Essays on the Evolutionary-Synthetic Theory of Language

Essays on the Evolutionary-Synthetic Theory of Language


Alexey Koshelev
Translated by Alexander Kravchenko with Jillian Smith

ISBN: 9781644690024 (hardcover)
Pages: 270 pp.; 46 figs.
Publication Date: January 2019

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This book implements a multidisciplinary approach in describing language both in its ontogenetic development and in its close interrelationship with other human subsystems such as thought, memory, and activity, with a focus on the semantic component of the evolutionary-synthetic theory.

The volume analyzes, among others, the mechanisms for grammatical polysemy, and brings to light the structural unity of artefact and natural concepts (such as CHAIR, ROAD, LAKE, RIVER, TREE). Additionally, object and motor concepts are defined in terms of the language of thought, and their representation in neurobiological memory codes is discussed; finally, the hierarchic structure of basic meanings of concrete nouns is shown to arise as a result of their step-by-step development in ontogeny.

Alexey Koshelev is the author of two books, Cognitive Analysis of Universal Human Concepts (Moscow, 2015) and Essays on the Evolutionary-Synthetic Theory of Language (Moscow, 2017), and over fifty papers on cognitive semantics, theoretical linguistics, lexical and grammatical polysemy, the history of linguistic theories, the theory of humor and laughter, human locomotion, general theory of development and related subjects.

The book reads with great interest sustained by both the core ideas of the Evolutionary-Synthetic Theory of Language (ESToL) itself—which may be assessed differently by different readers—and the detailed analysis of numerous examples that illustrate the propositions advanced by the author. The main merit of the book is that the author, while declaring a deep crisis in contemporary theoretical linguistics, at the same time suggests a way out of this crisis with the course outlined in the ESToL.
— Alexander Kravchenko, English Philology, Irkutsk State University (Russia)
Alexey Koshelev takes the next crucial step, toward a synthesis of cognitive and linguistic abilities in their interrelated development, toward a systematic unity of universal and specific, abstract and concrete in language. He begins with patterns in the cognition of objects, from the most basic and holistic representations of an object to the delineation of its distinct features and, further, to the synthesis of the accumulated knowledge of the various facets of an object into a cohesive system for its representation.
— Liudmila Zubkova, People’s Friendship University of Russia [translation J. Smith]
Alexey Koshelev presents an integral conception of language as a sum total of lexicon and grammar, developed from the perspective of child cognitive development and language acquisition. The unquestionable merit of such a conception is the uniform and consistent approach to analysis and description of a range of linguistic phenomena; this approach is characterized by the deliberate use of a well-grounded methodology and an original set of concepts.
— Tat’iana Screbtsova, Saint Petersburg State University (Russia)

Table of Contents


1. The place of the evolutionary-synthetic theory of language among the ranks of linguistic theories
2. Peer reviews of the evolutionary-synthetic theory
3. About the book contents

Chapter 1
On the contradictory nature of contemporary linguistic theories and how to change it for the better
1. Introduction
2. A compendium of incompatible linguistic frameworks
3. Contrastive analysis of some mutually contradicting linguistic theories
1. Introduction
2. On the role of language in thought
3. Is language an autonomous module (“cognitive organ”)?
4. Other opposing assumptions in the theories under discussion
4. Contradictory descriptions of particular linguistic problems
1. The incompatibility of theories of lexical polysemy
2. Contradictory descriptions of the syntax-lexicon interface
3. Theories of language origin and evolution
5. The futility of attempts to reach a consensus
1. Unproductiveness of scholarly polemics
2. Inefficiency of interdisciplinary approaches
6. Is linguistics a natural science?
7. The crisis and its causes
1. Is “multiparadigmality” typical of linguistics?
2. The status of linguistics as a science
3. The root of trouble

8. Principles of an evolutionary-synthetic theory of language
9. Crisis in the cognitive sciences
1. Contradictory frameworks in cognitive sciences
2. The cause of the crisis
3. Towards a unified cognitive paradigm

