Category Archives: Semantics

Multifaceted Living

On the sliding scale of time that gradiently builds and ebbs and recedes I am perpetually being re-context-ed and being iteratively re-inserted into particular frames of reference and spheres of existence.  I am simultaneously (at this point in time) (in no particular order) physically framed: a mortal, a human, and a male; overlapping-ly framed: a man, a child, a son, a husband, a friend, an ex-boyfriend, an occasional ass, but most of the time decent; functionally framed:an employee, a husband (again), a neighbor, a citizen, a representative, a cook, a linguist, and a discourse analyst; and characteristically framed: creative, a reader, obstinate, sour-faced when I am actually quite contented and happy, a driven individual, annoying, entertaining, friendly, unconcerned with things some people think I ought to be concerned about, temperate, calm, chaotic, paradoxical, slimy, ambiguous, wrong, right, and indifferent.

As individuals we have many types of roles and expectations.

These roles and expectations have a place in community.

Let’s assume that individuality exists because there is community.  Let’s agree that community on a macro-level means relationship.  Community defines the application of our roles, defines the way that we relate to the community at large.  Throughout life we have the option to naturally accept or naturally decline participation in any given role.

Our descriptive and identifying labels probably exists because of some micro-role played out in some micro-plot-line of thought or action or interaction or relation.

For me, like any other human, each particular facet of my being carries a whole set of relationships and contexts that also need to be understood if I am to be understood in full.  For instance, being a husband suggests a living spouse, which at one point meant a new marriage, which meant in-laws, which meant new grandparents, most likely new siblings, and new aunts and uncles.  If the actual relationships were not so big of a factor in defining that new portion of my identity, then certainly, the way in which those relatives perceived me in context of how they perceived my spouse certainly carried some sort of value and created expectations for me (including the way I was to interact as a new and extended member of the family).  Furthermore, if family isn’t enough, there were new friends with whom I also entered into relationship, including their sets of expectations, ad nausea.  And this is only the external relations in marriage – I have left aside any relations and expectations that I shared with my spouse.

What about the rest of the roles?  It starts getting crazy when you try to make sense of it all.

In addition to holding a variety of roles I also have sets of attributes that are either activated or deactivated depending on which role I am satisfying.  These attributes are features that define and differentiate so that you can determine who I am and what I am supposed to be doing and why, and how, and when, and where.  I am tour staff, I am the person who knows how to get to Pittsburgh, I am short so I am not the person to change the lightbulb, I am quick so I am the person to run down the street and catch the delivery driver because he forgot a package, I am whatever I am, in terms of attributes, in terms of adjectives.

This is not compartmentalizing; this is maximizing self-awareness to harness it as a tool to leverage the options placed before me.  This reminds me of that Aboriginal saying:  The more you know the less you need.  I know myself.  If we do not know our capabilities, our roles, our nature, then we cannot expect to market those skills to the people who find them valuable in employees, in dates, in spouses, in friends, it voters, et cetera.  Although I am not an objectivist, Ayn Rand tells us that absolutely the writer must know the essentials if they are to write anything of value at all.

You as a multi-hat wearing individual absolutely must know your essence if you are to accomplish anything at all.

As we grow older and accumulate hats we learn that roles do the things they are able to do because of gained experience and knowledge.  Time changes student into teacher, child into adult.  But some roles can overlap and occur simultaneously, such as child, student, pitcher, class clown, et cetera.  Holding a particular role does not necessarily preclude an individual from holding other particular roles.  It may preclude, but it does not necessarily preclude.

Roles overlap and occur simultaneously, some precede, some follow, some preclude at particular times, and others are instances of roles filled immaturely in more mature ways; iterations of roles that continue perpetually until our bones petrify, (skeleton is a meronym of body…that means skeleton is a part of body), or roles that we chose to turn on and off, but irrespective of the time slots that the roles fill they occur between the womb and the tomb, riga tiga tum tum.

I am not your friend until you meet me.

Without being my friend, you can still know the intimate fact based on my usage of “womb” and “tomb” with that nonsensical four word sequence in the prior paragraph that I am culturally literate enough in some particular culture to be able to reference West Side Story.

And we all know so much.

We can’t be satisfied to know that we have an identity or a personality, or that we belong to any particular culture or collection of cultures.  We need to want to know what to do with that knowledge.  We need something more here.  But we operate on a daily basis with the awareness that we need to know our materials and our tools in order to do anything productively creative with our skills and resources.  Accordingly, we need to investigate the nature of our identities, how our identities converge to belong to cultures, how those cultural memberships alter our identities, and then how to use that knowledge in our chaotically complex lives; we need to practice multifaceted learning for this multifaceted living.

Why I Care About Ontology

Staircase perspective.

