Ungerer, Friedrich and Hans-Jörg Schmid, 1996:

An Introduction to Cognitive Linguistics

London: Longman. Pp xiv + 306.
ISBN 0-582-239664 (paperback), £15.99

reviewed by

Jyh Wee Sew

Linguistics Section, School of Languages, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand
E-mail: jyh-wee.sew@stonebow.otago.ac.nz

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Ungerer and Schmid have gathered the relevant studies into this summation of cognitive linguistics. Until now, those wishing to consult an introductory work on cognitive linguistics have had to wade through a number of original sources. Rather than muddling through multiple original sources such as Berlin and Kay 1991[1969], Rosch 1978, Talmy 1978, Lakoff 1987 and Langacker 1987 for an introduction to cognitive linguistics, one can have a prelude to all these in this book. Ungerer and Schmid's introduction is therefore to be welcomed, as it provides both access to and a context for these more specialized works.

The organisation of the materials in this book mirrors the developmental path of cognitive linguistics. It chronicles the foundation of cognitive linguistics from its beginnings in the 1970s, e.g. Rosch 1978, Talmy 1978 to the developmental stages in the 1980s, e.g. Langacker 1987, Lakoff 1987 and towards its current status as a mainstream area of linguistic research e.g. Talmy 1996, Slobin 1996 and Taylor 1996. The book deals with topics such as taxonomic classification with respect to linguistic prototype theory and categorisation; colour vantage points; metaphors and metonymies in linguistic semantics; figure and ground construals in cognitive grammar; and frames of mental path of motion events.

The seminal findings on colour classification by Berlin and Kay, and family resemblance association by Rosch form the bulk of first chapter (p.1-59). From the colour tests in Berlin and Kays' experiment, it is confirmed that there are certain patterns of conceptualisation in colour grouping which cut across cultures. (Cf. Wierzbicka 1996 for a critique on colour prototypes) Speakers of different languages have uninamously shared the same colour group as their choice of best colour type respectively. These select hues are termed focal colours or foci (p.5). The salient cognitive focus is further extended to categorisation of organisms and objects by Rosch, which gives rise to the concept of prototype, a term incorporated from the experiments of pattern recognition (p. 10). In addition, the term is refined into natural prototypes for focal colours.

Ungerer and Schmid introduce the notion of attribute which appropriates the family resemblance principle (p. 23); and gestalt which appropriates prototypes (p. 34). They have also incorporated Malinowski's context of situation and context of cultural to cognitive linguistics as the mental phenomenon (p. 46). The former is termed: cognitive model which stores all the cognitive representations that belong to a certain field of experience (p. 47); whereas the latter is termed: cultural model which holds the cultural predisposition in a person's ethos. It is quite obvious that one's cognitive model is very much governed by one's cultural model. Many examples of interactional incongruence between the cognitive model of a second language speaker and the cultural model of a native speaker, for example are exemplified in Agar 1994. Agar has demonstrated how the prescribed grammatical rules had repeatedly failed to govern verbal interaction in dyads between a second language user and a native speaker. The need to comprehend the linguistic-cultural attributes of a discourse community plays a crucial role towards effective verbal communication which further prompts Agar (1994:60) to introduce the term 'languaculture'.

The second chapter (p. 60-113) presents the various levels of categorisation in cognitive linguistics. The generic or basic level is most salient to one's conceptualisation, as it contains the largest amount of natural attributes relevant to taxonomic categorisation (p. 67). Following Brown 1958 and Kay 1971 (in p. 66), Ungerer and Schmid categorise the order of cognitive organisation as follows :

superordinate categories ---> basic categories <--- subordinate categories

To illustrate this cognitive aggregation, a Malay cognitive model can be used as an example. At the basic level of the Malay cognitive model, /buah/ is the nominal noun and the natural prototype for fruit, which is also a monomorphemic lexeme. Correspondingly, at the subordinate level, there are many fruits like /buah: rambutan, nenas, betik/ (rambutan, pineapple, papaya) which are compounds that comprise a head-modifier composition. The head is, by default, /buah/ and the modifier is the specific genera of the fruit. Both the generic/basic and the subordinate levels subsumed under the superodinate level of /tumbuh-tumbuhan/ (plants), a morphologically complex lexeme which denotes any kind of vegetation.

Ungerer and Schmid discuss metaphors and metonymies in the third chapter (p. 114-155). The cognitive mapping from a source model to a target model in metaphor reflects the internal relations or the logic of a cognitive model (p. 120). In addition to this, there are two variances of metaphor in meaning construction applicable to complex words, namely the building block and the scaffolding metaphors. The former views a composite expression as a construction of building blocks (p. 144) but it fails to account for the semantic composites like [wheelchair], [newspaper] and [airplane]. The scaffolding metaphor is thus supplied as an alternative, for which this meaning building mechanics is disposable (p. 145) when an expression is well entrenched in one's parole.

In the fourth chapter (p. 156-204), the figure and ground bipartite used as the grammatical configuration in Cognitive Grammar is explained. The figure is the prominent perception and the ground forms its environs. This contrast of saliency in cogitation is applied to the cognitive processing of transitivity in grammar by Langacker via the notion of action chain. The grammatical notion is based on the billiard-ball model which construes motion being fuelled by energy that transfers from a source to a recipient within an action chain. The action chain is characterised by an energetic 'head' from which energy flows from one entity to another (p. 175). Thus, the head is a syntactic figure or subject which triggers a chain of action or energy flow through an instrument to a syntactic ground or object. This complete chain of action accounts for the transitive construction in syntax. In an intransitive construction, on the other hand, the perceptual prominence is focused on the consequence of the action, thus the intransitive sentence 'The glass broke' (p. 176-7).

