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"Its publication should be a major event for cognitive linguistics and should pose a major challenge for cognitive science. In addition, it should have repercussions in a variety of disciplines, ranging from anthropology and psychology to epistemology and the philosophy of science. . . . Lakoff asks: What do categories of language and thought reveal about the human mind? O "Its publication should be a major event for cognitive linguistics and should pose a major challenge for cognitive science. In addition, it should have repercussions in a variety of disciplines, ranging from anthropology and psychology to epistemology and the philosophy of science. . . . Lakoff asks: What do categories of language and thought reveal about the human mind? Offering both general theory and minute details, Lakoff shows that categories reveal a great deal."—David E. Leary, American Scientist


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"Its publication should be a major event for cognitive linguistics and should pose a major challenge for cognitive science. In addition, it should have repercussions in a variety of disciplines, ranging from anthropology and psychology to epistemology and the philosophy of science. . . . Lakoff asks: What do categories of language and thought reveal about the human mind? O "Its publication should be a major event for cognitive linguistics and should pose a major challenge for cognitive science. In addition, it should have repercussions in a variety of disciplines, ranging from anthropology and psychology to epistemology and the philosophy of science. . . . Lakoff asks: What do categories of language and thought reveal about the human mind? Offering both general theory and minute details, Lakoff shows that categories reveal a great deal."—David E. Leary, American Scientist