Image via Wikipedia

In a broad sense of the term, any particular ontology serves as a framework against which we interpret information; think of it like an organized perspective that we use as a lens to view and understand the world.

When you study a culture you are concerned with figuring out how they understand the world and how they make sense of the world.  This study of sense-making follows the concept that people do what seems logical and rational to their perspective.  I am interested in mapping these sense-making resources and translating them into a format that reveals the internal consistency and relationships between the rationale and the external context and stimuli.

If you look back through the histories of science & philosophy you will see the pendulum swing between two extremes in regard to ontology, one extreme believes that there is a unified and complete ontological structure to the world, the other extreme believes that there are many unified and complete ontological structures.  This is the debate between whether we can know truth objectively, or whether it is known as a perspective.

In my work I explore how we construct global formal ontologies as well as how we generate idiosyncratic folk-ontologies; this is the both/and response – I want to know how we engage in thinking when it is shaped by public beliefs and private beliefs and what it takes to reconcile the disjunctions.

One of the ideas that has kept my attention the longest is that the structure of a thought represents the choices that have been made to arrive at that thought, and that structure also shows us what has been ignored as the thought is being formed.  I want to know how the external world interacts with the internal world.  I want to know how it directs our thinking.  This is the foundational riddle that makes me want to do linguistics.

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Schematic Construals in Favor of Ecological Transportation

If you say the admittedly odd sentence “The baby feeds on mother’s milk.” it accesses a parasitic construal for the act of eating.  Pardon any offense this might cause you; I promise to redeem myself.  I am not saying that babies are parasites, but that the transfer involved could be construed as parasitic at this stage (depending on your nature/nurture views).  Please hang on for a few more sentences.

If you replace the lexical items with items from the same grammatical categories you could arrive at this sentence: “The car runs on gasoline”; this construal is merely consumptive.  All that has been done is replace a subject noun (baby) for another subject noun (car), a verb phrase (feeds on) for another similar verb phrase (runs on), and finally, a noun (mother’s milk) for an another noun (gasoline).

The innocent and non-parasitic behavior of the car in the second example sentence results from the fact that the source of the consumed material is absent from the semantics of the sentence.  Some would argue that it is implied.

So far we have a baby that acts parasitically toward its mother in order to consume a substance in order to operate, and a car that acts consumptively toward a substance in order to operate.

I want to argue that the car is actually parasitic depending on how your worldview construes the relationship between gasoline and its originating source: fossil fuel that comes from within the earth.  A reading of the earth as a mother (which many mythological systems do) would render the car’s unidirectional consumption of fuel a parasitic consumption of a resource from the earth.  If you construe the concept CAR in this parasitic way and realize that it is markedly different from a relationship between a child and a mother (the child later benefits the mother, they have a loving bond, they provide things for each other – exculpating the child from the parasitic framing), it seems reasonable to begin to look for ways to mitigate the parasitic nature of the car.  While some of the emissions from a car may provide positive feedback into the system our earth belongs to, by and large the car does nothing good for the earth, and truly embodies the role of parasite.

Something should change.

Because transferral of energy always entails a forward chain of consumption, it cannot be the consumption model that needs to change; it must be the parasitic nature.

One alternative is an epiphytic consumption, something like a solar car.  (At this point you probably see that this is not an article about babies or about cars, but rather construal and schematization).  Whether or not solar cars are a reality, that model would satisfy the need to reduce the parasitic nature of gasoline-run cars on the limited resources of a mother earth.

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Different Uses of “If”

Arthur River, Mitre Peak and Milford Sound, 19...

Image by National Library NZ on The Commons via Flickr

  1. If we don’t pay that ticket, then I will have to go to court. [causal]
  2. It would be great if everyone just got along. [idealistic]
  3. I wonder if she knows she has jelly all over her silk blouse? [oblique]
  4. This kind of mustard, if it can even be called mustard, makes me sick.[aside/exception/dismissive/doubt]
  5. We can keep talking, if you want. [permission]
  6. If you don’t shut up, we are splitting up. [threat conditional]
  7. If everyone is doing it, I might as well do it too. [since causal]
  8. If you’re not shutting up, well, I guess we are splitting up. [since/continuing conditional]
  9. Sounds iffy to me. [uncertainty]
  10. We have to consider the “what ifs?” in order to do our jobs properly. [full NP uncertainty construction]
  11. We have to consider the “what ifs?” if we want to succeed. [conditional]
  12. Treat everyone with kindness, if not respect. [restrictive]
  13. If you must. [concession]
  14. If only. [implausibility]
  15. As if. [sarcastic implausibility]
  16. If he was an ogre, at least he was kind. [factual]

Primitive Modals in Child Language (Hafta, Wanna, Gonna) As Functionally Equivalent to Auxiliary Modals

Modals represent a perspective of force in relation to the participatory elements of a construction.  In fact, they represent an encoding of force in the relation between subject, verb, and object.

