Background: categorization theories
In the second half of the 20th century several path-breaking studies in cognitive sciences radically changed our view of categories and categorization. In particular, Eleanor Rosch’s seminal works on cognitive psychology (1973, 1975) provided a crucial contribution to a theory of categories with the introduction of key notions such as prototype and basic level. This revolution also provided the main tenets of the cognitive-functional approach in linguistics, based on the notion that language is embodied and integrated within other human cognitive abilities (Langacker 1987; Lakoff 1987). Several studies in this field have shown how language reflects the way speakers of different languages categorize reality in a culture-specific way. Some examples are the well-known studies on color typology (Berlin and Kay 1969) or spatial frames of reference (Levinson 2003).
More recently, works by Barsalou (Barsalou 1983, 1991, 2003, 2010) have introduced an important divide between natural (or common) categories on the one hand and ad hoc categories on the other. The first roughly correspond to traditional categories, i.e. context independent intuitions, while the latter respond to the need to categorize reality under particular contextual circumstances and for a specific purpose. Ad hoc categories are thus involved in the creation of reference to situation-specific objects such as “things I need for a one-month vacation to Alaska” or “magazines you can find in a men’s barber shop”.
The existing literature on categorization, however, seems to consider linguistic phenomena to the extent that language reflects categorization and provides strategies (mainly lexical ones) to name categories. According to Croft and Cruse (2004), each time we refer to some concept through a given word, we actively and cooperatively construe the reference of that word by tailoring it up for the particular context. Also, within Relevance Theory lexical semantics has been analyzed in terms of its adaptability to context: according to Wilson and Carston (2007), words are used as hints towards ad hoc concepts, that is, narrowed or broadened interpretations of the lexical semantics, based on context relevance.
Our focus: the construction and communication of categories in linguistic interaction
Is naming the only way in which language works as a categorization tool? The great amount of spoken data nowadays available allows us to check the received theories on categorization against real data on language interaction. In other words, we are now in the position to ask ourselves how categories are referred to by speakers interacting in conversation, and even more crucially to what extent categories are shared, negotiated, co-constructed by speakers.
The naming of categories may indeed be the aim of an interaction, not necessarily a starting point. What we observe in spoken data is that the use of a lexical category label (i.e. a word, or a short phrase), though adapted to context, is frequently not enough, and speakers recur to exemplification, reformulation, and further strategies to check for the hearer’s cooperation towards categorization. Let us consider example 1)
- It was some sort of chessboard, you know, not a real chessboard, more like a large decorated dish, a shield, something like that. A round chessboard-like object.
In 1) we can see the speaker employing a lexical label to refer to a given object (‘chessboard’), preceded by some approximation (‘some sort of’). Yet, she feels that this label may not be enough to guide the hearer toward the identification of the correct reference. Therefore, she continues defining the borders of the category by negating what is outside the category itself (‘not a real chessboard’). After delimiting the borders, the Speaker goes establishing a similarity comparison with an open list of examples (‘more like a large decorated dish, a shield, something like that’), which are contextually relevant for the abstractive process. She then reformulates the category through a new label, creatively recurring to a word-formation strategy (‘round chessboard-like object’).
Linguistic interaction allows us to observe both
- competing strategies for category naming: simple words, established and nonce complex words (compounds, derivatives), multiword expressions, phrases;
- strategies that guide speakers through a top-down and bottom-up process of category co-construction, that is, a shared complex activity of formulation, reformulation, exemplification, negotiation, abstraction and reference, expressed by: list constructions, general extenders, exemplifiers, similative constructions, negative periphrases, reduplication, reformulation, etc.
Moreover, data on linguistic interaction offer a privileged vantage point on the actual role played by context in determining the speaker’s choice of a specific naming strategy (e.g. a compound, cf. Schlücker & Hüning 2009) as opposed to a more procedural strategy (e.g. a list of examples), and in guiding the hearer’s interpretation.
