Association-interpretation: a research technique in cultural and cognitive linguistics

Document Type

Journal Article


Centre for Applied Language & Literacy Research


Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences


International, Cultural and Community Studies




Sharifian, F. (2001). I Association-Interpretation: A research technique in cultural and cognitive linguistics. In Proceedings The 6th Annual Round Table of the Centre for Applied Language and Literacy Research, Edith Cowan University, Western Australia.


There has been growing interest in the study of the human conceptual system across several disciplines and sub-disciplines in the last two decades. Cognitive scientists have been involved in modeling the architecture of the human conceptual system. For instance, a fairly recent paradigm in cognitive science called "connectionism" models the human conceptual system as a network composed of a large number of units joined together in a pattern of connections (Rumelhart & McClelland, 1986). Cognitive linguists, on the other hand, have been investigating the contents of the human conceptual system and how they are reflected in language (Lakoff, 1987; Lakoff & Johnson, 1980; Langacker, 1987, 1991, 2000). Cultural linguists (Palmer, 1996) and cognitive anthropologists (Strauss & Quinn, 1997; D'Andrade, 1995) have recognized that knowledge embodied in conceptual systems and reflected in language is in fact deeply ensconced in culture and thus maintain that a thorough account of language should not only unravel cognitive-conceptual structures but should also provide insights into cultural knowledge and its influence on the more general patterns of conceptualization. The human conceptual system is made up of concepts that are associated with each other in various ways. Terms such as "category" and "schema" have in fact been used to capture two general types of associative relationships. Categories reveal a hierarchical structure of superordinate, basic, and subordinate levels, whereas schemas mainly reveal thematic, event-based, or sequential relationships. 'Food' and 'restaurant' are associated with each other schematically, while 'food' is associated with 'pasta' categorically. 'Category' and 'schema' have been two pivotal notions in studies of culture and conceptualization. Scholars in this area have been closely examining how different cultures develop and organize their categories and schemas (e.g., Rosch, 1975; Lakoff, 1987; Palmer, 1996). The notions of cultural schema and cultural category have in fact evolved from such endeavors. This paper elaborates on these two notions.

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