Children acquire modals by way of constructions that employ notions of speaker attitudes like intention, volition, and compulsion (245, Tomasello: 2003), and the constructions that they use are form-meaning pairings of these attitudes to a class of non-modal verbs including: want, have, need, among others.  Through use of these constructions, children begin to use reduced forms to communicate their understanding of internal volition (wanna), external compulsion (hafta), internal compulsion (needta) where the verb is coupled with a reduced form of “to” (indicating direction toward) (246, Tomasello: 2003).

These quasi-modal constructions are aligned functionally with auxiliary modals which direct degrees of compulsion and force of purpose.  This is seen in the deontic modal function of hafta which equates with must (Tomasello, 262).  In a way, these can both be understood to represent a requirement on the part of the grammatical subject.


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How Novel Constructions Emerge Over Time

Reading Michael Israel’s The Way Constructions Grow taught me some things about how novel constructions actually emerge in a language.  I encourage you to check out this classic article.

The -Way construction in present usage has undertaken a sort of functional compression since its earliest usages in the 1300s.  Three main functions have been historically tracked in the -way construction usage: motion, path creation, and possession.  Motion has been functionally understood in the manner sense

Path creation has been functionally understood as the means sense.  Possession is not dealt with in an in depth manner, and Israel focuses on analyzing the convergence of Motion and Path Creation into the modern -way construction.

Here are two examples:

  • He chewed his way out of that mess (path creation)
  • The dog crawled his way home after getting hit by the truck (motion)

In the beginning the -way construction needed verbs that were related to motion and path creation, but as time went on it began to incorporate verbs that are “marginally or incidentally related to the actual expressed motion.”

The idea is that over time something I call “functional compression” occurred as the generic construction was expanded to include the different functional senses (Motion, Path Creation, Possession), which resulted in an increase in the construction’s productivity.  This process was enabled by the use of analogical extensions

Analogical usage and schema abstraction both provide important implications of CogLing approaches.  Analogical usage corresponds to the Production Principle which states that utterances should sound like things the speaker has heard before.  This is a form of conservatism in the theoretical framework.  Schema abstraction corresponds to the Comprehension Principles which states that representations should capture similarities across experienced usages, and assists innovation and novel extension.  This idea of compression is important for dealing with a vast exposure to similar tokens of a construction.

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Bybee’s notion of “exemplar representation”

In exemplar representation situation-specific tokens are decoded and classified as being instance-overlaps with existing exemplars and thereby reinforcing that exemplar instance, or else they are classified as having slight divergence from the existing exemplar, and so the situation-specific token gets classified as a new exemplar.  The idea is that the usage and mapping of meanings are situated best examples; the situated usage of the meaning (i.e., the exemplar) reveals the meaning to be in line with a known exemplar, or to be an extension of an existing exemplar which merits formation of a new exemplar to represent this new situated token.  In this approach, frequency of tokens enables the solidification of exemplars (reinforces knowledge) or enables the expansion of exemplars (increasing knowledge).

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Stone Soup, Bouillon Cubes, and Innovation

In my childhood I think it was the fable about Stone Soup that made me start to think about innovation.  As I learned to cook and came further into the world of soup-lore I realized that good soups rely on a reduction of some sort, some kind of richly delicious liquid broth.  In the food world reducing things to something rich and dense is worthy of gustatorial praise.  A brief tour of cookery terms reveal that we have many aspirations to reductions (I am thinking about words like reduction, concentration, syrup, et cetera) and our food science inventions reveal something similar: the bouillon cube.  I think beyond a soup stock, the bouillon cube is the pinnacle achievement of reduction.  It is an abstraction of flavor from the specificity of the ingredients.  But anyway, getting to the point, I don’t like to use bouillon cubes; instead, I make my own soup stocks from scratch in much the same manner as the man who first made stone soup.

For a while now I have been finding myself throwing my vegetable scraps in the freezer so that I can use them to make soup stocks from scratch.  I have recently started cycling through the process on a weekly basis.  Take a look at this week’s table-scraps: Continue reading

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Inherent Narratives in Ad Hoc Collections

Part of my portfolio includes this project called Weaving Narratives: Possessions = Autobiographies, it is an exploration into how any ad hoc grouping of objects has some kind of inherent narrative, albeit a selected and limited narrative; but it is a narrative nonetheless.

