Cognitive Linguistics
An Introductory Bibliography

by Dick Hudson <>
25 July 2000

A few weeks ago I asked for suggestions for introductory reading on cognitive linguistics for undergraduates. The following is a copy of the annotated bibliography that I've been able to build up, largely with help from the following:

Guenter Radden, Gerhard van Huyssteen, Paul Peranteau (of John Benjamins publishers), Andrew McMichael, Joe Hilferty, Marjolijn Verspoor, Gary Palmer, Len Talmy, Sherman Wilcox, Sharon Hutchins.

I was impressed by the quality of what I found, and I'm sure there must be lots more material out there that I haven't found. I haven't tried to rank them, nor have I tried to exclude overlap. Obviously there's a lot of overlap of ideas, but each item presents a distinct view and uses different examples. Unfortunately some items are a bit hard to get hold of (in some cases I only have prepublished versions). This looks like a nice little publishing niche waiting to be occupied - an anthology of accessible introductions to cognitive linguistics.

I've divided it rather arbitrarily into three sections:

A. Cognitive Linguistics
B. Innateness
C. Modularity

Within each section the order is alphabetical.


A. Cognitive Linguistics

Dirven, René and Verspoor, Marjolijn. 1998. Cognitive Exploration of Language and Linguistics. Amsterdam: Benjamins. Clear, simple and generally accessible, with useful-looking exercises at the end of each chapter. Chapter 1 shows similarities between language and other kinds of sign - indices and icons as well as symbols - then shows how lexical and grammatical categories are similar to conceptual categories. Later chapters focus on lexicology, morphology, syntax (weak), phonetics, culture (Whorf - good, but confused by Wierzbicka!), texts and change - i.e. complete coverage.

Geeraerts, Dirk. 1990. Editorial statement. Cognitive Linguistics 1, 1-3. Very brief but clear review of the main assumptions of CL and the topics of research that it includes.

Geeraerts, Dirk. 1995. Cognitive linguistics. In Jeff Verschueren, Jan-Ola Ístman and Jan Blommaert (eds.) Handbook of Pragmatics: A Manual. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 111-6. A broad review that focuses on ‘language as an instrument for organizing, processing and conveying information' - not quite how I see CL, but a widely held view. Useful comparisons with cognitive science and generative grammar, and a survey of work in CL which goes well beyond CG. Not suitable as an introduction for undergraduates because there are no specific examples, and the language is formidably academic.

Langacker, Ronald. 1990. Concept, Image and Symbol. The cognitive basis of grammar. (chapter 1: Introduction). New York: Mouton de Gruyter. 1-32. A clear introduction to Cognitive Grammar, with plenty of concrete examples and illustrative structures. It introduces a lot of general tenets of CL, but perhaps too many of the specifics of CG for use as a general intro to CL.

Langacker, Ronald. 1998. Conceptualization, symbolization and grammar. In Tomasello (1998b: 1-39) Very clear introduction to CG, but in the broader context of CL. Shows how CG can dispense with autonomous syntax in a number of tricky cases, including subjects and expletives, but acknowledges (23) that some grammatical classes can't be defined in terms of meaning, but doesn't say exactly how they will be expressed as symbolic units. Especially good on the importance of construal, but still not convincing in his ‘semantic' definitions of nouns and verbs. Stresses several times that CG makes standard psychological assumptions eg. (36) re figure-ground alignment, prototype categorization, grouping, focus of attention. Lots about networks.

Palmer, Gary. 1996. Toward a Theory of Cultural Linguistics. Austin: University of Texas Press. [Not yet seen.]

Radden, Günter. 1992. The cognitive approach to natural language. In Pütz, Martin (ed.) Thirty Years of Linguistic Evolution. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 513-41. Very clear and accessible, with separate sections on iconicity in lg, categorization, metaphor, cultural models and grammar as a conceptual organizing system. Lots of very good and easy examples.

Taylor, John. 1998. Syntactic constructions as prototype categories. In Tomasello (1998b:177-202). Grammatical categories show prototype effects, just like non-linguistic cognitive categories, as predicted if language is part of general cognition. Illustrated for Adjective and various constructions. Clear and simple, though a bit naive in place (e.g. he thinks apple is a noun in apple pie, but doesn't know how to prove it).

Tomasello, Michael. 1998a. Introduction. In Tomasello (1998b:vii-xxiii). A simple comparison between Generative Grammar and ‘Cognitive-Functional Linguistics’ written for psychologists to persuade them to collaborate with linguists in a way that has never really happened so far, since linguists' theories have been incompatible with psychologists'. Explains that CL takes language as part of general cognition, but takes a strongly Cognitive Grammar view on syntax (the main difference between CL and GG concerns the rejection/acceptance of autonomous syntax) and implies that this is the same as the rejection of autonomous language. (Also beware: contrary to xviii, German was not "one of the major source languages for English many hundreds of years ago"!)

Tomasello, Michael. 1998b. The New Psychology of Language: Cognitive and functional approaches to language structure. Mahwah, NJ: Laurence Erlbaum. Table of contents.

