A few replies, mostly on the auxlang forum, have stated that what I am
talking about are merely metaphors.

Well, yes, cognitive frameworks are built of conceptual metaphors – but
these metaphors are “deep” and pervasive, and the speakers are not often
aware of them. And they are not often documented by linguists or
anthropologists. Here are two examples that show how subtle the frameworks
can be:

1. A while back I read an odd book (part ethnography, part diary) by a
young anthropologist who had done field work in Cameroon. The people he was
living with spoke Ewondo (this is what I remember, but it might have been a
different one of the Bantu languages). This example revolves around the
word “tree.”

In Ewondo, “tree” specifies the category of trees whose species do not have
names, unlike English where it represents every type of tree. This could
lead to confusion like this imagined dialog (which would be in Ewondo
between a native speaker and the anthropologist).

Anthro: “Could you please get my backpack? I left it under the tree.”
Native: “Where? I don’t see any trees.”
Anthro: “Right over there!” (pointing)
Native: “Ah! Under the mahogany.”

This is, indeed, a minor difference, but it’s indicative of how we
(SAE-speakers) may think differently about abstract concepts (like nested
sets) than other cultures, whose language has a different conceptual

2. The Hawai‘ian word “hula” means “to dance,” but not exactly in the same
way as in English (or French or German or Spanish…). “Hula” traditionally
was part of a public ceremony, not a social activity, and this is reflected
in how the word is used.

A common phrase is “ʻaʻa i ka hula,” which literally means “dare to dance,”
but it’s not used in a literal sense. Rather, a friend might say this to
you if you were hesitating to ask someone for a date, or if you were unsure
about jumping off a cliff into the sea below. It’s meaning is more like the
American English phrases, “Go for it!” or “Just do it!” And this is because
“hula” implies to perform in public, which requires courage.

But, it’s more complicated than that. Hawai‘ian uses reduplication as an
intensive or an iterative. So guess what the verb, “hulahula” means.

It means, “to sacrifice an animal to the gods.” (I bet you guessed wrong!)
Why does it mean this? Because “hula” traditionally was part of a public
ceremony with religious significance, the highpoint of some of which were
animal sacrifices.

Given these two examples, do you still think that a simple lexical entry
for “tree” or for “dance” would mean the same thing to a Cameroonian or a
Hawai‘ian as to a European? (Of course, now that they’ve been immersed in
“modern” culture, this question may no longer be pertinent, but you see my

This is probably more important for an auxlang than for an artlang. In an
artlang, you are writing a language spoken by the people of a conculture,
and you have the freedom to flesh out the conculture as much, or as little,
as you wish.

But, for an auxlang, you are specifying a language that you propose to be a
vehicle for worldwide communications. If you do not take into account these
subtle conceptual differences between cultures, what you are doing is
*imposing* the conceptual framework of SAE onto the other cultures of the
world. Now, I don’t think any auxlanger is doing that on purpose, but it
does smack of imperialism.

If, though, you are clear about the sources of your auxlang, like Olivier
Simon’s Sambahsa, whose description explicitly states it is derived from
proto-Indo-European, then you can validly use SAE conceptual frameworks as
a given. But if you believe that by specifying a regular grammar and a
“straightforward” lexicon you have produced a language that will be easy to
understand and use by all the peoples of the world…