When I was a boy I remember my father keeping a box of items that meant a lot to him.  I keep a box like this too.  The Italian blacksmith that I apprenticed under also kept boxes of items, but on a different scale; when he died I got one of those boxes: we call it a storage unit in American English. Continue reading

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Sample Sentences Using Spradley’s Nine Semantic Relations from The Ethnographic Interview

Cover of "The Ethnographic Interview"

Cover of The Ethnographic Interview

I love James Spradley’s work on ethnographic interviews, componential analysis, taxonomic analysis, and participant observation, but Spradley’s work on semantic analysis has been the most thought-provoking for me theoretically.  Here I list out his nine semantic relationships and give some sample descriptive sentences to show you how the semantic relation describes the two elements in the relationship.  I have to say, however, that none of these sentences are very natural in a natural language kind of way.  In fact, the one concern that I have with Spradley’s view of semantics (from my usage-based cognitive view of language) is that it does not adequately lend itself to a straightforward modeling of the semantics of a natural language sentence.  Instead, if you want to use this for natural language, it has to be on a propositional level.

These semantics are best for modeling culture and the dynamics of a culture.  After all, they were drawn up in a methodology for ethnography.  In the sentences I present below you will find that they have a rigid and non-human sound to them; in fact, I think (and this is my opinion), that if you want to use Spradley’s semantics for anything other than modeling culture, that they are best used in formal system modeling, such as an expert system. Continue reading

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What does Soulwax’s website, DJing, & Construction Grammar have in common?

Soulwax’s website extends an invitation for viewers to participate in DJing as they explore the website.  From my first exposure this has been an amazing experience.  The intuitive guided navigation doubles as a loading of the clips so that your browser cache holds the clip for later manipulation in the mixing.  If you patiently experience each of the clips instead of navigating away from the site, you will get the chance to mix the video loops and beats by clicking your mouse. Continue reading

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Why I Believe in Cut & Paste as a Design Strategy


Image via Wikipedia

Cut & Paste is not just a keyboard function.  In fact, R.G. Collingwood coined the term in the mid 1940′s in his book The Idea of History, but being a more formal speaker of a more formal ancestor of colloquial English he called it the “scissors and paste” method and was critical of it as a tool in historical method (33, Collingwood: 1946).

Nonetheless he did use the term and since then it has come to be used rather frequently as a tool in questionable secondary research, or as a way to validate and situate a claim in a historical context.  I think Collingwood’s problem with scissors and paste was that it was just a patchwork manipulation of existing work by people who were not historical eyewitnesses, and therefore outside of the bounds of science.  In essence, what was cut out and pasted lacked appropriate context and proper lineage, in fact, that has become a problem: it is called plagiarism. Continue reading

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Weaving Narratives: Possessions = Autobiographies

I recently created a short interview about my art project “Weaving Narratives” where I describe the process of reading objects that people own.  I hope you check it out and let me know what you think in the comment section [click the picture to view the film].

Also, weave your own narrative using the photo-documentation for this project [a free download to use in your own creative process].

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CONTAINER Is an Ontological Metaphor

Ontological Metaphors are metaphors that give shape to abstract concepts and even contribute to the structure of Primary Metaphors.  CONTAINER is one of those metaphors. Continue reading

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Una chiste para ti….

Pollitos de colores!!

Image by YoSeLiN via Flickr

Una dia el pollito va a la casa blanca y toca la puerta

hay una persona abre la puerta y dice: “¿que queirres?”

y el pollito respondon, “necesito hablar con el presidente por favor”

y la persona que abre la puerta dice “el presidente no esta aqui, seran en Ohio”

y el pollito respondon “¿esta enojado? ¿con migo?”

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Think Like a Bacterium: OSMOS, Naïve Quorum Sensing, & the iPad

I was recently sucked into playing OSMOS on my iPad.  I never play video games (usually I am too busy: wife, art, school, work) but I did happen to spend four hours straight playing this game over winter break.  This game synthesizes math, physics, biology, conceptualization and human enhancement.   Continue reading

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SWEET! My paper made a Top Ten Download List!

I checked my email this morning and received a message telling me that my recently distributed paper “Figure-Ground Organization in Attention and Construal” made it on a top ten list for downloads yesterday from both the Cognition & the Arts eJournal and the Cognitive Linguistics: Cognition, Language, Gesture eJournal…Awesome!

I hope you check it out!


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To the woman on the RTA train, there are more than 3 meanings for “present”

As I was riding the train home today I overheard a conversation that made me realize again how people view as odd the things which the linguist views as normal.

The woman behind me was commenting to the man she was riding with that she thinks it is funny that there are three different meanings for “present” (i.e., present [noun], a gift; present [adjective], in attendance;  and present [verb] to introduce something). Continue reading

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Ground Before Figure Orientation and Divergent Activation in Bruno Mars & B.O.B.’s “Nothin’ On You” Lyrics

Driving home tonight I heard a song on the radio, on the local hip-hop and R&B station, and while the song kind of annoys me, I kind of like it too.  Anyway, this song exhibits a characteristic of a marked figure-ground organization for normal American English constructions, and I wanted to point it out.

