Cognitive Linguistics is a new approach to the study of language that emerged in the 1970’s as a reaction against the dominant generative paradigm which pursues an autonomous2 view of language (see Ruiz de Mendoza 1997). Some of the main assumptions underlying the generative approaches to syntax and semantics are not in accordance with the experimental data in linguistics, psychology and other fields; the ‘generative commitment’ to notational formalism, that is to say the use of ‘formal grammars’ that views languages as systems of arbitrary symbols manipulated by mathematical rules of the sort first characterised by Emil Post, is used at the expense of descriptive adequacy and psychological realism (see Lakoff 1987). What Lakoff refers to as ‘nonfinitary phenomena’ (Lakoff 1990: 43), i.e. mental images, general cognitive processes, basic-level categories, prototype phenomena, the use of neural foundations for linguistic theory and so on, are not considered part of these grammars because they are not characterisable in this notation. It is from this dissatisfaction with the dominant model that Cognitive Linguistics is created. Cognitive Linguistics is not a totally homogeneous framework. Ungerer and Schmid (1997) distinguish three main approaches: Experiental view, the Prominence view and the Attentional view of language.
The ‘Experiental view’ pursues a more practical and empirical description of meaning; instead of postulating logical rules and objective definitions based on theoretical considerations, in this approach it is the user of the language who tells us what is going on in their minds when they produce and understand words and sentences. Eleanor Rosch et al. (1977, 1978) carried out the first research within this approach, mainly in the study of cognitive categories, which led to the prototype model of categorization.