Ungerer, Friedrich and Schmid, Hans-Jorg. 1996. An Introduction to Cognitive Linguistics. Longman. [Not yet seen]

B. Innateness

Bates, Elizabeth. 1997. On the nature and nurture of language. To appear in E. Bizzi, P. Catissano and V. Volterra (eds.) Frontiere della Biologia. The Brain of Homo Sapiens, Roma: Giovanni Trecani [prepublished version]. This dazzlingly clear and accessible article defends ‘emergentism' as an alternative to both innatism and empiricism: grammar emerges as the only possible solution to the problem of mapping a rich set of meanings onto a limited speech channel, heavily constrained by the limits of memory, perception and motor planning. Grammar and lexicon are parts of a single unified system. Considers phonetics/phonology, semantics, grammar and pragmatics separately, showing for each how it is integrated within general cognition, and lacks specific modules. Considers evidence from acquisition, pathology, brain-imaging and priming experiments. Available at

Levinson, Stephen. 1998ms. Language as nature and language as art. Paper prepared for the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, ‘Changing Concepts of Nature at the Turn of the Millennium' [prepublished version]. Brilliant and beautiful (colour illustrations!) review of nature vs nurture, proposing a third possibility: coevolution. 1900-50: pro nurture; 1950-now: pro nature = UG + Language of Thought. Language is a hybrid biological/cultural phenomenon, and the human language ability has the built-in expectation of variation. Con Language of Thought and Simple Nativism in colour, kinship and space. "Linguistic categories evolve to solve local adaptive problems, and they strongly influence the conceptual categories in which people think." Genetic/cultural coevolution is familiar from Dawkins, ... Deacon. "All this hardware [for speaking] is there because the cultural traditions of languages are there; and the cultural traditions are there because the hardware enables them." "That is the whole point of the co-evolutionary perspective: culture creates and maintains just the environment that will exploit the possibilities in the genome, which in turn enable the culture." Culture affects the genome "through such mechanisms as sexual selection, the Baldwin effect and (most controversially) group selection." Eg. Infants (but not monkeys) tune in to specific languages within first six months: why? Because cultural evolution is faster than genetic, there will be cultural diversity and the genome is built to expect this. ".. we know that sharing accents is a crucial marker of group membership, which deeply effects the life chances of individuals." Re colour: He found that Yeli Dnye (Rossel Island, Papua New Guinea) has no basic colour terms, and (?because) it has no colour technology at all; so systematic colour terms are not a linguistic universal (accepted now by Paul Kay). Re Kinship: Dravidian kinship "organises individual viewpoints into a coherent whole. No individual designed this system; and because it organizes a totality of distinct individual perspective, it cannot be a projection of any individual's ‘innate ideas'. Rather it is the product of cultural evolution, .." Re space: spatial concepts ought to be universal if any are, and many have proposed cognitive universals (Piaget, Clark, Lyons, Miller and Johnson-Laird, Talmy, Pinker). Not so, e.g. Guugu Yimithirr. 11 GY speakers did better than 15 homing pigeons when put 70 KM from home! Children learn the absolute system by 4! Why worry re innateness of language? Because (a) the nature/nurture controversy is ideological and trivial, and (b) "one simply wishes to understand where language fits in with the rest of natural history. It is the big picture that suffers most under the current rule of Simple Nativism or its strawman radical alternative, extreme cultural relativism."

C. Modularity

Caron, Jean. 1995. Cognitive psychology. In Jeff Verschueren, Jan-Ola Ístman and Jan Blommaert (eds.) Handbook of Pragmatics. A Manual. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 116-23. A very clear and accessible survey of the history of cognitive psychology and of its main issues, including modularity. Fodor's position is described along with counter-evidence, especially Marslen-Wilson and Tyler.

Hudson, Richard. 1990. Word Grammar. Oxford: Blackwell. Chapter 4. A survey of evidence that language is closely integrated into general knowledge.

Marslen-Wilson, William and Tyler, Lorraine. 1989. Against modularity. In Jay Garfield (ed.) Modularity in Knowledge Representation and Natural-Language Understanding. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 37-62. Very clear and accessible. Surveys Fodor's evidence for modularity and shows that it favours an ‘input system' for language which doesn't include just syntax, but also reference assignment. Present experimental evidence for their view; e.g. when monitoring for guitar subjects took longer to spot it when the preceding verb was pragmatically anomalous (bury) than when normal (carry). Monitoring for "is" takes longer after visiting relatives when the preceding context favours (pragmatically) a plural interpretation: "If you have a spare bedroom..." Monitoring for "him" takes longer than "her" after "Running towards ..," following an account of an old lady who had fallen down, but no longer than after "He ran towards ..," where "him" is semantically anomalous (59). Maybe there are in fact no purely syntactic levels such as LF, but lexical representations map directly onto mental models.





Maintained by Francis F. Steen, Communication Studies, University of California Los Angeles