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Cognitive and Theoretical Linguistics

Many of our staff specialise in cognitive approaches to language study, making Northumbria one of the strongest centres of research in cognitive linguistics not only in the UK, but also internationally. Northumbria is also home to Cognitive Linguistics, the official journal of the International Cognitive Linguistics Association (ICLA), and will be hosting the Internation Cognitive Linguistics Conference in 2013. 

CognitivelinguitCognitive Linguistics is an interdisciplinary approach to language study which is based on the basic principle that human language is inextricably linked with other aspects of cognition. Languages are the way they are because human beings perceive and categorize the world in certain fundamental ways. Equally, our representations of the world are (to a large extent) shaped by the fact that we are linguistic creatures who use language to organize, convey and process information.

Languagemindbrain (1)Professor Ewa Dąbrowska’s research lies at the heart of the issue. She is interested in what native speakers know about the grammar of their language, how they acquire this knowledge, and how it differs across individuals – and also in the tension between speakers’ mental grammars and the grammars that linguists write. Much of her research is dedicated to testing the basic premises of cognitive linguistics using corpus and experimental methods.

Dr James Street works closely with Ewa on the area of individual variation in language attainment. His research suggests that grammatical proficiency is highly dependent upon linguistic experience, rather than factors such as working memory. James’ research has some important implications not only for linguistic theory but also for social and educational policy, and has generated considerable interest in both the scientific and mainstream media.

Dr Mimi Huang analyses discourse from a cognitive perspective. Her research examines the function and impact of metaphors in both literary and non-literary discourses. One of Mimi’s current projects explores the use of metaphors in Chinese political discourse. The project examines how the linguistic reality constructed with the aid of metaphor has helped to create an up-to-date notion of Chinese ideology both nationally and internationally.

Patten Book (1)Dr Amanda Patten’s research focuses on how a cognitive approach to language structure can help us to identify general principles of language change. Amanda specialises in construction grammar – the cognitive linguistic approach to syntax. She has recently published a book which examines how pragmatically rich, syntactically marked sentence types (known as cleft sentences) have evolved over time.

Andrew Feeney is also interested in language structure, specifically the relationship between language and thought. He works in the framework of the Representational Hypothesis and is interested in language evolution as a constraint on theories of the human faculty for language. His current work also involves examining syntactic variation, and a critique of generative grammar, particularly the Minimalist Program, from a representational perspective.

107056609Professor Regina Weinert’s interest in cognitive approaches to language stem from her long-standing research on spoken language. Spoken language is learnt first and most people communicate more through speaking than through writing. The linguistic categories developed for written language often do not apply to spoken structures, which need to be analysed in their own right. Usage-based models of language are attractive for the spoken language analyst because they can accommodate the surface realities of language and do not isolate linguistic structures from meaning, function, context, use and users. Regina Weinert examines the relationship between syntactic form and function in spoken English and German.

Northumbria has a growing postgraduate community of cognitive linguistic researchers. Sarah Duffy is reading for a PhD in cognitive models for time and Marie Jensen is studying Tyneside English, reading for a PhD in salience and language change. Siva Kalyan is testing the psychological reality of cognitive grammar constructs for his PhD in cognitive linguistics. Rachel Ramsey is exploring the nature of prototypes in her PhD on English spatial prepositions, while Luca Miorelli is taking a usage-based approach to the acquisition of syntax in Italian children. We welcome PhD applications in all areas of cognitive linguistics.

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