On Sun, Jun 14, 2015 at 1:51 PM, Jeffrey Brown <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> (This is posted to both the conlang and auxlang forums, because it is
> relevant to both.)
> *Cognitive Frameworks in Conlangs*
> In the thread, “Naturalistic Grammars,” John Quijada mentioned the
> pertinence of cognitive frameworks for the creation of a sense of
> naturalism in a conlang. I agree absolutely.
> But, first, I have an admission to make. I’ve never done this. I’ve never
> considered the cognitive framework of a language I’ve constructed. I was
> familiar with cognitive linguistics, and had read Lakoff and others, but I
> had never made the connection that those concepts would be important for
> conlanging (or auxlanging).
> I don’t think that many conlangers take cognitive frameworks into account.
> Few of the artlangs I have looked at show evidence of the cognitive
> framework having been considered, and very few explicitly talk about it in
> the description of the language or the conculture. As for auxlangs, I
> cannot think of a single one where cognitive frameworks are addressed.
> But, as soon as John mentioned it (I had missed his presentation at LCC1 –
> in fact, at that time, I hadn’t yet heard of the LCS), it was a slap to the
> forehead. By the way, John’s presentation is available on the LCS website
> (under LCC1), if you want to read it. I am not going to give an
> introduction to cognitive linguistics (and John has already prepared a
> booklist – also on the LCS website – if you would like to learn more) but
> instead assume that you know something about it.
> As an example: It is not sufficient to merely create a lexical entry for
> the preposition “in” for a conlang. For a physical context, “in the house”
> or “in the box”, this works fine, but where the trouble occurs is in the
> extensions to abstract contexts. Does “in” extend to temporal durations?
> Can you say “in Tuesday”? Is “in” used for abstract containment: “in the
> king’s speech”, or “in Kant’s philosophy”? Or membership: “in the army”? Or
> fandom: “in the Red Sox” (compare, “he is really into the Red Sox”)?
> And similarly, it is inadequate to merely create a grammatical entry for a
> morpheme. It is not enough, for example, to specify an opposing pair of
> nominal affixes meaning “quick” versus “slow” – for how does that extend to
> abstract concepts? Is beauty quick or slow? What about liberty? Or trade?
> This is why cognitive frameworks are important: If you *don’t* think
> about them, you will end up importing your own cognitive framework, from
> you own native language, into your conlang.
> --> For an artlang: This importation implies that the speakers of your
> conlang conceptualize their world the way *you* do, the way speakers of
> your native language do. You haven’t fully integrated your conlang with
> your conculture.
> --> For an auxlang: This importation implies that a language you propose
> to be a worldwide auxiliary language actually hides within it the cognitive
> frameworks of an SAE language, which certainly will make it more difficult
> to learn by someone whose native language is non-SAE.
> Part of the difficulty in doing this well is the dearth of information
> about cognitive frameworks for multiple language families (as expressed
> linguistically). Most of the information, print or internet, describes the
> frameworks that exist in English or other European languages. Where is the
> documentation for Bantu or Arawak or others? What I really would like to
> see is a cross-linguistic typology of cognitive frameworks. Or even better,
> some sort of Greenbergian analysis of their internal interrelationships.
> (Hint: Are you searching for a topic for your dissertation?)
> Even in the absence of that source material from natlangs, you can still
> work out a decent cognitive framework for you conlang. What follows is a
> brief example of this, which I came up with while struggling against
> insomnia last night.
> There is a real language spoken by a people in the Amazon river basin for
> which some of the verbs are marked for “upstream” and “downstream” – in the
> phrase “to paddle a canoe” the verb form is different depending on whether
> you are going against or with the current. This is all I remember about
> this language, not even its name.
> Let’s suppose we create a conlang based on this language. We’ll call it
> Xanthic, the language of the Xanth people. In Xanthic, the riparian
> morphemes (upstream/downstream) are obligatory on all verbs, not merely
> river-oriented verbs. (Lest this turn into an argument about morphemes, I
> am using the term loosely, and the morphology may be expressed by an affix,
> it may be fused with other morphemes in an inflection, it may be irregular
> for some verbs, it may be a null marking, whatever.)
> How can this be extended? For some verbs it’s easy. Walking uphill would
> use the upstream morpheme, and walking downhill the downstream. This can be
> extended to “degree of effort,” so that chopping through the rain forest
> with a machete is upstream, but if you’re trimming along a previously mown
> path, it’s downstream.
> Some verbs in Xanthic might appear only with one of the morphemes, not the
> other. (As in English, you can “clean up the mess,” but not “clean down.”)
> So “to drink” might always be downstream. And “to eat” as well. The river
> metaphor can be extended to the alimentary canal. Anything that goes in
> orally, or comes out the normal way, is downstream. “To vomit”, though, is
> upstream. And the verb
> “to-get-something-stuck-in-the-throat-upon-swallowing” is actually the verb
> “to swallow” marked with the upstream morpheme.
> What about abstract verbs? Let’s do a couple. The verbs “to merge” and “to
> split” are based on the analogy to the tributaries of a river. So it’s the
> same verb, with “merge” the downstream form, and “split” the upstream. “To
> remember” could go either way. Perhaps memory is like a fresh spring and
> remembering is like the water flowing downhill. Or, maybe memory is like a
> deep well, and remembering takes the upstream morpheme. And what about
> time? Does the observer move through time (future is downstream), or does
> time flow past the observer (past is downstream)? (It’s *your* conlang;
> you decide.)
> And all this is only *one* aspect of the cognitive framework of Xanthic.
> Finally, this whole idea is important for auxlangers, too. Ease of
> learning and ease of use are important criteria for auxlangs. How does the
> cognitive framework affect that? Are you merely “relexing” the SAE
> framework into the auxlang? Have you researched the cognitive frameworks of
> the Sinitic or Semitic or Hindustani families to assess impediments to
> understanding that different frameworks might cause?
> Jeffrey