Our research group takes a cognitive approach to studying language use in a broad sense. Usage-based approaches in linguistics are concerned with the actual communicative behaviors of speakers, writers, and/or signers (of signed languages). These behaviors are produced by various means (through bodily movements, such as of the mouth and hands), they take various forms (the sounds or traces left by bodily movements), and they can be perceived in various ways (via sight, sound, touch). A fundamental question for those working with usage-based approaches is: on what basis does one decide what counts as language? The research group Language Use and Cognition explores this question in the contex of studying what the use of language and other embodied communicative behaviors reveals about how we conceptualize the world.
Cognitive linguistics connects the study of language use with the study of the way we think. Our group works on the premise that what we call a variety of “language” is a system of communicative patterns that have become entrenched within a given community of practice to varying degrees. These patterns also constitute ways of thinking, and in turn, they afford particular means for construing the world. Cognitive linguistics provides a theoretical basis for much of our research, as it explores the foundations of language in more general cognitive principles, such as those of categorization, schematization, and iconic representation. The umbrella term “cognitive linguistics” includes frameworks such as cognitive grammar and construction grammar, as well as the study of conceptual metaphor, metonymy, framing, and processes of conceptual integration.
Gesture studies is a field concerned with the use of the hands and other parts of the body for communicative purposes. Most of our data for empirical analysis consist of video recordings of speakers in interaction. Our analyses mainly focus on lexical semantics and grammar and the interrelations between spoken language and speakers’ gestures. The study of people’s bodily movements while talking, particularly speakers’ hand gestures, has become an important means of gaining insight into processes of thinking for speaking. The Language Use and Cognition group thus forms the core of a broader network of those interested in such research: the Amsterdam Gesture Center.
Current research projects focus on a range of different languages, including Chinese (Mandarin), Dutch, English (American and British), German, and Russian. The work in our international group is strengthened by arrangements we created for double PhD degrees between the VU and universities in China (Beihang University in Beijing and Xiamen University) and in Russia (Moscow State Linguistic University).