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Motivating the Symbolic

Towards a Cognitive Theory of the Linguistic Sign


Hubert Kowalewski

The book outlines a new approach to the study of motivation in language, which is firmly rooted in the paradigm of cognitive linguistics, but it is developed in critical (and constructive) dialogue with classical theories in semiotics: Ferdinand de Saussure’s structural linguistics and Charles S. Peirce’s model of the sign. The author’s proposal hinges upon the Peircean distinction between iconic, indexical, and symbolic signs, but the classical typology is reinterpreted within the framework of cognitive linguistics. The approach does not seek to "categorize" different linguistic expressions into one of the three Peircean types, but attempts to capture the dynamicity of meanings in terms of iconicity, indexicality, and conventionality. The book presents an analysis of selected vocabulary and morphosyntactic structures of English.

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Chapter 1. Cognitive Linguistics: Language vs. Reality



It is possible to argue which came first, the language or the reality it reflects. But that is merely the old chestnut about the chicken and the egg.

Victor Pelevin, The Sacred Book of the Werewolf (2008)

The narrator of Victor Pelevin’s The Sacred Book of the Werewolf does not question the fact that language reflects reality, but it merely plays with the idea of guessing which came first. If one reads reality in the above quotation as conceptual reality of a speaker, one comes close to the fundamental postulate of almost all paradigms in broadly understood cognitive linguistics: the main theoretical commitment of this book. This chapter aims at summarizing the main assumptions of cognitive linguistics, partly in comparison with other theories of language. The following sections are devoted to aspects of the cognitive paradigm that are particularly relevant for the study of motivation in language: the symbolic nature of grammar, categorization by prototype and by schema, metaphor, metonymy, and subjectification. The list is by no means exhaustive, but the topics outlined in this part of the book will suffice to sketch the basic tenets of the paradigm and the direction where the further discussion will proceed.

Despite the fact that various schools of cognitive linguistics share a number of core assumptions, it must be borne in mind that “cognitive linguistics” is often used as an umbrella term for, as John R. Taylor puts it, “a rather broad...

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