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Cognitive Linguistic Explorations of Writing in the Classroom

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Rod E. Case, Gwendolyn M. Williams and Peter Cobin

Research into the analysis of classroom-based writing is replete with techniques and methods meant to bring clarity to the question of how to best conduct instruction and assessment. Findings and suggestions for practice are rooted in a philosophy that asks teachers and linguists to judge students’ writing against a pre-determined standard. Too often, the results do little more than inform teachers and researchers as to which students met the standard and which did not.

This book offers research into the analysis of classroom writing that does not use a set standard or rubric to assess student writing but instead relies on insights from cognitive linguistics to explore the connections between cognition and language in student writing. The result is a creative and linguistically driven analysis of classroom writing that allows the linguist or teacher to view student writing on its own terms.

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Chapter 1 Overview of Cognitive Linguistics

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Chapter 1

Overview of Cognitive Linguistics

To begin, this chapter will contextualize the field of cognitive linguistics by explaining how this discipline grew out of the larger domain of linguistics. After tracing the historical emergence of CL, we then proceed to describe the major components of CL that will be needed to understand the studies described in this book.

The field of cognitive linguistics originated in the early 1970s as a response to growing frustration with traditional approaches to generative and formal linguistics (Evans & Green, 2006; Holme, 2009). Specifically, generative linguistics focused on the task of defining universal principles that are common across languages based on deductive analysis of individual languages, but such an objective remained elusively beyond the grasp of the researchers because the conclusions drawn were on the nature of language and not universal themes across languages (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999). Formal linguistics focused on defining an object when it matched a set of criteria that determined the essence of the phenomenon (Holme, 2009). Despite the contributions of these fields, cognitive linguistics emerged through its focus on the organization and uses of language as they occurred in everyday life (Evans & Green, 2006).

One difficulty with generative linguistics was its primary focus on syntax for analysis (Holme, 2009). In Chomsky’s minimalist model, language study concentrated on either syntax or the lexicon (Chomsky, 1995), so for generative linguistics, most language study focused on syntax (Holme, 2009). Chomsky’s theory of universal...

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