(Copyright © 2000 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
Langacker is a founder of the field of cognitive linguistics.
Since 1976, he has been developing "cognitive grammar",
a grammar built on image schemas, which are schemas of visual scenes.
These two volumes provide a comprehensive overview of his research.
The first volume is a philosophical introduction to the ideas of cognitive
grammar, while the second is a "user manual" intended for practitioners.
Langacker makes three fundamental assumptions: that language is symbolic in nature, that a linguistic community creates linguistic conventions, and that grammar is a speaker's knowledge of linguistic conventions.
In his theory, only a semantic and a phonological components are recognized, mediated by a symbolic component. This approach directly reflects the semiological function of language: to build symbols for concepts by means of sounds. Grammar reduces to these symbolic relationships between semantic structures and phonological structures.
Langacker takes issue with the prevalent view that language is a set of an infinite set of well-formed sentences or any other algorithm-generated set. A language is a psychological phenomenon which eventually resides in neural activity. Chomsky's generative grammar is merely a platonic ideal.
A speaker's linguistic knowledge is contained in a set of cognitive units, which are originated by a process of reinforcement of recurring features (or schematization), or, identically, by a process of patterns of neural activity. These units are therefore grounded in daily experience and are employed by speakers in automatic fashion: a unit is a whole that does not need to be broken down in constituents to be used. Phonological units, for example, range from the basic sounds of language (such as the "t" of the english language or the "r" of the french language) to familiar phrases and proverbs. Units form a hierarchy, a schema being instantiated in subschemas. A linguistic category may be represented by a network of quite dissimilar schemas, clustered around a prototype. A grammar is but an inventory of such units.
Nouns and verbs are central to grammatical structure because of the archetypical status of a cognitive model (the "billiard-ball model") whose elements are space, time, matter and energy. That is a world in which discrete physical objects move around in space thanks to some form of energy, in particular the one acquired through interactions with other objects. Matter spreads in space and energetic interactions occur in time. Objects and interactions are instantiated, respectively, in space and time. Objects and interactions are held to be the prototypes, respectively, for the noun and verb grammar categories. A noun designate a region in a domain. A verb designates a relation. These categories differ primarily in the way they construe a situation, i.e. their primary semantic value is "imagic", has to do with the capability to construe situations. Nouns and verbs are polar opposites. Nouns and verbs are the two fundamental grammatical categories.