Cognitive Linguistics
Basic Ideas for the study of language

Brain - Mind - Consciousness - Communication - Language

I learnt - fifty years ago - that we became "human" by growing a big brain, which allowed us to develop language, thinking and consciousness. Is the big brain really all we need?
27 The ape that spoke : (John McCrone) About 100 000 years ago, Homo sapiens - true modern humans - appeared on the scene. Homo sapiens was a puny creature compared to the Neanderthals who happened to be the dominant species of hominids at the time, and they did not even measure up in brain size having a cranial capacity of about 1,500 millilitres compared to 1,600 millilitres for the Neanderthals. Yet despite this, Homo sapiens took over the world. The Neanderthals were shoved aside, the last few disappearing about 30,000 years ago while Homo sapiens spread rapidly to fill every corner of the planet.
Is the big brain really all we need to invent toolmaking and language? In the last twenty years I came to realise that it is not individual brain-power that drives the evolution of homo sapiens, it is the shared brain-power of communication, social intelligence.
NewScientist 17 May 2008 Editorial: ...what the Cambridge archaeologist Colin Renfrew calls "the sapient paradox". Evidence suggests that the human genome, and hence the brain, has changed little in the past 60,000 years. Yet it wasn't until about 10,000 years ago that profound changes took place in human behaviour: people settled in villages and built shrines. Renfrew's paradox is why, if the hardware was in place, did it take so long for humans to start changing the world? His answer is that the software - the culture - took a long time to develop. In particular, the intervening time saw humans vest meaning in objects and symbols. Those meanings were developed by social interaction over successive generations, passed on through teaching, and stored in the neuronal connections of children.

Social Interaction - Meaning - Culture - Cognitive Linguistics

How culture made your modern mind Andy Coghlan
IT IS one of the hottest questions of our time: how did our cognitive abilities explode, leaving other animals for dust intellectually? Now a new explanation is emerging. Controversially, it challenges the idea that biology alone is what drove the evolution of intellectual skills. What if we acquired abilities such as the capacity to invent, converse or work in unison as a result of a continual process of cultural cross-fertilisation with the world we inhabit, and through the way we interact with other people and material things?...around 60,000 to 70,000 years ago, the biology and structure of our brains stopped changing and other factors began to take over as the main driver of human development. For this to happen, however, the biological groundwork needed to be in place, they say. One of those biological foundations may have been the gradual expansion of working memory, which eventually enabled us to retain memories from the past, recognise objects in the present and plan ahead and conceive of a future (see "We're streets ahead"). The second was the emergence of a "theory of mind", which is the realisation that other creatures are intelligent and capable of independent thought and intention. It derives from the activity of "mirror" systems in the brain which enable an observer to feel the experiences of others, and to divine their intentions and motives.

Zoltan Kövecses: Language, Mind and Culture
Oxford University Press 2006
p.3: What relationships hold between cognitive system, language, and culture? It seems useful to assume that all the three concepts have somehow to do with
meaning - either with its creation, its communication, or human beings acting on meaning. We can assume as relatively safe starting point that meaning in its different facets is a crucial aspect of the mind, language, and culture.

Kövecses 327:
An Account of Meaningful Experience: We make use of a relatively small number of cognitive processes in making sense of experiences. We categorise the world, organize our knowledge into frames, make use of within-frame mappings (metaphor), build image-schemas from bodily experience and apply these to what we experience, divide our experience into figures and grounds, set up mental spaces and further mappings between them in the online process of understanding, and have the ability to skillfully and creatively integrate conceptual materials from the mental spaces that is set up. We do not do most of this in a conscious way; our cognitive system operates unconsciously most of the time. It is these and some additional cognitive processes that participate in our unconscious meaning making activity.

Brain - Mirror Neurons :
Neurolinguistics - Ramachandran - Iacoboni
Mind - Working Memory - Teory of Mind :
ToM - Dunbar - Singer

We need a new way of thinking about language and thought. I found it in a new branch of linguistics: Cognitive Linguistics. Among the many books that my thinking profited from ( Lakoff , Johnson , Varela ) the most helpful is "From Molecule to Metaphor" by Jerome A. Feldman ( Feldman )

An Introduction to some new tools for the study of language:
Jerome A. Feldman
The Embodied mind
One simple insight has driven much of the scientific study of how the structure and function of the brain results in thought and language.
Human language and thought are crucially shaped by the properties of our bodies and the structure of our physical and social environment. Language and thought are not best studied as formal mathematics and logic, but as adaptions that enable creatures like us to thrive in a wide range of situations.