“beautiful girls all over the world
i could be chasing but my time would be wasted
they got nothin’ on you baby
nothin’ on you baby
they might say hi and i might say hey
but you shouldn’t worry about what they say
cause they got nothin’ on you baby
nothin’ on you baby”

Did you catch that?  That heavy preposed object NP?  “beautiful girls all over the world I could be chasing…”

This marked form is meant to stand out.  You are supposed to want to think about the beautiful girls before he gets to the verb phrase…and then, when he gets to the verb phrase, you realize that he is trying to draw attention to the salient recipient of the song; his woman. Continue reading

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A Brief Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis Summary…

A reasonable summary of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in its tractable form is that different cultures interpret the same world differently and this has an impact on how they both think and construct meaning in language; in fact, language shapes or influences thought to some degree.  The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis combines linguistic relativity and linguistic determinism.  Adherents of the hypothesis follow these two principles to varying degrees producing gradient interpretations from weak to strong versions of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.  Cognitive linguists are among the only linguists to take this “mentalist” position seriously, and most linguists of any orientation reject a strong version of the hypothesis.  Continue reading

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MUST: Polysemous Network for a Closed Class Lexical Item

Here is another network diagram…double click to enlarge…the diagram is an interpretation of the sense variation for the semantics of the modal auxiliary “Must”.  [NB: I included a few obsolete usages that are not necessarily polysemy, but are definitely fun; these are notated with the dotted line].


There are two levels of membership that stem from the central MUST sense, the third level is actually just how I chose to represent the instances of the Must[x] sense.  I know that this does not reflect a good hierarchy since for example Must[Permission] only has one child (in my representation) rather than two or more children.  NB: I am not trying to show a level decomposition past the Must[x] sense level.

Also, I added three uses of Must that are obsolete or rare.  They are not actually related to the must in a polysemous way, they are homophones.  The OED listed them and I felt like I should at least acknowledge them.


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HEAD: Polysemous Network for an Open Class Lexical Item

Take a look at this diagram of a possible interpretation for the polysemous network of HEAD:

[Hint: double click the image to enlarge...]

The senses for head have both physical and metaphorical interpretations.  I seemed to identify three main categories where head is understood in the sense of 1) providing direction, 2) providing a locus of representation, and 3) being at the top, beginning, or peak of something.

To me, it seemed like the locus of representation/embodied representative sense could also be the category for the subcategory sense “Head (Lead)”…but I am not sure about whether or not I am stretching it too far.

This diagram displays 3 levels of senses that orient around the central sense HEAD.  Additionally, there is a ?level for an idiom usage (head over heels) that I feel could have some relation to the continuation of the “head over” sense.  While “head over” means to head in a particular direction, “head over heels” means that something has toppled a person’s orientation (DISorient) so that they are tumbling and reeling from the event (usually falling in love), I imagine this tumbling motion to be the head moving toward the direction of the heels, but perhaps there is a better interpretation.

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The ICM for STUDENT…as if this was really still a hot topic in Cognitive Linguistics

GDR "village teacher" (a teacher tea...

Image via Wikipedia

ICMs structure mental spaces by providing asymmetrical matching or mismatching between concepts, center-periphery models to structure categories, and encapsulated categories to structure to the scope of predication.  Below is an assortment of these three strategies including sarcasm derived from mismatch, radiality stemming from extension from the base definition, and  metonymic effects in some of the images presented as social stereotypes.


  • The TRADITIONAL MODEL: a prototypical student attends a school at a school building during set hours (usually 8am to 3pm) to learn from a licensed teacher or professor who evaluates their progress and testifies to the student’s acquisition of knowledge through a grading system.  This student progresses through a series of academic levels which increase in difficulty and specificity.
  • The NON-TRADITIONAL MODEL: a student is someone who is unable to participate in the complete traditional school system because of restrictions or scheduling.  However, the role of student and the role of teacher remain similar to  that of the traditional model.  This model of student can be a commuter, a night school student, a distance learner, a trade-school student.
  • The AUTODIDACTIC MODEL: a student is someone who approaches learning with a student mentality, outside of the traditional infrastructure of an institutionalized school. For instance, there are life-long learners, self-taught painters, Helen Keller, tinkerers, enthusiasts.  Also, practicing ethnographers may fall into this model as they learn about cultures through observations, interviews, and other self-directed techniques.
  • The APPRENTICE MODEL: a student is an apprentice to a master in some discipline or trade which may or may not belong to an institutionalized guild system.  The apprentice learns from the wisdom of the master who has accumulated knowledge through years of experience.
  • The PROTEGE MODEL: a student is an extension of the teacher, in some cases for the glory of the teacher more than the student.
  • The CATHOLIC SCHOOLGIRL MODEL:  the ubiquitous Halloween costume almost as blase as HOOKER or NUN.
  • The PERFORMANCE MODEL: a student can exhibit a range of behaviors that indicate quality of performance. For instance, there are class clowns, dunces, straight A students, B students, model students, lazy students, drop out students.
  • The APPEARANCE MODEL: a student is anyone in the suburbs who reads thick books, looks young, or drives a car from the late 80s to mid 90s.
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Grammaticalization via Metaphoric Extension in Tok Pisin