30 review for Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind

  1. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

    If this book was a couple of hundred pages shorter I would recommend it to just about anyone. The central idea is both interesting and important – but I think the book isn’t quite sure about who its audience ought to be and this gets in the way. I didn’t quite finish the last of the case studies, he did warn it would be long, but I lost the thread and figured I had gotten all I needed from the book by then, anyway. I’ve been reading a few books lately that have questioned how the categories we us If this book was a couple of hundred pages shorter I would recommend it to just about anyone. The central idea is both interesting and important – but I think the book isn’t quite sure about who its audience ought to be and this gets in the way. I didn’t quite finish the last of the case studies, he did warn it would be long, but I lost the thread and figured I had gotten all I needed from the book by then, anyway. I’ve been reading a few books lately that have questioned how the categories we use to divide up the world impact on how we are able to understand the world. Foucault’s The Order of Things, is a case in point – in that Foucault traces the remarkably similar changes in the underlying categories used to understand economics, biology and linguistics over nearly 400 years and how changes in these categories amounted to revolutions in the way these subjects were understood. In fact, the new categories changed how we understood our world in so far as that world is made up of bodies, money and language. What this book doesn’t say is that ‘with our thoughts we make the world’, this is not a book of fundamental subjectivism – what it does say is that with out categories we structure the world in ways that say at least as much about us as we say about the world. Which is the other thing I’ve been reading a lot about lately – that we are anything but brains in vats, we are anything but Cartesian minds longing to be separated from our all too human bodies. This book is formed on the idea that the mind-body split is problematic on all levels and that we had just better get used to the idea that the fact we have bodies is going to say something important about how we go about understand the world. As he says very early in this, thought is embodied, thought is imaginative, thought has gestalt properties and thought has an ecological structure. Essentially, thought is relative, relative to our mode of existence and relative to the cognitive structures we create in seeking to understand the world on the basis of our experience of the world – but thought is anything but purely arbitrary or infinitely malleable. This is what he refers to as his ‘experiential realism’. The objective world exists, but he wants to show the differences between his view of that world and what he refers to as the objectivist view. Such an objectivist view sees truth as transcendental – that the truth for us humans and for, say, machines would be exactly the same because it would be based on some Kantian or Platonic world of perfect rationality – such a world, he claims, simply does not exist. All of this relates to what he calls the correspondence theory of our thoughts, how our thoughts ‘correspond’ to objective reality – and this is why we need categories and this is why what our categories say about our understanding of the world is so important. Much of what we learn about the world is based on us putting things into categories where like things go with other like things. But even our simplest categories are much more complicated than we generally imagine. This is because the objectivist view has categories that are essentially based on Plato’s forms – that is, that there is out there in the netherworld a ghostly version of a table, there is a category of the perfect table, and that all ‘real’ manifestations of tables only approximate that perfect table. The category of table is such that while no real table is ever a perfect table, it is a table only in so far as it matches our category of tableness, shares in the properties of being a table. In this sense, categories are pretty well given and pure and it is the world that is a bit off. Categories are made up of things that all share certain properties – and this should be utterly unproblematical, either you have that common property or you don’t. And since categories are decided on the basis of properties that exist in the things being categorised then it really shouldn’t matter who is doing the categorising. The categories should say more about the world than they say about those who use the categories. If the categories are logical, then they should be universal. A bit like Hegel’s ‘what is rational is real, what is real is rational’. These two ideas of categories, that they are properties of things and therefore independent of who uses the categories, are both effectively wrong. This leads us away from what might be a ‘god’s eye view’ of the world and leaves us with what is our all too human view. If a category is made up of things that all share the same properties then it would seem to make sense that none of those things should be ‘more central’ than any other thing in the same category. This could be called the ‘rose is a rose is a rose’ idea of categories. The problem is that most categories are anything like as simple as that. Take the category of ‘bird’. Clearly there are lots of different kinds of birds – robins and kookaburras and chickens. But what is strange is that certain examples of birds are simply ‘better’ at being birds than others. There is a real sense that if I say bird you are much more likely to think of a robin or a sparrow than an emu or a penguin. But how can this be if they are all examples of the same category? You know, no one doubts that a penguin is a bird – it just doesn’t come unbidden to our minds when we think of an example of a bird. In just the same context there is a fascinating discussion about colours. This is something Pinker touches on in The Language Instinct, but it is much more interesting here. If a language has only two words for colours they will be ‘warm’ and ‘cool’ – effectively black and white. Reds and oranges and yellows will end up in the warm category and brown and green and so on in the other. There are eleven colours that are considered basic (basic in the sense that a robin is a basic bird) and endless colours that are more or less just showing off. But he then goes on to show that you can get a culture that has only two words for colours and teach them made up names for other colours and those people will easily learn these ‘new’ colours. Not just that, they will be able to also show you a ‘good’ example of what ‘red’ or ‘blue’ is and this will be remarkably identical to what someone who has a language with just such colours would choose as exemplars of these colours. This seems to go against the thesis that categories are arbitrary or even socially defined – that is, why should it be the case at all that there should be a ‘good’ example for ‘red’ – even for people who don’t even have a word for ‘red’? The reason seems to have to do with the light receptors in our eyes work. These pick up either red or green, or they pick up blue or yellow. There is a time when your red/green receptor picks up lots of red but no green – and this will be the perfect ‘red’. For this reason too we are able to think of a colour half way between blue and green – oh, the blue green sea tossed the boat – but not a colour half way between red and green – oh, the red green sky??? Light comes in a continuum of colours – physically, there is always a space between one frequency (red) and another (green) – but our bodies just don’t work that way. It seems, and he develops this argument in his first case study, that concepts such as anger are also rather universally understood across cultures and also based on physical reactions within our bodies. When we are angry our pulse rate increases, our ability to think diminishes, our body temperature goes up and so on. All of these physical changes then feed into our concept of what anger is. This also structures the kinds of metaphors we are able to use for anger. Anger is likely to be metaphorically compared to an explosion or to fire, but not to something that is, say, soft or cuddly. The great rabbit of anger? Perhaps this is part of the reason why these ads are so disturbing http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X21mJh.... If anger is to be a colour it is much more likely to be red than green. But these metaphors are only really understandable due to them being based on clear physiological phenomena that occur in our bodies – our cognitive understanding of anger depends on how anger is manifest physically in our bodies. Categories are complex things and not always logical in the way philosophers have believed. This illogic of categories is shown in the fact that people can find Mexico to be more similar to the United States than the United States is to Mexico. This ought to make no sense at all – but of course it makes perfect sense. To quote him directly: ”The main thesis of this book is that we organize our knowledge by means of structures called idealized cognitive models, or ICMs, and that category structures and prototype effects are by-products of that organization “ That is, we have an idealised vision of what a chair is for and for what it does in the world – essentially, we put our bums onto one surface and our backs against another. Now, lots of things are going to be fine for doing just that with and we will happily call them chairs, but some things are going to fit that category much more readily than other things and so they are going to fit better with the idealised cognitive model and therefore fit better with the kinds of metaphors and general ideas that form around that model too. Take bachelors. It almost seems that the sentence ‘bachelors are unmarried men’ ought to be simply a boring tautology. But in that case both James Bond and Pope Benedict are equally bachelors. Both are unmarried men – so both would seem to fit equally well with the literal definition – but is there any real doubt that one of them is a better fit for the idealized cognitive model of a bachelor than the other? What would it mean to say, “Pope Benedict is behaving like a bachelor?” A bachelor is a bit of a ‘boyo’ and, at least in his pubic persona, Pope Benedict doesn’t quite cut the image of a bachelor, even though, be definition he is unmarried. In fact, referring to him as a bachelor sounds like the first line in what will end up a very bad and completely tasteless joke. The thing is that we structure our world according to the cognitive models we have of the world – that is, they are like the glasses we use to look out at the world and these models help us to structure what we see, but they simply can’t be too different from the way the world actually works or we would keep tripping over reality in our models. When we are sick we want to lie down – when we are well we get up – so up is going to be associated with good things and down with bad things. But such ideas as up is good says more about how our bodies work than about anything ‘true’ in the way the world works. But this is the very opposite of Chomsky’s view of linguistics – this is because for Chomsky there are fundamental structures hardwired into the brain that allow us to understand language and therefore to understand categories. These hardwired structures imply there is a formal set of algorithms in the workings of the brain that match up with physical structures in the way the world is organised. As such, they allow our language to link with the world in a way that allows us to make sense of the world. For Lakoff this is not the case. Chomsky’s ‘objectivist’ view is wrong and needs to be replaced with a view that holds that our cognitive models are in a kind of balance between how our bodies behave in the world and the cognitive models we build up to help explain that world. As he says, “our conceptions depend on our bodies and our culture, they are by no means ‘value free’.” I’m determined to be the only review that doesn’t explain the title – but I do have to say this is one of the truly great titles of a book on linguistics. How could you not want to read a book with a title like that?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Manny

    This book certainly shows you why linguistics is so damn hard: there is an almost infinite number of ways in which concepts can turn out to be related. The title refers to Dyirbal, an native Australian language, where women, fire and dangerous things all end up in the same category, Balan. I just looked this up, to check that I remembered correctly why the Hairy Mary Grub is also Balan. You see, it gives you a painful rash that feels like sunburn, and sunburn is of course related to the sun, and This book certainly shows you why linguistics is so damn hard: there is an almost infinite number of ways in which concepts can turn out to be related. The title refers to Dyirbal, an native Australian language, where women, fire and dangerous things all end up in the same category, Balan. I just looked this up, to check that I remembered correctly why the Hairy Mary Grub is also Balan. You see, it gives you a painful rash that feels like sunburn, and sunburn is of course related to the sun, and that's like fire...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ushan