Great cross-linguistic variation is attested in both naming and procedural categorization strategies (see Mauri 2017, Mauri and Sansò, in preparation). For instance, associative and similative plurals (Daniel and Moravcsik 2013) or echo reduplications (Montaut 2009) are in some languages the default strategy to convey an abstractive, exemplar-driven categorization process of the type ‘X and similar things’. Given their morphological status, we would expect them to be used as naming strategies, but their exemplar-driven semantics leans more towards a procedural use. Moreover, little or no attention has been paid to the actual use of these and other similar strategies in speakers’ interactions.
See call for papers.
Auer, Peter. 2009. On-Line Syntax: Thoughts on the Temporality of Spoken Language. Language Sciences 31/1: 1-13.
Auer Peter and Stefan Pfänder (eds.). 2011. Constructions: Emerging and Emergent. Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter.
Barsalou, Lawrence W. 1983. Ad hoc categories. Memory and Cognition 11(3). 211-227.
Barsalou, Lawrence W. 1991. Deriving categories to achieve goals. In G.H. Bower (eds.), The psychology of learning and motivation: Advances in research and theory. San Diego, CA: Academic Press. 1-64. [Reprinted in A. Ram & D. Leake (eds.), Goal-driven learning. 1995. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press/Bradford Books. 121-176.]
Barsalou, Lawrence W. 2003. Situated simulation in the human conceptual system. In Language and Cognitive Processes, 18. 513-562. [Reprinted in H. Moss & J. Hampton, Conceptual representation. East Sussex, UK: Psychology Press. 513-566.]
Barsalou, Lawrence W. 2010. Ad hoc categories. In Patrick C. Hogan (eds.), The Cambridge encyclopedia of the language sciences. New York: Cambridge University Press. 87-88.
Berlin, Brent and Paul Kay. 1969. Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution. The David Human Series Philosophy and Cognitive Science Reissues 19. University of California Press.
Croft, William and Alan D. Cruse. 2004. Cognitive Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Daniel, Michael and Edith Moravcsik. 2013. The associative plural. In Martin Haspelmath, Matthew Dryer, David Gil, Bernard Comrie (eds.) The world atlas of language structures. Chapter 36. München: Max Planck digital library.
Deppermann Arnulf and Susanne Günthner. 2015. Temporality in Interaction. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Du Bois, John. 2014. Towards a Dialogic Syntax. Cognitive Linguistics 25/3: 351-410.
Hopper, Paul J. 2011. Emergent grammar and temporality in interactional linguistics. In Peter Auer and Stefan Pfänder (eds.) Constructions: Emerging and Emergent, 22-44. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.
Lakoff, George. 1987. Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things : What Categories Reveal about the Mind. University of Chicago Press.
Langacker, R. W. 1987. Foundations of Cognitive Grammar. Vol. 1: Theoretical Prerequisites. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Levinson, Stephen C. 2003. Space in Language and Cognition: Explorations in Cognitive Diversity. Cambridge University Press.
Mauri, Caterina. 2017. Building and interpreting ad hoc categories: a linguistic analysis. In Blochowiak, J., Grisot, C., Durrleman, S., Laenzlinger, C. (Eds.), Formal models in the study of language, 297-326. Berlin: Springer.
Mauri, Caterina and Andrea Sansò (eds.). In preparation. Ad hoc categorization and language: the construction of categories in discourse. Special Issue of Languages Sciences.
Montaut, Annie. 2009. Reduplication and ‘echo words’ in Hindi/Urdu. In Singh Rajendra (ed.) Annual Review of South Asian Languages and Linguistics. Berlin: de Gruyter: 21-91.
Schlücker, Barbara and Matthias Hüning (eds.). 2009. Words and phrases – nominal expressions of naming and description. Special Issue of Word Structure 2(2).
Wilson, Deirdre and Robyn Carston. 2007. A unitary approach to lexical pragmatics: Relevance, inference and ad hoc concepts. In Noel Burton-Roberts (eds.), Pragmatics, 230-259. London: Palgrave.