Stomach diagram in Inkscape.

Image via Wikipedia

Grammaticalization is a process whereby items in a language change to move (usually) from an open class to a closed class. There are three main types of grammaticalization: 1) metaphorical extension, 2) invited inferencing, and 3) subjectification.

I think that Melanesian Pidgin (Tok Pisin) uses  a metaphoric extension system to grammaticalize certain lexical items (I think these are instances of renewal where a content word takes on a grammatical use).  Several of these terms derive from body part metaphors that align with axiality or cardinality.


[Mind, soul, heart or internal state.  Literally, “stomach” or “belly”]

Bel bilong me kamap hat, or, belhat

[Anger, literally, “my stomach has become hot”, or “my stomach is hot”]


[Your home village, where you originate from - literally, your “ass place” locative for the place where your ass belongs]


[mustache, literally “mouth grass”]

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Ala Moana and Makiki

Image via Wikipedia

I recently had a visit to my site from Oahu, where I lived for a while…  I thought I would choose four samples from my memories of Hawai’i and illustrate Talmy’s Reference frames…
Anyway, here they are:

a. Ground Based

“The musubi is next to the register”

This example accesses a single reference point and elaborates on the position of one object in relation to the other by indicating its intrinsic geometric location in space.

b. Field Based

“Matsumoto’s Shave Ice is just south of the North Shore.”

This accesses an encompassing secondary reference point (Earth) which is implied in the use of “just south of”, by using the cardinal direction on the earth in relation to the other landmark “the North Shore” the speaker is providing the listener with a way to navigate to Matsumoto’s Shave Ice.  (I recommend getting the red beans and vanilla ice cream with your shave ice if you ever go.

c. Guidepost Based (in a Hawai’ian and Pidgin English code switch)

“Wea you stay? Makai side?”

“No, mauka side.”

[Makai approximately means “on the side of the ocean”]

[Mauka approximately means “on the side of the mountains”]

In this example, the primary reference point is the respondent’s house (the place where the respondent stay (lives)). In the question makai (the ocean) represents and encompassing reference point.  In the answer mauka (the mountains) represent the external reference point.

On an island the ocean is encompassing and all surrounding, but the mountains are a physical landmark that in this kind of usage are not considered encompassing.  Because the most people live between the ocean and the mountains on Oahu they represent boundaries rather than expanses.

I was thinking that perhaps the makai/mauka distinction might reflect a kind of physical center-periphery schema that is habitually understood on Oahu since the mountains are (more or less) in the middle/center of the island and the ocean is the periphery.

Also, most houses are contained within a taurus-shaped belt of land that is conceptually gradient in terms of being closer to the ocean or closer to the mountains.  Consequently you understand your house in relation to these landmarks; your house is either more characteristically mauka side or more characteristically makai side.

d. Projector Based

The tennis courts are to the right of Waikiki Yacht Club and to the left of The Bus at Ala Moana.

In this situation, the speaker (who is the secondary reference point) is projecting a left/right orientation from the speaker’s perspective) onto benchmark locations in a city (the Waikiki Yacht Club & The Bus).

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CogDef #1 (cognitive definitions)

I have several friends who are strict Generativists/Formalists and I want to start a little series that summarizes information about topics that sometimes get muddled up in cross-theoretical discussions.  This is the first in the series.

In the Cognitive Enterprise semantics drives the modeling in grammar (which is why it is a functional model). Grammar does not strictly mean syntax, as formal theories assume, but entails the entire package of language. Here is how we break down the approaches to semantics and syntax:

  1. Cognitive Semantics is used as a lens to view the conceptual structure and conceptualization
  2. Cognitive Grammar is used to view the cognitive principles that give rise to linguistic orientation
  3. Construction Grammar is used to view the units that emerge from cognitive semantics & comprise the grammar.

Going back through Evans & Green I found that I had written these definitions in the margin of page 49, hopefully they are clear.