    A car is usually a self-powered four-wheel vehicle 3-5 meters long that encloses a driver and one to four passengers. This definition is not exhaustive; there has been a three-wheel car, an eight-wheel car; a racecar seats no passengers; early horseless carriages did not enclose the driver and the passengers. Yet the definition describes the prototypical car in the minds of most speakers of English. When asked to draw a car, they would draw something like the prototypical car and not a three-whe A car is usually a self-powered four-wheel vehicle 3-5 meters long that encloses a driver and one to four passengers. This definition is not exhaustive; there has been a three-wheel car, an eight-wheel car; a racecar seats no passengers; early horseless carriages did not enclose the driver and the passengers. Yet the definition describes the prototypical car in the minds of most speakers of English. When asked to draw a car, they would draw something like the prototypical car and not a three-wheeler or an eight-wheeler; when asked, whether a given vehicle is a car or a motorcycle, or a car or a van, they would compare the differences between the vehicle and the prototypical car, the prototypical motorcycle, and the prototypical van. Originally the word meant carriage; when the automobile was invented, the meaning was extended to it; earlier, when the first railroads were built, the meaning was extended to any vehicle moving on rails, whether self-propelled or pulled by a locomotive; thus we have dining cars, sleeping cars and freight cars. An amusement park attraction called the bumper car is a vehicle driven by the visitor that bumps into other such vehicles; it is not self-powered. A toy that looks like a car and has turning wheels is called a toy car. Thus cars are a typical conceptual category of objects: instead of having clear boundaries, with any object inside the boundary as good a representative as any other, there are several prototypical objects, which are linked by analogy and metaphor, and membership in the category is defined by the similarity with a prototype. There must of course be legal definitions of cars in different jurisdictions for the purposes of taxation and licensing, but how did the legislators get the idea of a car? Lakoff argues that categorization is a hugely important part of thinking, and most categories are like that. An Australian Aboriginal language groups nouns into four classes, similar to the three genders of Indo-European languages and the noun classifiers of Chinese. The second class contains women, the Sun, which is connected to women in the tribal mythology, fire, which burns like the Sun, and a poisonous larva, whose poison stings like fire. The metaphorical daisy chain is what transformed the word "Gothic" from "relating to an East Germanic people of the Dark Ages" to "relating to medieval architecture" to "relating to Romantic scary tales set in a castle built in this architecture" to "relating to a subgenre of rock music that evokes the mood of such tales" to "relating to a youth subculture that listens to such music". As the tribe was assimilating into the larger Australian society and its members switching to English and forgetting their mythology and natural history, the second noun class in their speech has been losing members to the fourth class, which contains "everything else", like class 12 of animals in Borges's fictional Chinese encyclopedia. I am still wondering how Chinese ended up with a classifier for lessons, subjects and large guns, and another for people, pigs, and kitchenware.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jenn

    It's not about women or anything feminism related. Rather, it's AMAZING book about cognition and categories of thought. It's not about women or anything feminism related. Rather, it's AMAZING book about cognition and categories of thought.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Roy Kenagy

    Essential reading for librarians - cognitive categorization theory. How real people (as opposed to librarians) classify stuff. Hint: we're not even close. Essential reading for librarians - cognitive categorization theory. How real people (as opposed to librarians) classify stuff. Hint: we're not even close.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I can't in good conscience rate this book. Strictly speaking, I neither "read" nor "understood" it in its entirety. But I'm definitely not an objectivist. Lakoff and I are experiential realists. We keep it real. Experientially. "The theory of cognitive models, as we will be describing it, is concerned with conceptual structure. But structure alone does not make for meaningfulness. Experientialism claims that conceptual structure is meaningful because it is embodied, that is, it arises from, and is I can't in good conscience rate this book. Strictly speaking, I neither "read" nor "understood" it in its entirety. But I'm definitely not an objectivist. Lakoff and I are experiential realists. We keep it real. Experientially. "The theory of cognitive models, as we will be describing it, is concerned with conceptual structure. But structure alone does not make for meaningfulness. Experientialism claims that conceptual structure is meaningful because it is embodied, that is, it arises from, and is tied to, our preconceptual bodily experiences. In short, conceptual structures exist and are understood. Conceptual structure takes its form in part from the nature of preconceptual structures." "[T]he belief that there is a God's eye point of view and that one has access to it (that is, being a hard-and-fast objectivist) virtually precludes objectivity, since it involves commitment to the belief that there are no alternative ways of conceptualizing that are worth considering." Represent.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Dave Peticolas

    Great book. It's not an easy read, but it was well worth it for me. How do we think? From whence do our concepts come and how our they structured? Is language a separate, independent "module" in the brain or is it tied into our other concepts and vice versa? How does syntax relate to semantics? How does semantics relate to truth? How does the body relate to the mind? How well does the traditional view of logic and truth match up with our lived experience? Lakoff explores all of these questions in Great book. It's not an easy read, but it was well worth it for me. How do we think? From whence do our concepts come and how our they structured? Is language a separate, independent "module" in the brain or is it tied into our other concepts and vice versa? How does syntax relate to semantics? How does semantics relate to truth? How does the body relate to the mind? How well does the traditional view of logic and truth match up with our lived experience? Lakoff explores all of these questions in a densely argued critique of traditional philosophical approaches to syntax, semantics, and truth and then presents a new approach in a review of (relatively) recent research into cognitive linguistics. The review includes three case studies of different aspects of English grammar and semantics. The result was an eye-opening experience for me. There's some really interesting work going on here these days, must read more!

