In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Cognitive Grammar

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Shorter Introductions and Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Relation with Other Theories
  • Criticisms
  • Semantics
  • Phonology
  • Morphology
  • Grammar
  • Languages Other Than English
  • Language Change

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Linguistics Cognitive Grammar
Cristiano Broccias
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 May 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0321


Cognitive Grammar (CG), previously known as “space grammar,” is a theory of language within the cognitive linguistics camp developed by Ronald Langacker from the late 1970s onward. Its development can be divided into two stages: “classical” CG—from its inception to the turn of the twenty-first century—and contemporary CG. Classical CG aims to offer an alternative to formal/generative grammar by rejecting the view of grammar as an autonomous module of an autonomous language faculty and, consequently, by espousing the view that language should be treated as part of general cognition. Thus, CG rejects the mainstream generative assumption that language consists of a repository of forms (the lexicon of a language) and a set of rules for combining them (the syntax of a language). Instead, lexicon and syntax are seen as two facets of a grammar-lexicon continuum and language is viewed as a “structured inventory of conventional units.” This means that a language consists of linguistic expressions of any length and specificity that are entrenched in the language user’s mind (they are units), are shared among the speakers of the language (they are conventional), and are related to one other by various types of links (they are a “structured” inventory). Importantly, linguistic units emerge out of specific usage events, so CG is described as a usage-based model of language. Also, all linguistic expressions, of any length and specificity, are regarded as symbolic in the sense that they are made up by a semantic pole (the “meaning” of an expression), a phonological pole (the “form” of an expression), as well as their linking. Unlike in other more mainstream approaches, these two poles are construed broadly so that the semantic pole encompasses pragmatic/encyclopedic information and the phonological pole includes bodily manifestations other than speech, such as gesture. A corollary of the symbolic view is that “grammar” is inherently meaningful, as grammatical patterns also consist in the association of a semantic pole and a phonological pole, no matter how abstract they might be. Contemporary CG focuses on offering a unified treatment of language structure, processing, and discourse. One of the key claims is that traditional hierarchical constituency, as represented in syntactic trees, is problematic because grammatical structure is actually often serial or flat. CG has many affinities to Goldberg’s Construction Grammar (CxG) and Croft’s Radical Construction Grammar (RCC), although it is much broader in scope and important differences exist. For example, CxG and RCC also describe linguistic expressions as pairings of form and meaning, but CxG and RCC equate form with syntax while CG equates form with phonology. Instead, syntax, as pointed out earlier, has no independent status in CG.

Reference Works

The most detailed formulation of CG is to be found in Langacker’s two-volume set, Langacker 1987 and Langacker 1991. Collections of more in-depth analyses of some of the topics discussed in the two volumes are Langacker 1990 and Langacker 1999, which belong to the first stage of development of CG. More recent collections, belonging to the second stage and including refinements and elaborations of previous analyses, are Langacker 2009 and Langacker 2017b. Langacker 2008 is a shorter but updated presentation of CG, of which Langacker 2013 is an abridged version. Langacker 2017a is also a useful introduction. Taylor 2002 is a more accessible introduction to CG, which is recommended as a starting point for those who are unfamiliar with cognitive linguistics in general and also serves as a textbook.

  • Langacker, Ronald. 1987. Foundations of cognitive grammar. Vol. 1, Theoretical prerequisites. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

    The first volume of Langacker’s seminal two-volume set describes the fundamental assumptions and concepts underlying CG. It offers an often quite technical discussion of “cognitive abilities” and the notion of “domain” in relation to language. It also introduces the concepts of “thing,” “atemporal relation” and “process,” which are key to CG’s characterization of words classes. Further, it discusses valence as well as constructions and networks. Like Volume 2, Volume 1 contains a useful glossary.

  • Langacker, Ronald. 1990. Concept, image, and symbol: The cognitive basis of grammar. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

    The first collection of some of Langacker’s papers that had previously been published elsewhere and which, by and large, offers introductions to topics investigated in Langacker’s seminal two-volume set. After a very accessible general introduction, it deals with expressions for “inside” and “outside” in Cora, nouns and verbs, the English passive, abstract motion, valence, active zones, the auxiliary in Yuman, transitivity (as well as case and grammatical relations), the nature of CG as a usage-based model, autonomy of grammar, and subjectification. Republished in 2002.

  • Langacker, Ronald. 1991. Foundations of cognitive grammar. Vol. 2, Descriptive application. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

    The second volume of Langacker’s seminal two-volume set, as the title suggests, is less theoretical in nature and provides a detailed analysis of nominals, auxiliaries, transitivity, grammatical relations, clause structure, and case. Of particular importance is the use of the notion of “grounding,” which relates “things” and “processes” to the “ground” (i.e., the speech event and its participants). Like Volume 1, Volume 2 contains a useful glossary.

  • Langacker, Ronald. 1999. Grammar and conceptualization. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110800524

    The second collection of some of Langacker’s works that had previously been published elsewhere. Discusses clause structure, the importance of description, the meaning of “of,” the usage-based nature of CG, the relation between constituency and conceptual grouping, reference point constructions, viewing, generic constructions, anaphora, subjectification and grammaticization, raising, and the dynamic nature of conceptualization.

  • Langacker, Ronald. 2008. Cognitive Grammar: A basic introduction. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195331967.001.0001

    Offers an updated introduction to CG that is more accessible than Langacker 1987 and Langacker 1991. After a preliminary but very illuminating section on symbolization, conceptual semantics, and construal (Part I), it delves into a discussion of nouns and verbs, constructions, networks, and schemas (Part II). In Part III, much attention is given to grounding, nominal and clause structure, and complex sentences. Part IV deals with topics for future research, such as discourse, dynamicity, fictivity, and simulation.

  • Langacker, Ronald. 2009. Investigations in Cognitive Grammar. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110214369

    The third collection of some of Langacker’s papers that had appeared elsewhere. It discusses constructions, metonymy in grammar, grammaticization (i.e., grammaticalization), possession, impersonals, grounding, the English present, the English auxiliary, finite clauses, finite complements in English, subordination, and coordination.

  • Langacker, Ronald. 2013. Essentials of Cognitive Grammar. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    An abridged version of Langacker 2008, containing only Parts I and II of that volume.

  • Langacker, Ronald. 2017a. Ten lectures on the basics of Cognitive Grammar. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004347458

    A transcribed version of Langacker’s lectures given in Beijing in 2006. Originally published in 2007 by Beijing’s Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press but reprinted by Brill in 2017. Discusses staple topics such as the conceptual nature of CG, dynamicity, constructions, grammaticization, topics, subjects, possessives and locatives, voice, and impersonals. Probably more accessible than Langacker 2017b.

  • Langacker, Ronald. 2017b. Ten lectures on the elaboration of Cognitive Grammar. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004347458

    A transcribed version of Langacker’s lectures given at the 13th China International Forum on Cognitive Linguistics in 2013. Offers Langacker’s latest thinking on staple CG topics such as construal, constructions, the architecture of CG, dynamicity, function in language, nominals, quantification, and clauses. Also discusses the notions of “baseline” and “elaboration,” which have to do with pervasive asymmetries observed in various realms of language (including phonology) and are not dealt with organically in the other works mentioned in this section.

  • Taylor, John. 2002. Cognitive Grammar. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198700333.001.0001

    A very readable introduction to CG. After setting the scene, it delves into basic concepts such as schemas, profile, base, and domain. Also discusses phonology, which is an underrated area of research in CG, and morphology. As in Langacker’s two-volume set, it details nouns, verbs, clauses, and networks. The final two parts contain interesting discussions of metaphor, idioms, and constructions.

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