CSE 575, Fall 2001

Guest Lecture

"How Language Structures Concepts"

Len Talmy
Department of Linguistics

As a fundamental design feature, language has two subsystems, the open-class (lexical) and the closed-class (grammatical). These subsystems perform complementary functions. In the total meaning expressed by any portion of discourse, the open-class forms contribute the majority of the content, while the closed-class forms determine the majority of the structure. Further, across languages, all closed-class forms are under great semantic constraint: They represent only certain concepts and categories of concepts, but not others. Closed-class representations accordingly appear to constitute the fundamental conceptual structuring system of language. This talk will examine some of the main conceptual categories and member concepts represented by closed-class forms; the properties that distinguish such closed-class representations from open-class representations; and the conceptual structuring function performed by this organization of language. This linguistic structure will be brought into relief by contrasting it with the structure found in another cognitive system, visual perception. It will be seen that language and vision, along with other cognitive systems, each have certain structural properties of their own and others that they share, in what I term the overlapping systems model of cognitive organization.

Copyright © 2001 by William J. Rapaport (rapaport@cse.buffalo.edu)
file: 575/F01/talmy.06sp01.html