  8. 4 out of 5

    David Dinaburg

    At one point during The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: after the crossbow; after the pale woman; after the death of the crew; the Mariner shifts from being repulsed by the ocean’s strange creatures to being entranced by them, even though he is still under a curse that can trace some semblance of causality back to an oceanic animal. In spite of, or possibly because of, said curse, he can finally see the beauty inherent in the world and bestows blessings on all of creation. With that selfless, point At one point during The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: after the crossbow; after the pale woman; after the death of the crew; the Mariner shifts from being repulsed by the ocean’s strange creatures to being entranced by them, even though he is still under a curse that can trace some semblance of causality back to an oceanic animal. In spite of, or possibly because of, said curse, he can finally see the beauty inherent in the world and bestows blessings on all of creation. With that selfless, pointless gesture, the albatross—the in-narrative tangible curse-proxy and eventual übersymbol for personal baggage and regret—slides free. So it’s a story of acceptance of the world and in all things great and small. That’s nice. But why give the moment to the water snakes? You have the Mariner looking over the side of the ship already, looking down into the ocean. His reflection, replete with Albatross accoutrement, could reasonably be visible to him. Why wasn’t it the Albatross that the Mariner “blessed unaware”? Are we to suppose that the magic wonder of ultimate peaceful blessings that the Mariner is radiating extends to the Albatross too? No. No, specifically he calls out “happy living things” during his vatic revelation. And that Albatross is as dead as his old crewmates. That he killed. Via his curse. Shooting the albatross created the Mariner—he’d just be some guy on a boat, never the person that wanders the world spreading the tale so that renders you, the reader, “a sadder and a wiser man.” So shouldn’t he learn to love the albatross, not the gaudy water snakes? Albatross as is, too; not the sleek and flying good sailing omen from the sky, but the dead, weighty metaphor hanging around his neck? And from my neck so free The Albatross fell off, and sank Like lead into the sea. Now, I’m not calling Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind an Albatross, though after nearly six weeks of dragging this hefty tome all over the city I can certainly relate to the physical burden of traipsing across the sea with an unwieldy bird-corpse stuck to you. No, I’m calling it my apple juice seat. And much like the intriguing mystery that is the title of this book, I assure you that apple juice seat will make sense by the end of this review. For now, let us return to the sea and the impropriety with which the dead Albatross was treated. What bothers me about Rime is that the Mariner never really thinks about the Albatross again. It’s been part of his life for, let’s say, oh don’t know, let’s pick six weeks as an arbitrary amount of time that is not representative of anything in particular. And this albatross is always just there, you know? He’s lugging it all over creation. And sure, it feels like a burden while you’re carrying it, but you sort of get used to the weight. You become “That guy that’s always wearing that Albatross. What do you think his deal is, did he lose some sort of bet?” And even if you complain about it all the time, because it kind of sucks and there are hundreds if not thousands of other birds you could be sporting—why even limit yourself to birds, right? Maybe take a month and wear not a single bird at all, but focus your style on wearable marmots—but once it’s gone, you sort of miss it. I mean, it’s over, really over. That damn thing has sunk like lead into the sea. Even though you were pretty unhappy while actually, because it wasn’t really fun…still, the Albatross taught you some things. About yourself. About what categories reveal about the mind. Okay, you caught me. I am blatantly comparing Women, Fire to the Albatross. With zero subtlety. But never more so has a “spring of love gushed from my heart ” than the moment I closed this for the final time. If you’re not up on your Coleridge, yes, that’s the line that directly precedes the release of the Albatross pendant and, with it, assumedly the curse. And now that I’m free from the weight of this book, I don’t know how to even begin reviewing it. I’ve carried it nearly everywhere for six weeks. My morning and evening commutes—depending on subway crowds—offered the chance for about eight to ten pages. Fewer still if I was deep into an objectivism vs. experientialism section, because those pages required perfect attention or, failing that, brute repetition, to absorb even one iota of information. And objectivist versus experientialist was about a third of the book. It felt like my pet that could never be left home by itself. Or my mascot for the month of January. And late December. And the first half of February. See? Six weeks. Perhaps it is unfair to lay this at the feet of Women, Fire, but I was able to renew it nine times from the library. Nine. It almost wanted to try for the tenth before I returned it, but I don’t want that on my library record: it feels too self-indulgent. What I’m saying is that, anecdotally, people aren’t exactly beating down the doors to get their hands on a copy. I’m of the mind it might be good if more people did try to read it, though it might damage the publishing industry if their sales drop to zero while the entire world struggles through six weeks or more of taxonomic synapomorphies. I definitely picked up some accessible pieces of information: The MORE IS UP metaphorical model constitutes conceptual scaffolding for, say, discussions about economics—price rises, depressions, downturns, etc. It is not believed. No one thinks MORE really is UP; it is just used in understanding. But there are people who really believe that TIME IS A RESOURCE, and who live by it: they budget their time, try not to waste their time, etc. As we saw above, there is a movement to conventionally extend the RESOURCE (or MONEY) metaphor for TIME, so that the concept of STOLEN TIME will become believed and lived by and not merely pondered, as it is now. Metaphorical concepts can also be lived by without being believed. For example, no one believes that SEEING really is a form of TOUCHING, in which there is a limblike gaze that goes out from the eyes and seeing occurs when the gaze touches something. There used to be a scientific theory of “eye-beams” that was of this sort and was widely believed, but not anymore. Yet we still use such a metaphor to comprehend vision, and that us is reflected in expressions like I can’t take my eyes off of her. Her eyes picked out every detail of the pattern. Their eyes met. And so on. These sections keep you moving forward, just like every non-fiction book worth its salt—there are some tidbits that you can pull out and say, “Hey, yeah. I learned that. That’s a cool fact.” In the above example, treating time like a resource has become so commonplace, has always been so commonplace for my entire lifespan, that it never even occurred to me that there is nothing inherent within time that makes one treat it the same as money.Our every day folk theory of the world is an objectivist folk theory. We create cognitive models of the world, and we have a natural tendency to attribute real existence to the categories in those cognitive models. This is especially true of conventional metaphorical models. Take, for example, our cognitive model in which time is understood metaphorically as a moneylike resource. Thus, time can be saved, lost, spend, budgeted, used profitably, wasted, etc. This is not a universal way of conceptualizing time, but it is very pervasive in American culture, so much so that many people lose sight of its metaphorical character and take it as part of an objective characterization of what time “really is.” I really liked these discussions, and there were a number of them spread throughout Women, Fire. Treating time like a resource leads people down some really strange post hoc rationalizations, which seem perfectly natural until you actually parse time as metaphor from time as actual experience. But you sort of have to function as if time is a resource in a society that takes it as a predicate truth. In Search of Lost Time sounds deep and enthralling; In Search of Lost Gravity sounds like a direct-to-home SciFi film. You can’t, in actuality, save time any more than you can save gravity, nor spend some gravity relaxing, or even kill gravity by just doing nothing. You can’t really do those things to time, either. But if everyone acts like we can, does the distinction contain value anymore? Folk theories can be more than just misleading: they can be dangerous: A particularly important fact about the collection of metaphors used to understand lust in our culture is that their source domains overlap considerably with the source domains of metaphors for anger. As we saw above, anger in America is understood in terms of HEAT, FIRE, WILD ANIMALS and INSANITY as well as reaction to an external force. Just as one can have smoldering sexuality, one can have smoldering anger. One can be consumed with desire and consumed with anger. This comes from one of the case studies that make up the second half of the book: much like how the functional metaphors that rely on “eye-beams” still persist long after the scientific acceptance of the actual “eye-beam” principle has waned, the conceptual metaphors that bridge anger and lust create space to rationalize some particularly heinous acts. I am opting out of discussing them in depth here, but if the penciled underlines and asterisks in my copy of Women, Fire were any indication, there is no shame in skipping over the first half of the book and diving directly into the case studies. Even though nearly half the pages are devoted to case studies, this book proper leans more heavily on gestalts than direct potable facts. If, like me, you bring almost no outside knowledge of cognitive psychology (or gestalts, or even the meaning of gestalt), when the curse lifts and that albatross finally drops into the sea you may be left with a lingering sense of new structures with which to view language: Take the sense in which I talk of a cricket bat and a cricket ball and a cricket umpire. The reason that all are called by the same name is perhaps that each has its part—its own special part—to play in the activity called cricketing: it is no good to say that cricket means simply ‘used in cricket’: for we cannot explain what we mean by ‘cricket’ except by explaining the special parts played in cricketing by the bat, ball, etc.