So this weekend I started Cognitive Linguistics: Basic Readings, which is absolutely just so much fun to read during a break! Really! SO MUCH FUN!
No, actually this is an incredible book. Although it is translated from German, which makes some sections difficult, this book is a series of twelve scholarly articles designed to give a totally unfamiliar reader (e.g., me) a basic grounding in the theories and fundamental mechanisms of Cognitive Linguistics. Dirk Geeraerts is an excellent and fun, and very scholarly, editor of this series, and writes a great introduction, which I will outline for later recall here.
The four basic tenets of Cognitive Linguistics are:
- Linguistic meaning is perspectival.
- Linguistic meaning in dynamic and flexible.
- Linguistic meaning is encyclopedic and non-autonomous.
- Linguistic meaning is based on usage and experience.
In normal-people-language, this means:
- Language is based on the meaning behind the lexicon and syntax. The language used to produce a certain meaning is based on the perspective of the speaker or writer, which will construe the world in a certain manner.
- “Meaning has to do with shaping our world, but we have to do with a changing world” (4). Language as a structure and method of transportation for meaning is constantly changing, providing a flexible bridge for the speaker and the listener.
- To understand a word, we generally need to understand any and all related concepts. For instance, to understand the word “apple,” I need to know about physical apples (apples grow from trees), the contexts apples appear in (The apple in the still life was beautifully rendered), the grammatical constructs around the word apple (the apple was, four apples were, etc.), where I might find apple used metaphorically or as some kind of descriptor (you are the apple of my eye), and so on. The meaning, then, is encyclopedic. Linguistic meaning is also non-autonomous: the meaning of a word is inseparably attached to our experiences and knowledge of the word and the world.
- As well as having a theoretical meaning and definition, a word primarily has meaning derived from its usage in a culture and the experiences of the individual using that word.
The introduction then provides a summary of the takeaways of each reading of the twelve texts, which I will not summarize here because I’ll provide summaries of the text later on! I’m super hooked with this book. Just the introduction raises some interesting ideas for my project. Does the speaking of a language through a musical medium (whistling) change the meaning behind the words in any measurable way? Does the usage of words used in spoken languages change when whistled? How do different languages have different inherent perspectives?
Cognitive Linguistics: Basic Readings. Ed. Dirk Geeraerts. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2006. Print.