Günter Radden, John Taylor and Marjolijn Verspoor. The innateness and modularity headings have entries by authors who are at best interested onlookers.


Produced for the BBC Horizon series by P. Millson and directed by D. Sington.


Does our training as linguists preclude us from understanding what is going on in the brain? Most of us have had no training whatsoever in the workings of the brain. Those who have developed an interest have typically done so independently of their study of linguistics. They have read up on the literature, in a slow but certain process of familiarisation with a hugely complex area which has traditionally been the hunting ground of neurologists, anatomists, brain surgeons and the like.


For an early introduction to Edelman, cf. Rosenfield (1988).


The assumption, here, is of course that Lamb did not misunderstand Edelman, and that his own hypothesis is correct. A reader of this paper suggested I attempt at least to summarise the basic idea. Suffice it to refer, once more, to the phrase neural Darwinism. Principles applied by Darwin to explain evolution at large apply within the brain as well: strengthening (of the more active neuronal groups), weakening/withering/disappearance (of the less active or inactive ones), in brief "survival of the fittest".


I am grateful to David Tuggy for suggesting, at the 5th International Cognitive Linguistics Conference (Amsterdam, 1997), that for once the appropriate answer to a question which asks for information is affirmative.


A theory of language is operationally plausible if it provides a plausible basis for understanding the processes of speaking and comprehension. It is developmentally plausible if there is a plausible means whereby the proposed model or system could be acquired by children. It is neurologically plausible if it can offer a plausible account of how the system might be represented in neural structures. Theories which meet all three criteria qualify as forms of neurocognitive linguistics (in Lamb's meaning of the term).


Fillmore was one of the first to analyse the commercial transaction scene at great length.


For an interesting attempt to link prototype semantics and neurocognitive linguistics, cf. Howard (this volume).