[citation removed]Austin here is discussing a holistic structure—a gestalt—governing our understanding of activities like cricket. Such activities are structured by what we call a cognitive model, an overall structure which is more than merely a composite of its parts. A modifier like cricket in cricket bat, cricket ball, cricket umpire, and so on does not pick out any common property or similarly shared by bats, balls, and umpires. It refers to the structured activity as a whole and the nouns that cricket can modify form a category, but not a category based on shared properties. Rather it is a category based on the structure of the activity of cricket and on those things that are part of the activity. The entities characterized by the cognitive model of cricket are those that are in the category. What defines the category is our structured understanding of the activity. Unlike cricket, which technically I suppose I only vaguely understand, the category termed objectivist means almost nothing to me. Meant. Meant almost nothing to me, before this book. So when I say a solid third of this book is spent dismantling objectivism, well, it’s not fun for the neophyte. Have you ever heard someone talking—at length—about why Sachin Tendulkar, given modern bowls, should be considered as good a batsman as Don Bradman? You might end up knowing a bit about both Bradman and Tendulkar if you put your mind to deciphering their discourse, but you probably won’t walk away learning any fundamentals of cricket, the sport of choice for the two I just mentioned. You generally need at least a little context to even know where to begin in high-level discourse, and this book is no exception. Women, Fire isn’t a new book. I have already confessed to not knowing current perspectives of the objectivist standard, though I did read Bentham in undergrad and still maintain a few bits from Kripke on my physical shelves. But even if every fact from this book has been excised from the modern grimoire of literary diegesis and obliterated from the entire field of cognitive theory, the exercise in perspective might be worth the effort: The objectivist paradigm also induces what is known as the literal-figurative distinction. A literal meaning is one that is capable of fitting reality, that is, of being objectively true or false. Figurative expressions are defined as those that do not have meanings that can directly fit the world in this way. If metaphors and metonymies have any meaning at all, they must have some other, related literal meaning. Thus, metaphor and metonymy are not subjects for objectivist semantics at all. The only viable alternative is to view them as part of pragmatics—the study of a speaker’s meaning. Moreover, it follows from the objectivist definition of definition itself that metaphor and metonymy cannot be part of definitions. They cannot even be part of concepts, since concepts must involve a direct correspondence to entities and categories in the real world (or a possible world). These are not empirical results. They are simply further consequences of the objectivist paradigm. This section—and it was a very large section indeed—was the hurdle that made a six-week odyssey for me. Honestly, an objectivist understanding of the mind is something I still don’t know if I totally understand. So being dragged along as an expert dismembers it bit by bit—well, it’s a bit like inviting yourself to play with the Boston Philharmonic because you’ve seen The Music Man a dozen times. I am certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there were pages upon pages that I simply didn’t comprehend. It was humbling. I pulled something away from all those pages: that concepts cannot be merely internal representations of an external reality; that linguistic symbols are not inherently meaningless and do not simply correspond with things in the world. But ask me in six weeks why the conceptual categories of myths and metaphors prove that the mind is more than an isolated symbol-translating machine, and I might struggle with the details of focal blue being perceived when the blue-yellow neurons show a blue response and when the red-green cells are firing at the neutral base rate. I’ll probably remember that people within the same language culture typically perceive and name focal blue the same way—which destroys the collegiate aphorism, “Duuude, what if my blue is your green…?!”—but that languages with different color categories might center the category that covers the “cool” colors—blue, green, black—into focal green. Even though focal blue elicits the same neurophysiological response, it would be interpreted as green. As wild as bits like that are—and I’m sure I didn’t do the focal blue discussion justice—I cannot recommend reading this book to a normal person. I just can’t. The ratio of dross to gem is too high—the work required to put in is too demanding. Maybe if you’re going on a long trip and you can only have one book. There are great things to pull from it. Read a synopsis. Take a course at a local college, where the adjunct’s job is to edit down the text into readable sections. Trust a professor to create a photocopied packets of the good bits. It’s probably all digital now, anyway. Does it follow that—as digital photography has obliterated the cost of snapping dozens of pictures where one once sufficed—professors feel free to assign full texts rather than annotated pages since it doesn’t require four trees per student? Even given the relatively limitless expanse of the internet, I believe Women, Fire would still be edited down. Substantially. Look, we all acknowledge the reason the book seems cool is the title: Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things. It is an appealing puzzle. The author gives a shorthand summary, and admits that grouping those three words together will cause more people to stop and give the book a shot. It’s a bit frustrating. If you do get into the meat of the discussion, much later on, it turns out to be worth it. Sort of like how shoving enough broccoli down a kid’s throat will eventually lead to him seeking it out on his own (your mileage may vary on this particular example). The secret insight regarding women, fire and dangerous things is that, well, in the aboriginal language of Dyirbal, they’re in the same category. Then, there is a close dissection of Dyirbal, a language which is probably extinct by the time you’re reading this. It is fascinating, though you can never quite shake the feeling that the title remains thoroughly misleading. I’m not in the position to parse Dyirbal here and now, but I feel comfortable saying that the title could just as easily be Money, the Moon, and Animate Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind for exactly the same reasons, minus those of marketing panache. As the end of the book loomed ever closer, I began to fear and distrust the world post Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things. I’d grown used to the weight of my albatross: the daily struggle against four or five pages; the fear of its heft smushing the remnants of my lunch as I returned home each night. What I’d begun to realize—in part from the literal weight of the book itself, in part from the figurative density of the material—was that the weight, the cultural weight, of albatross as a metaphor sprung from nothing. Before Coleridge, before The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, it meant nothing. There is nothing inherently ominous, curse-worthy, or redemptive about it outside of the context of Rime. Coleridge is the Weird Sisters for albatrosses—only through his proclamation would they reach what seemed an inevitable fate—quintessential regret metaphor. Now it’s used like it really means something, in and of itself. It is something that never did and never will exist in our world. But we get it, it makes sense. Because of context. It has slipped the surly bonds of its own narrative origin and risen in the real world free, reborn free from its own contextual baggage. When an appropriate Idealized Cognitive Model is provided by context, a compound can be made up spontaneously. Pamela Downing provides the classic example of apple juice seat, an expression actually used by a hostess to an overnight guest coming down to breakfast. There were four place settings at the table, three with glasses of orange juice and one with a glass of apple juice. She said Please sit in the apple juice seat, and the new compound made perfect sense given what was understood about the setting. I doubt completing Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things will send me on a round-the-world journey sharing my tale and turning any who will listen into “wiser and sadder” people. But if you’ll recall, the Mariner never suggests one takes up the mantle of the Albatross themselves; rather, listen and learn from the story as he tells it. Save yourself from shooting the albatross. Learn what you want of this book from someone else’s abridgement.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Othman