...multimodal nature of language: Because language is complex, linguists have traditionally broken its study artificially into levels or modules given names such as phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, the lexicon, semantics, discourse, and pragmatics. Most linguists specialise in the study of just one level or at the border between two adjacent and subfields. Such focused studies have told us a great deal about language and are still the norm.
However, the real languages embodied, integrated, and multimodal. When your doctor asks you to lift your leg, your understanding involves a rich interaction among many neural systems. There is systematic structure to how all these components fit together to constitute language. The rules of patterns of language are called constructions. Constructions integrate different facets of language - for example, phonology, pragmatics, semantics, and syntax. The request construction might specify a grammatical form, and intonation pattern, pragmatic constraints, and the intended meaning.

Feldman 15-38
The information processing perspective: Neuroscientists speak of neurons as processing information and communicating by sending and receiving signals. They also talk of neurons as performing computations. In fact, neural computation has become the standard way of thinking about how the brain works. But neurons are just cells, tiny biological entities that are alive and function by means of chemistry. Why can he say that neurons process information and perform computations?
19 Communication and co-ordinated evolution: Communication between cells is a major revolutionary advance and a prerequisite for the appearance of multicelled creatures like ourselves. Individual cells survive by carefully controlling their internal chemistry and it goes against their nature to allow outside agitators. Of the 4 billion years since life began, about two thirds was required to evolve the simplest multicellular organism and their coordination mechanisms. The basic mechanism of the communication is molecular matching...the emission and subsequent recognition of a signal molecule is the simplest form of communication among living things.
20 But communication requires more than just having cells recognize things in their environment that are either good or bad for it. Communication occurs only when the sender and receiver agree on the nature of messages.
This inherently requires co-ordinated evolution.
We can often ignore considerations of the physical details and study communication from an information processing perspective, which specifies what counts as an input signal, output signal, recognition, reaction, memory, learning, communication, and so on. The information processing perspective is crucial... as we look at yet another kind of cell: the neuron.The idea of cells communicating information using small molecules as signals is also the necessary first step in making sense of neural computation. But before we turn to neural information processing, we need to understand more about information processing.
21…one crucial point here is that the information processing perspective is always metaphorically imposed - it is one way of understanding a complex system in terms of something completely well-defined and very well understood. There is no abstract information in the neurons themselves; like amoebas, neurons are cells that work through chemistry.

Feldman 95
Embodied Concepts: The first seven chapters summarised our magnificent neural machinery, how it develops, and how it can be studied as an information processing system. Almost all of that discussion applies to animals in general and there is much more to be learned by studying animals as information processing systems, adapting to their environment and goals. But this book is about one special adaptation, language, that is unique to humans. Human conceptual systems are inextriably linked to language.

Cognitive Scientists:

Leonard Talmy
: Cognitive Semantics -
Leonard Talmy: Cognitive Semantics: an Overview
The linguistic representation of conceptual structure is the central concern of the two-to-three decades old field that has come to be known generally as "cognitive linguistics". This field can first be characterized by contrasting its "conceptual" approach with two other approaches, the "formal" and the "psychological". Particular research traditions have largely based themselves within one of these approaches, while aiming -- with greater or lesser success -- to address the concerns of the other two approaches.
The formal approach focuses on the overt structural patterns exhibited by linguistic forms, largely abstracted away from or regarded as autonomous from any associated meaning. This approach thus includes the study of syntactic, morphological, and morphemic structure. The tradition of generative grammar has been centered in the formal approach. But its relations to the other two approaches have remained limited. It has all along referred to the importance of relating its grammatical component to a semantic component, and there has indeed been much good work on aspects of meaning, but this enterprise has generally not addressed the overall conceptual organization of language. The formal semantics that has been adopted within the generative tradition has largely included only enough about meaning to correlate with the formal categories and operations that the main body of the tradition has focused on. And the reach of generative linguistics to psychology has largely considered only the kinds of cognitive structure and processing that might be needed to account for its formal categories and operations.
The psychological approach regards language from the perspective of general cognitive systems such as perception, memory, attention, and reasoning. Centered in this approach, the field of psychology has also addressed the other two approaches. Its conceptual concerns in particular have included semantic memory, the associativity of concepts, the structure of categories, inference generation, and contextual knowledge. But it has insufficiently considered systematic conceptual structuring -- the global integrated system of schematic structures with which language organizes conceptual content.

Michael Tomasello:
Books by Michael Tomasello:

Michael Tomasello
The Cultural Origins of HUMAN COGNITION
Harvard Univ. Press 2000

Michael Tomasello
Constructing a Language:
A Usage-Based Theory of Language Aquisition
Harvard 2003

George Lakoff: University of California -Berkeley
George Lakoff: Philosophy in the Flesh - Preface

Zoltan Kövecses: Language, Mind and Culture
Oxford University Press 2006

I learnt - fifty years ago - that we became "human" by growing a big brain, which allowed us to develop language, thinking and consciousness. Is the big brain really all we need?
Cognitive Scientists have shown me, that studying the functioning of our brain-mind can teach us deep insights on the Perennial Question: Who are we?