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  • Cognitive grammar: A basic introduction
  • Alan Cienki
Cognitive grammar: A basic introduction. By Ronald W. Langacker. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Pp. x, 562. ISBN 9780195331967. $39.95.

Though it began to be developed in the 1970s, cognitive grammar (CG) is likely still viewed by many linguists as new. This volume presents its basic tenets as well as numerous examples of its application with some degree of depth and technical detail. It is thus intended as an ideal text for a year-long (post)graduate course introducing CG (viii). But it would also be useful for those who are already familiar with CG but want an overview of updates to, and extensions of, the theory. Given the density and richness of the material in the book, the subtitle, 'A basic introduction', may in fact be too modest. The volume brings together main tenets of CG via categories that sometimes cross-cut those found in earlier presentations of it (e.g. Langacker 1987, 1990, 1991, 1999). This allows for consolidation of main ideas and revision of some notions presented previously. The book consists of four parts. The first two, 'Preliminaries' and 'Fundamentals', lay out the underlying principles behind, and mechanisms that comprise, CG. Part 3 provides more detailed explication of specific grammatical structures. The fourth part presents some current and new frontiers for CG research.

Part 1, 'Preliminaries', begins with a chapter on 'Orientation', which lays the groundwork for the theory. It also responds along the way to previous critiques of CG, and as such, sections of it will be of greater interest to those already familiar with CG and its history. In the second and third chapters, readers who are being exposed to CG (or even cognitive linguistics in general) for the first time via this book may find the topics surprising as ways to introduce a grammatical theory. Ch. 2 is on 'Conceptual semantics' (not to be confused with Jackendoff's 1983 approach bearing the same label). Since grammar is meaningful according to CG, and 'meaning is identified as the conceptualization associated with linguistic expressions' (4), presentation of the topic is a requisite preliminary before delving into the fundamental principles of the theory. Here and elsewhere in the volume a number of connections are pointed out between elements of CG and other constructs in cognitive linguistics—for example, mental spaces, conceptual metaphor theory (35, 50), blending (36), frame (46)—and this appears to be executed more explicitly in this work than in some other presentations of CG. The topic of Ch. 3 is 'Construal', understood as how we conceive and linguistically portray a situation, and again its conspicuous location in the volume is iconic for its essential role in the theory. The central role of the visual metaphor of 'understanding as seeing' becomes apparent in terms of how our selective mechanisms of attention necessarily make some element(s) of a scene more prominent to us (foregrounded) against the background of other elements, as we know from the Gestalt psychologists of the early twentieth century (though they are not mentioned in the book). This principle plays an integral role in all analyses using CG, and is a rationale for the use of diagrams not just as a visual aid, but as the basic means of conducting CG research and presenting the findings. Consequently, every detail of these diagrams is carefully motivated. Because of the profound nature of the principles of construal for the theory, made visually apparent by the specific details of each diagrammatic analysis, one may only grasp the implications of the ideas presented in this chapter upon a second reading, after having finished the entire book.

In Part 2, 'Fundamentals', the aspects of the theory that are introduced are shown to be fundamental not just for their role in explicating how grammar works, but also because they are central to how we conceptualize the world around us. In this sense, the ideas in this part of the book have rather different starting points than one might expect to find in an outline of a grammatical theory, especially given the chapter titles. For example, Ch. 4 introduces 'Grammatical classes', but since these classes are based on conceptual...


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