    I picked up this book because I knew Lakoff is an opponent of Chomskyan linguistics. He, among others, established a new school of thought, Generative Semantics, which challenged the assumptions of the mainstream in generative linguistics, and I thought I would read this book to know more about his way of thinking. I think the book is an important one not only for those trained in functional linguistics but more importantly for those trained in formal linguistics, like myself. It's hard to spot t I picked up this book because I knew Lakoff is an opponent of Chomskyan linguistics. He, among others, established a new school of thought, Generative Semantics, which challenged the assumptions of the mainstream in generative linguistics, and I thought I would read this book to know more about his way of thinking. I think the book is an important one not only for those trained in functional linguistics but more importantly for those trained in formal linguistics, like myself. It's hard to spot the flaws in the ideas you're exposed to for so many years until you familiarize yourself with the ideas put forward by other competing theories. This book calls into question the underlying assumptions in formal linguistics (e.g. Set-theoretic modeling, autonomous syntax, ... etc.) and argues that natural language does not work that way. This book could've been made shorter, but it's an easy read.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mallory

    This book has a lot of interesting information about categories and how they related to human cognition and language. However, it is from the early 90s and voraciously advocates the prototype model of categories, which I think, while useful, has limited application to cognition as a whole. It did provide a useful insight into some of the history of how categories have been viewed and studied across the decade. I stopped after the first half because I began to find the book tedious, and while it w This book has a lot of interesting information about categories and how they related to human cognition and language. However, it is from the early 90s and voraciously advocates the prototype model of categories, which I think, while useful, has limited application to cognition as a whole. It did provide a useful insight into some of the history of how categories have been viewed and studied across the decade. I stopped after the first half because I began to find the book tedious, and while it would likely hold the attention of a cognitive scientist much longer, my purpose was to read it strictly for the purposes of language.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kate O'Neill

