Linguistics Cognitive Linguistics
Vyvyan Evans
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0059


Cognitive linguistics is an interdisciplinary approach to the study of language, mind, and sociocultural experience that first emerged in the 1970s. Cognitive linguistics is characterized by a commitment to the inseparability of meaning and form in the study of language. It also takes the view that language reflects general aspects of cognition rather than adopting a modular view of mind. A further feature of the approach is the view that language is best studied in the context of use and indeed emerges from it. Cognitive linguists have predominantly focused on two general areas of inquiry: the study of language organization (cognitive approaches to grammar) and language as a means of studying aspects of conceptual structure (cognitive semantics). Cognitive linguistics is an increasingly influential approach in cognitive science, social science, and applied linguistics.

Foundational Works

Cognitive linguistics emerged from research conducted by prominent scholars working on the West Coast of the United States during the 1970s and 1980s. Most notable among these are Ronald W. Langacker (Langacker 1987–1991), who developed the theory of cognitive grammar (see Cognitive Grammar); George Lakoff (Lakoff 1987), who applied work on categorization to metaphor, lexical semantics, and grammar; and Leonard Talmy (Talmy 2000), who studied the conceptual basis of grammar. These three researchers are widely considered to be the founding fathers of the enterprise. Also foundational ware Lakoff and Johnson 1980, which developed conceptual metaphor theory (see Conceptual Metaphor Theory) and Johnson 1987, which developed the theory of image schema (see Image Schema Theory) that grew out of work on conceptual metaphors. Other important work that has proved to be foundational was developed in Fillmore 1982 on frame semantics (see Frame Semantics) and Fillmore, et al. 1988, which provided the basis for the theory of construction grammar (see Construction Grammar). Fauconnier 1994 developed the theory of mental spaces (see Mental Spaces Theory), which later gave rise to conceptual integration theory (see Conceptual Integration Theory).

  • Fauconnier, Gilles. 1994. Mental spaces. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511624582E-mail Citation »

    This work develops a cognitive linguistic approach to meaning construction and discourse semantics. This perspective was foundational for the later development of conceptual integration theory (see Conceptual Integration Theory). Originally published by MIT Press in 1985.

  • Fillmore, Charles. 1982. Frame semantics. In Linguistics in the morning calm. Edited by the Linguistic Society of Korea, 111–137. Seoul, South Korea: Hanshin.

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    The best-developed early presentation of frame semantics. This has been seminal for encyclopedic approaches to lexical semantics and the later development of construction grammar (see Construction Grammar).

  • Fillmore, Charles, Paul Kay, and Catherine O’Connor. 1988. Regularity and idiomaticity: The case of “let alone.” Language 64.3: 501–538.

    DOI: 10.2307/414531E-mail Citation »

    This paper presents the seminal statement on construction grammar (see Construction Grammar).

  • Johnson, Mark. 1987. The body in the mind: The bodily basis of meaning, imagination, and reason. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    This work develops the theoretical construct of the image schema, one of the most important ideas in cognitive linguistics.

  • Lakoff, George. 1987. Women, fire, and dangerous things: What categories reveal about the mind. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    The seminal application of Eleanor Rosch’s work on categorization and prototype theory (see Prototype Theory) to linguistic semantics, grammar, and metaphor.

  • Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. 1980. Metaphors we live by. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    One of the most influential books in late 20th-century linguistics. This work argues for a conceptual basis for metaphor and metonymy and develops the framework of conceptual metaphor theory (see Conceptual Metaphor Theory). It was one of the earliest works to argue for an embodied basis for conceptual and linguistic organization.

  • Langacker, Ronald W. 1987–1991. Foundations of cognitive grammar. 2 vols. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

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    These volumes develop the foundational assumptions (Vol. 1) and applications (Vol. 2) of the distinctive approach to grammatical structure, representation, and meaning that is cognitive grammar (see Cognitive Grammar).

  • Talmy, Leonard. 2000. Toward a cognitive semantics. 2 vols. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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    This is a collection of seminal articles by Talmy originally published in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s that have been highly influential in the development of cognitive linguistics.

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