What Is Cognitive Linguistics?

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  • Written By: P.M. Willers
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2019
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Cognitive linguistics is a branch of linguistics that examines the relationship between language and the mind. The idea that language and language production is a cognitive ability is a basic idea around which the field is centered. Areas of research contained within this particular branch of linguistics include both cognitive and human mechanisms and how they relate to and explain the interworkings of language and communication. Pragmatics, economy of language, imagery, metaphors, and categorization are all topics that might be studied within the field of cognitive linguistics. Memory and recall are also important aspects of cognitive linguistic research.

The field of cognitive linguistics first emerged in the 1970s as an offshoot of more traditional Chomskyan theory and linguistic exploration which separated form and meaning cleanly. Followers of cognitive linguistics felt that the form of language could be linked to its semantic meaning through studies of the mind, brain, and cognitive abilities as a whole. The interface between syntax and semantics is examined and explored within the field, as well as a general investigation of how human cognitive abilities are able to use language as a tool to organize and process thoughts and communicate these thoughts with others. This field also examines the psychology of language and language use.


In recent years, the relationship and connection between language and thought has become an important topic within the field. Experimental research within this particular branch of linguistics utilizes large amounts of language data demonstrating language in use, especially within the field of language acquisition. Many experiments examine the cognitive system throughout language production, including times of low or high pressure, emotion, or other variables or factors that may affect language production and provide observable or measurable differences in language production.

By the early 1990s, cognitive linguistics was a generally accepted branch and specialization of linguistics. There are now a number of national and international conferences held regularly. Several journals devote themselves to this branch of linguistics, and some published by professional associations or academic institutions.

The branch of linguistics is closely related to other linguistic fields, including general and theoretical linguistics, psycholinguistics, pragmatics, semantics, functional linguistics, and descriptive linguistics. Cognitive linguistics may be studied at various levels. It is usually necessary for a student to obtain a bachelor's degree in general linguistics or within a language and communication program before specializing in cognitive linguistics at the Master's or Doctorate level.


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