    This book has been an essential piece of my thinking around how we approach the world and frame the concepts we encounter. My work in indexation and taxonomy creation has been heavily influenced by it, and, although it was written well before the digital information onslaught, it continues to provide a relevant framework in dealing with online content and information architecture. A must-read if you want to excel in content strategy.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Audra

    Truthfully, this fascinating volume is a thick, voluminous and dense read, but utterly revealing. I still have parts of it to read, but it is one of the essentials of morphosyntax and semantics that anyone who loves the mystery of language would be remiss not to have read, at least in part.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Petter Nordal

    Lakoff's argument is that thinking relies not only on a physical brain, but also on embodied experiences which become metaphors for concepts. A clear headed analysis with far-reaching implicatiions for educators. Lakoff's argument is that thinking relies not only on a physical brain, but also on embodied experiences which become metaphors for concepts. A clear headed analysis with far-reaching implicatiions for educators.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kimmo

    Lakoffs is quintessential reading about semiotic-thinking

  15. 5 out of 5

    Peter Morville

    This book made my head hurt. In a good way. It's the best book about classification I've read. Brilliant! This book made my head hurt. In a good way. It's the best book about classification I've read. Brilliant!

  16. 4 out of 5

    FL

    I feel very silly reviewing this book given that it's often highly technical and has an audience of specialists in fields I'm not in. But, on a forum like this, I doubt I'm any more or less qualified than most other commenters, so might as well dive in. The general point of the book is to argue against treating language just as a bunch of symbols to be pushed around, and instead to show how language is dependent on metaphors and categories in our minds. The first half of the book goes through a l I feel very silly reviewing this book given that it's often highly technical and has an audience of specialists in fields I'm not in. But, on a forum like this, I doubt I'm any more or less qualified than most other commenters, so might as well dive in. The general point of the book is to argue against treating language just as a bunch of symbols to be pushed around, and instead to show how language is dependent on metaphors and categories in our minds. The first half of the book goes through a lot of background in linguistics, philosophy, math, and so forth, situating this view historically and amidst views that were trendy back in the 80s. The second half presents detailed case studies, the last of which is over a hundred pages of technical detail but presents fascinating example sentences that show that even "grammatical correctness" depends on some notion of categorization. I could articulate why I found this book interesting, in terms of particular interests I've had in mathematical logic for quite some time. But that doesn't explain why this book has been popular enough to have so many reviews on this platform. I don't think most people know or care about mathematical model theory, or most of the technical detail he's arguing against, and if one wants to get to Lakoff's theory of categorization, there are presumably more efficient ways. So perhaps I'm just missing something simple.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Farhan Samir

    A great book on categorization theory and cognitive linguistics. It continues to influence modern research on, for instance, the systematic growth of a word's senses. It's also a very readable book despite the complexity of Lakoff's undertaking. His writing and teaching is very patient in that it includes lots of redundancy (which, in my opinion, is a plus for such works). For instance, we have the following explanation of basic level categories: - The highest level at which category members ha A great book on categorization theory and cognitive linguistics. It continues to influence modern research on, for instance, the systematic growth of a word's senses. It's also a very readable book despite the complexity of Lakoff's undertaking. His writing and teaching is very patient in that it includes lots of redundancy (which, in my opinion, is a plus for such works). For instance, we have the following explanation of basic level categories: - The highest level at which category members have similarly perceived overall shapes - The highest level at which a single mental image can reflect the entire category - The highest level at which a person uses similar motor actions for interacting with category members - The level at which subjects are fastest at identifying category members. - The level with the most commmonly used labels for category members - The first level named and understood by children - The first level to enter the lexicon of a language - The level with the shortest primary lexemes - The level at which terms are used in neutral contexts. - The level at which most of our knowledge is organized - The level Such patience is not exhibited in many other excellent but terse and often overwhelmingly complex books on cognitive linguistics (see, e.g., Regularity in Semantic Change by Traugott).

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jay

    For those who enjoyed Metaphors We Live By, this is a much deeper dive into linguistic complexity. It's an enlightening antidote to the oversimplifying logic of what I gather is conventional linguistics and cognitive theory. It's also, however, a slog. I think there are two reasons for this. First, Lakoff seems to be addressing an academic audience. There's a lot of detail that seems pretty arcane - not useless, but hard to follow. Second, he has an iterative style: he'll give you a paragraph th For those who enjoyed Metaphors We Live By, this is a much deeper dive into linguistic complexity. It's an enlightening antidote to the oversimplifying logic of what I gather is conventional linguistics and cognitive theory. It's also, however, a slog. I think there are two reasons for this. First, Lakoff seems to be addressing an academic audience. There's a lot of detail that seems pretty arcane - not useless, but hard to follow. Second, he has an iterative style: he'll give you a paragraph that obviously makes a lot of assumptions, and you wrestle with it, and then you realize he's going to walk you through the details later - and he may do so more than once, with none of the iterations being really comprehensive on its own. This may be unavoidable with a topic as complex as this one, but it ain't easy to follow.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Shane