Chapter Five (p. 205-249) contains the conception of frame in cognitive linguistics first expounded by Fillmore (cf. Fillmore and Atkins 1992 for a recent development of frame based lexicon). It also includes a more extensive notion of event-frames subsequently developed by Talmy (p. 221). Talmy is said to introduce the notion of windowing and gapping to the foregrounding-backgrounding frame. These notions prove to be useful in analysing the cogitation of a motion event which consists of six cognitive components: FIGURE, GROUND, PATH, MOTION, MANNER and CAUSE (p. 220).

The most important cognitive element in a motion event is PATH, which is divided further into three categories: open, closed, and fictive (p. 224). The PATH in a motion event can either be expressed in verbs or through prepositions. According to Talmy, languages which express the path of an event in verbs are called the verb-framed languages (eg. French and Spanish) while those that express the path via prepositions are satellite-framed languages (eg. English and German) (p. 237). I think this is by far one of the most significant predictions made in cognitive linguistics in terms of language typology.

The final chapter consists of special topics related to cognitive linguistics. Iconicity is one of the topics discussed by Ungerer and Schmid. They divide iconicity into the iconicity of sequencing, proximity and quantity respectively. I shall only highlight the first and third subtopic, namely sequential iconicity and quantity iconicity with examples in Chinese.

Sequential iconicity is best exemplified in Chinese by Tai 1985 who propounds the principle of temporal sequence that dictates an iconic order of temporal action chain. According to Tai's principle of temporal sequence, the first event (S1) is always preceding the second (S2) through the sequencing of temporal connectives in Chinese syntax and the reverse is not possible as in these examples (Tai 1985:50, the diacritics are excluded from the original):

wo chi-guo fan, ni zai da dianhua gei wo
S1 S2
Call me after I have finished the dinner.
S2 S1

ni gei ta qian, ta cai gei ni shu
S1 S2
He won't give you the book until you give him the money.
S2 S1

Quantity iconicity is revealed succinctly in Givon's principle of quantity (1994:49):

(a) "A larger chunk of information will be given a larger chunk of code".
(b) "Less predictable information will be given more coding material".
(c) "More important information will be given more coding material".

This principle of quantity is equivalent to one of the notions of Jakobson semantics i.e. a simple form-meaning correspondence, noticeable in these Cantonese data (Sew 1997):

hung (red) hung pok pok (very red)
woo (gloom) woo seuh seuh (ignorant, in the dark)
fei (oily) fei than than (very oily)
mong (silly) mong pai pai (very silly, silly billy)

The particular Jakobsonian semantics that underlies the endocentric Cantonese echos is illustrated by means of a base word being modified by a repetitive segment to designate additional meaning. Other examples of quantity iconicity can also be found in what Malone 1997 calls energic reduplication in Ojibwa.

In short, this book provides a basic introduction to some of the original cognitive points which otherwise demand more thorough thought in their original explication. It is not only a comprehensive but also an up-to-date volume, including Talmy's recent work on windowing and gapping in a motion event (1996), and Slobin's follow-up examination of these notions (1996). In their most discernible stylistics, the book makes a comprehensive prelude to the more substantial work in cognitive linguistics. It is a good introduction that will allow the reader to go on to tackle current research in cognitive linguistics.


Agar, Michael, 1994. Language Shock: Understanding the Culture of Conversation. New York: William Morrow.

Berlin, Brent, and Paul Kay, 1991[1969]. Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Fillmore, Charles J., and Beryl T. Atkins, 1992. Toward a Frame-Based Lexicon: The Semantics of RISK and its Neighbors. In: A. Lehrer and E. F. Kittay (eds), Frames, Fields and Contrasts: New Essays in Semantic and Lexical Organization. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum. 75-102.

Givon, Talmy, 1994. Isomorphism in the Grammatical Code: Cognitive and Biological Considerations. In: R Simone (ed.), Iconicity in Language. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 47-76.

Lakoff, George, 1987. Women, fire and dangerous things. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Langacker, Ronald W, 1987. Foundations of Cognitive Grammar I. California: Stanford University Press.

Malone, Joseph L., 1997. On Reduplication in Ojibwa. Anthropological Linguistics 39:3, 437-458.

Rosch, Eleanor, 1978. Principles of categorization. In: E. Rosch and B. B. Lloyd, Cognition and Categorization. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum. 27-48.

Schibatani, M. and S. A. Thompson, 1996: Grammatical Constructions: Their Form and Meaning. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Sew, Jyh Wee, 1997. From South Asian Echos to Cantonese Phonetic Repetition. Papers presented at the 12th New Zealand Linguistic Society Conference, 26-28 November. University of Otago, Dunedin.

Slobin, Dan I. 1996. Two Ways To Travel: Verbs of Motion in English and Spanish. In: Shibatani and Thompson 1996:195-219.

Tai, James H-Y, 1985. Temporal Sequence And Chinese Word Order. In: John Haiman (ed.), Iconicity In Syntax. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 49-72.

Talmy, Leonard, 1978. Figure and Ground in Complex Sentences. In: J. Greenberg et al. (eds), Universals of Human Language, vol. 4. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 627-649.

-- 1996. The Windowing of Attention in Language. In: Shibatani and Thompson 1996:235-87.

Taylor, John R., 1996. Possessives in English: an exploration in cognitive grammar. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Wierzbicka, Anna. 1996. Semantics: Primes and Universals. New York: Oxford University Press.

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