Chapter 2
A reference-based approach to describing notional words
1. A reference-based approach to lexical semantics
1. The dual structure of lexical meaning
2. Basic meanings of the words chair and armchair
2. An analysis of basic meanings of the action verbs udarit’ ‘hit-PF’, tolknut’ ‘push-PF’, padat’ ‘fall-IMP’, brat’ ‘take-IMP’ and vzbirat’sja ‘climb-IMP’
1. Introductory remarks
2. Contact verbs: udarit’ ‘hit-PF’, kosnut’sja ‘touch-PF’, tolknut’ ‘push-PF’
3. The verb padat’ ‘fall-IMP’
4. The verb brat’ ‘take-IMP’ / vzjat’ ‘take-PF’
5. The verb vzbirat’sja ‘climb’
3. Verbs of spatial orientation:... stojat’ ‘stand’, sidet’ ‘sit’, ležat’ ‘lie’, and viset’ ‘hang’
1. The verb viset’ ‘hang’
2. The verbs stojat’ stand’, ležat’ ‘lie’, and sidet’ ‘sit’
4. The motion verbs...idti ‘walk’, bežat’ ‘run’, polzti ‘crawl’, šagat’ ‘step/stride’, prygat’ ‘jump’, and exat’ ‘go/ride/drive’
1. The motion verbs idti ‘walk’ and bežat’ ‘run’
2. A comparative description of the verbs idti ‘walk’, bežat’ ‘run’, polzti ‘crawl’, prygat’ ‘jump’ and šagat’ ‘step/stride’
3. Basic meaning of the verb exat’ ‘go/ride/drive’
5. The structure of lexical polysemy
1. Reference in lexicology
2. Lexical polysemy
3. Supplement. Three contemporary approaches to lexical polysemy
6. Appendix 1. Excerpts from the email correspondence between A. D. Koshelev and I. A. Mel’čuk (February—March 1995)
7. Appendix 2. An infant’s early acquisition of the laws of nature
1. An infant’s view of the physical world
2. Formation of causal relationships

Chapter 3
Basic-level concepts as the neurobiological codes for memory
1. Concrete concepts and motor concepts
1. Introduction. Two interpretations of basic-level concrete concepts
2. Functional schema of basic-level concepts
3. The function of an object and a linguistic explanation of this function
4. A linguistic explanation of the concept functional schema
5. Neurobiological grounds for the basic concept schema
6. Motor concepts
7. Concrete concepts TropInKA ‘FooTpATh’, DorožKA ‘TrAcK’, dOROgA ‘ROAd’
8. Concepts OzERO ‘LAkE’ and REkA ‘RIVER’
9. The concept dEREVO ‘TREE’
10. Appendix. On the dual nature of human categories

2. On the psychophysical state and the neurobiology of human actions
1. Events and their storage in memory (the neural codes of memory)
2. Psychophysical state as a memory code for interaction
3. Biomechanical models of walking and running
4. On recognition of observed actions
5. Mirror neurons and action recognition
6. Canonical neurons and object recognition

Chapter 4
Elements of a sensory grammar
1. On the basic and derivative meanings of ... nominal genitive constructions in Russian (ručka dveri handle-Nom door-gen, vetka dereva branch-Nom tree-gen)
1. The ‘part-whole’ relationship and its linguistic representation
2. Objects and their functional parts
3. The basic meaning of the nominal genitive construction Y X-gen
4. The derivative meanings of the nominal genitive
5. Objects with a multilevel partitive structure
6. The partitive structure of plants
7. The partitive structure of animals and humans
2. On structural and genetic similarity of lexical and grammatical categories. …The meaning of transitivity
1. The structure of basic meaning
2. The structure of polysemy
3. The meaning of transitivity
3. The basic and derivative meanings of voice.
The active, passive, and reflexive meanings
1. A cognitive approach to the analysis of voice meanings
2. The active voice
3. The reflexive voice: myt’sja ʻwash-reflʼ, kutat’sja ʻmuffle-refl up [in something]ʼ, brit’sja ʻshave-reflʼ
4. The passive voice: mašina moetsja ʻthe car is washing-reflʼ, bel’ё sušitsja ʻthe linen is drying-reflʼ, dom stroitsja plotnikom ʻthe house is building-refl by the carpenterʼ

Chapter 5
On the single structure of lexical meanings of nouns and verbs
1. Object and the system of its parts (the partitive concept)
1. Object and its parts
2. The function of an object as the sum of the functions of its parts
3. The role-based hierarchy of object parts
4. The developed concept
5. How is the main part of an object determined?
6. The functional and physical parts of an object
7. On the radial position of the parts of an object
8. A developed concept represented as a circle
9. The recursiveness of a partitive concept
10. A vocabulary of elementary cognitive units
11. On distinguishing physically connected objects
2. An object and the system of its properties (the attributive concept).
The basic meaning of a concrete noun
1. An object and its properties
2. Conceptualization of concrete properties
3. The partitive-attributive extension of a concrete concept and the basic meaning of a concrete noun
3. A motor concept and its two extensions: partitive and attributive. The basic meaning of an action verb
1. The motor concept SxVATIT’ ‘gRASP’ (seize an object by the hand)
2. The action bežAT’ ‘RUN’
3. The attributive motor concept
4. The basic meaning of action verbs