    As an academic study Lakoff's book is highly regarded as groundbreaking. Unfortunately, not having expertise in linguistics, it is also difficult to read as the author has an overly reliant focus on long lists, and on the use of terminology that is specific to this domain. The book presents reasoned arguments (particularly on the long discussion against objectivism in scientific theory) and carefully blends linguistics with philosophy and psychology with social linguistics, which at times is fas As an academic study Lakoff's book is highly regarded as groundbreaking. Unfortunately, not having expertise in linguistics, it is also difficult to read as the author has an overly reliant focus on long lists, and on the use of terminology that is specific to this domain. The book presents reasoned arguments (particularly on the long discussion against objectivism in scientific theory) and carefully blends linguistics with philosophy and psychology with social linguistics, which at times is fascinating. Not an easy read, but worthwhile and thought-provoking, and better for the case studies included at the end of the book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ann Michael

    Not a book for everybody--the lay reader will find it tough going. However, for what it is--an argument about linguistics, especially categories and their functions in grammar and in cultures--Lakoff writes remarkably clearly. It helps if one has previously read his book(s) on the embodiment of cognition. I recommend Lakoff & Johnson's "Metaphors We Live By" as a start. At any rate, some fascinating material here if the reader can manage to comprehend the linguistic logic proofs that the author em Not a book for everybody--the lay reader will find it tough going. However, for what it is--an argument about linguistics, especially categories and their functions in grammar and in cultures--Lakoff writes remarkably clearly. It helps if one has previously read his book(s) on the embodiment of cognition. I recommend Lakoff & Johnson's "Metaphors We Live By" as a start. At any rate, some fascinating material here if the reader can manage to comprehend the linguistic logic proofs that the author employs for some (but by no means all) of his evidence. The reason for the title is terrific!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Mills

    Much of it was over my head. It's not as much fun as the title. Some parts were really interesting though. It presupposes you know a bit about linguistics, and it argues a lot about semantics and objectivism and such, which to a layman sounds like splitting hairs and nit-picking. Worth reading, though. Much of it was over my head. It's not as much fun as the title. Some parts were really interesting though. It presupposes you know a bit about linguistics, and it argues a lot about semantics and objectivism and such, which to a layman sounds like splitting hairs and nit-picking. Worth reading, though.

  22. 5 out of 5

    sidedishes

    Very informative. Particularly enjoyed the view of image schemas governing thought and perception. The segments on mathematical logic and Putnam's theorem were additionally interesting from a philosophical perspective. Dragged on for a bit for me to the point where it was hard to remember the main point of a chapter by the time I finished reading. Very informative. Particularly enjoyed the view of image schemas governing thought and perception. The segments on mathematical logic and Putnam's theorem were additionally interesting from a philosophical perspective. Dragged on for a bit for me to the point where it was hard to remember the main point of a chapter by the time I finished reading.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Emma Berg

    George Lakoff uses this book to deconstruct categorization, focusing mainly on a psycho-linguistic approach, which is interesting to read and take into consideration. There are times when he deconstructs a construct to an absurd degree, but he does it very well and it does not detract from the book itself.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Larissa

    Not for the non-linguist who wants a fun read. This is a technical book. I read this as part of a portfolio project for my degree, and while I thoroughly enjoyed it, I definitely feel worn out on finally finishing it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Filips

    I sigh because this book was not fun in the way the title suggested. In all honesty, I found it quite dry and long, I feel it could have been written in a quarter of the words it took. BUT it did make some interesting points

  26. 5 out of 5

    Stefan

    Hard read. But insightful.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Carrie

    One of the most difficult books to read, but one of the richest. It's been a decade, and I still think back to something from it or reference it in my head when I work on projects. One of the most difficult books to read, but one of the richest. It's been a decade, and I still think back to something from it or reference it in my head when I work on projects.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Coeruleum

    This book is simply factually inaccurate. Try reading Women are not dangerous things: Gender and categorization by Plaster, Keith and Maria Polinsky. 2007. Pop linguistics/pop linguistic anthropology is the scourge of the Earth.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jay Allen

    Invaluable. Really nice book with some ideas about how we organize what we know and some nice examples from a wide list of languages.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Stefan

    I've not idea why I've picked up this book, probably it was available for £1 at a closing sale of Greenwich second-hand bookshop and I've recalled the tile from someone referring to works of Hilary Putnam in a review of the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values. I know nothing about linguistics, what is more due to the complexity of subject (UCL allows 10 different postgraduate programs) and its low utility to myself I tend to actively avoid it. However, I muddled thr I've not idea why I've picked up this book, probably it was available for £1 at a closing sale of Greenwich second-hand bookshop and I've recalled the tile from someone referring to works of Hilary Putnam in a review of the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values. I know nothing about linguistics, what is more due to the complexity of subject (UCL allows 10 different postgraduate programs) and its low utility to myself I tend to actively avoid it. However, I muddled through the book looking for gems and insights of cognitive science or philosophical thought. With that as a caveat, in my opinion it’s a brilliant example of a scholar work. It defines objectivist paradigms for the purpose of discoursing against these. Covers author own concepts of cognitive models and experimental realism vague enough to avoid direct counter attacks. Mixes in enough additional concepts to distract readers covering categories (should we map it to category theory branch of mathematics?), semantics, metaphors (of his much more readable book, co-authored with Mark Jonhson, Metaphors We Live By), image-schemas, relativism, even AI (almost got me to like him there posting couple of challenging and interesting questions). Finally, Lakoff brings concepts and cites works of enough of other scholars to allow entrenchment behind fog of war so thick that only very dedicated person will pick-up the fight. On top of that the book albeit with rather good flow, is written in a hard to comprehend style, at places I felt like reading a brilliant student lecture notes from several different courses mixed into on hodgepodge. Interesting? Yes. Though-provoking? Of course. Worth reading? Maybe. Worth the time spend to decrypt? No, as author wrote it for himself not for you, the reader. Time to go and read some Putman…

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