Chapter 1: Issues in Categorisation
Categorisation can be described in brief as seeing similarity in diversity (Taylor 1992:viii). The succinctness of the above definition should not be misleading, as categorisation is a very much complex phenomenon. It is also one of the most basic and natural processes which take place in the human mind. Its usefulness goes far beyond being able to decide, for instance, whether Jan van Eyck was a mediaeval or Renaissance painter. Our mind is involved in an ongoing procedure of interpreting and labelling data gathered by means of our senses. As Lakoff (1987:5–6) puts it,
there is nothing more basic than categorization to our thought, perception, action and speech […] Without the ability to categorize, we could not function at all, either in the physical world or in our social and intellectual lives. An understanding of how we categorize is central to any understanding of how we think and how we function, and therefore central to an understanding of what makes us human.
Indeed, the complexity of categories on the one hand, and their ubiquity and ease with which they are created and maintained on the other, suggest that the process of categorisation lies at the core of human cognitive activity. This is further confirmed by the unfading interest this issue has inspired among learned people from various fields of science, such as philosophy, anthropology, sociology, psychology and linguistics. It should not come as a surprise, therefore, that the...
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