Evans. V. & Green. M. (2006). Cognitive Linguistics, an introduction, LEA

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Mashing Ray Jackendoff’s Ontological Categories with James Spradley’s Cultural Dimensions & Wh- Question Words

While I don’t necessarily agree with Jackendoff’s use of the semantic primitives, and while I recognize that this comes from a book that is from the early 80′s, I still want to present these ontological categories because they represent one way that the world is sliced, and they have interesting correlations to wh- question words.

Frankly, they are a little too close to Aristotalian categories for me to have much use for them in the stuff I am doing, but still, this represents an interesting perspective that ties in with ethnographic inquiry [specifically James Spradley's work in Participant Observation].

Jackendoff proposes categories like THING, PLACE, DIRECTION, ACTION, EVENT, MANNER, AMOUNT and proposes a correlate question word which would access this category.

Spradley talks about 9 cultural dimensions: SPACE, OBJECT, ACT, ACTIVITY, EVENT, TIME, ACTOR, GOAL, FEELING, and looking at these nine dimensions in a matrix provides an ethnographer with 81 questions to keep their observations focused. But Jackendoff is more interested in seeing how these types of categories are manifest in linguistic structure, and less interested in modeling culture. Continue reading

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Lexical Ambiguity Couched in a Formulaic Reference to either Sunglasses or Blindness

A range of sunglasses with different lense col...

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Today on the train I overheard one man say to another man: “I got my Stevie Wonders on…I didn’t even see you.”

Either he was trying to convey that his inability to see his friend on the train was equivalent to a blind man’s (i.e., Stevie Wonder) inability to see his friend, in which case he did not need to be wearing his “Stevie Wonders” (sunglasses?); or, he meant that because he was wearing sunglasses and because of the lighting on the train he failed to perceive his friend sitting across the car from him.

Unfortunately I did not turn around to see which was the case.

[NB: I don't think he meant anything against Stevie Wonder, blind people, or disabled people...the person he was addressing was in a wheel chair and seemed to take it ok.]

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Cognitive Mindfulness #17

Reading Langacker’s Cognitive Grammar has been a dense pleasure.  I am currently reading part of it in a volume edited by Dirk Geeraerts called Cognitive Linguistics: Basic Readings (Mouton de Gruyter).  Consider these words about the networked meaning of a lexical item:

Most lexical items have a considerable array of interrelated senses, which define the range of their conventionally sanctioned usage.  These alternate senses are conveniently represented in network form…The nodes and categorizing relationships in such a network differ in their degree of entrenchment and cognitive salience…The precise configuration of such a network is less important than recognizing the inadequacy of any reductionist description of lexical meaning. A speaker’s knowledge of the conventional value of a lexical item cannot in general be reduced to a single structure, such as a prototype or the highest-level schema.  For one thing, not every lexical category has a single, clearly determined prototype, nor can we invariably assume a high-level schema fully compatible with the specifications of every node in the network.

[Langacker's Cognitive Grammar, 31, Geeraerts] (emphasis mine)

This is amazing, it basically asserts that lexical meaning resides in the total package of lexical knowledge and the relationship between points in the network.  In my understanding, this is the basis for grounding a strict reliance on encyclopedic knowledge in sense-making activities.


Geeraerts, D. editor. (2006) Cognitive Linguistics: Basic Readings, Mouton de Gruyter

Langacker, R.W. (1990). Introduction in Concept, Image, and Symbol: The Cognitive Basis of Grammar, Mouton de Gruyter (Reprint of ‘An introduction to cognitive grammar’. Cognitive Science 10(1):1-40, 1986.)

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“Dad Jokes” about ballet and perfume in French

Tonight on the way to the ballet my wife and I were riding in the car with one of her friends.  It came up that my sister-in-law’s roommate’s cat pissed in a cardboard box full of her purses.  Our friend made a joke about my sister-in-law wearing a new perfume that smelled like cat piss.  I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to chime in with a joke of my own and said that she was probably wearing “piss de chat” (it sounded like a French perfume name…).  No one laughed.

We kept driving.

I couldn’t let it pass.

I said, “No one laughed at my ballet joke.”

They did not know what I was talking about.

I said: “Pas de Chat is a ballet jump and it means Cat’s Step.  I switched the Pas with Piss to make it into a French name for a perfume that smelled like cat piss.”

No one laughed this time either.

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Metaphoric Extension of Hunger and Thirst Adjectives

Knowledge, mural by Robert Lewis Reid. Second ...

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So, this morning as I was coming out of sleep and waking to face the day I remember trying to figure out why the stative adjective for not being satiated and having hunger was hungry and the stative adjective for not being quenched and having thirst was thirsty, but the stative adjective for not knowing everything and wanting knowledge was not *knowledgy. (*indicates ungrammaticality)

Instead of having a stative adjective to describe the want of knowledge, we say things like “have a thirst for knowledge” or “hunger after knowledge”, these are both metaphoric extensions of adjectives that describe situations which have a number of features in common.  For instance, hunger and thirst share these features: Continue reading

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How Spiders Conceptualize Reality

I found this spider in West Africa...outside my house.

I was working through a homework assignment about developing a language that captures the conceptualization patterns that a spider would have (given the boundaries of its embodied experience), this was a fun experiment, very much like Thomas Nagel’s What is it like to be a bat? (1974).  Anyway, here are some of the ways I cut up the problem:

If I am a spider, these are things that I cannot do:

  • pick stuff up and hold it in my hands
  • juggle
  • flick stuff
  • jump up and down vertically (rather than forward)
  • throw
  • kick
  • dance Continue reading
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Schematization of a research article on discourse metaphors

I am learning about various research methods and so I am reading articles to figure out their basic approach to research.  Here is an article that I have recently read and that I feel embodies a good research design.  Many people say that Cognitive Linguistics has a deficiency in text-based scholarship, this is a good example of a project that embraces text (original texts and transcripts of speeches – so, transcript as artifact/object of study)…enjoy!

Review of: Zinken, J. ‘Discourse metaphors: The link between figurative language and habitual analogies’ in Cognitive Linguistics 18(3) 2007, pp 445-466

This article introduces discourse metaphors as a link between language use and habitual analogical schemas to show that metaphors do not exist only at the superordinate level of categorization (as Conceptual Metaphor Theory suggests), but that they also exhibit systematically consistent (form-specific) figurative mappings at other levels.  In other words, lexical items within a superordinate level also have distinct patterns for figurative use; Zinken terms these discourse metaphors. Continue reading

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Cognitive Mindfulness #15

Schema for cognitive differenciation between c...

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Ronald Langacker is considered one of the founding fathers of the Cognitive Linguistics enterprise, his seminal work in Cognitive Grammar has influenced pretty much everyone who does anything at all in Cognitive Linguistics.  Anyway, here is a quote that talks about the conventional meaning of a lexical item, this grounds the notion of encyclopedic knowledge: Continue reading

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Cognitive Mindfulness #14

This comes from the introduction to a book edited by Dirk Geeraerts:

If conceptual perspectivization is the central function of a grammar, the typical formal categories of grammatical description (like word classes or inflection) will have to be reinterpreted from a semantic point of view. [7 Geeraerts, 2006]

It made me think twice…especially since syntax has been the normal focus of grammar in the last 50-70 years; a meaning based grammar makes a lot more sense to me than a rewrite rule based grammar.


Geeraerts, Dirk, editor, (2006). Cognitive Linguistics: Basic Readings, Mouton de Gruyter

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Language Is a System

Language makes use of ecological elements (symbolic function, communicative function, et cetera) to provide an integrated “tool” with which meaning can be expressed and understood.

Being a system implies the interrelationship of components where a change in stimulus, neurological mechanism or linguistic mechanism alters the system output.  Meaning changes when one element changes, so, as in the case of active vs. passive syntactic arrangements, any syntactic change must entail a semantic change.

The elements of language follow certain regularities in collocations, arrangements and combinations that emerge from meaning and categorization. Continue reading

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Recursion, Björk, Mise en Abyme, Abstraction & the Ontological Metaphor ‘CONTAINER’

Abstraction takes an instance of something and edits out the redundancy and unnecessary elements to leave the basic pattern in a less detailed, but more succinct manner.

Abstraction in art seems to be something of a catch-all bin for art that is not realistic, at least in the common vernacular of the non-art historian/non-art critic.  This is not a healthy conceptualization of abstraction, and it may distort the understanding of abstraction.  I know for me, my view of abstraction was not clear for a very long time because I only associated the term with contemporary art.

What are some of the senses of abstraction?

  • Abstract vs. Concrete
  • Abstract vs. Body Content
  • Abstract vs. Realistic (similar to concrete)

I am interested in the abstraction that has the effect of zooming out, blurring the edges, pixilating the resolution, blocking smaller patterns into larger patterns; this kind of abstraction is of the summarization kind. Continue reading

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Overcome Writer’s Block With Semiotics [Free Download]

I just posted a free download of an excerpt of my semiotics project which will be available as a paperback in September.  I encourage you to check it out and let me know what you think about it.

Most of the textual content is absent; I wanted this excerpt to be visceral and intuitive.

The backbone of the project actually came out of an art piece that I made a few years ago that was intended to question identity and the formulation of identity out of memories and possessions [You will read about it in the Disambiguate Me! series on this blog].

As I developed the art project I realized that it could stand in place for a generic narrative that depends on the ways in which the objects are combined and recombined along a plot line that suggestively emerges from the set of objects as a whole. Continue reading

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