CATEGORIZATION is the fundamental cognitive process of arranging objects into categories [Cohen, Lefebvre 2005]. It is crucial for people’s everyday activity. Every one of us constantly and unconsciously recognizes new fragments of experience as members of an already familiar and defined class of entities or phenomena.

For cognitive linguistics, the most relevant aspect of the problem of categorization is the nature of categories. Currently, linguists distinguish two alternative category structure models: the classical model and the prototype model [Croft, Cruse, 2004].

According to the classical model, suggested by Aristotle, a category is an abstract container with a certain set of entities – equal members of the category possessing a number of common significant features [Аристотель 1939]. Thus, categories have clear boundaries; the members of a category share a number of common significant features which may be regarded as criteria of membership; the members of a category have the same status within it.

The prototype model was developed in the seventies and was based on psychologist Eleanor Rosch’s works. This model denies the equality of category members. The basic notions are: a category centre and its periphery, its worst and best exemplars, and its prototype [Rosch 1973]. A category prototype is its best, most characteristic and illustrative exemplar. It occupies the category centre. The least typical members occupy its periphery.

This model also distinguishes different levels of C. [Rosch 1977]. The basic or generic level categories usually receive in the language short stylistically neutral names, such as animals, furniture, or clothes. A human being learns these words and notions at a very early age. More specific categories, reflecting narrower classes, on the contrary, are mostly represented in language by word combinations following the pattern ‘generic name + defining attribute’, for example, Persian cat, billiard table, winter coat, or bookcase.

The drawback of the classical model of C. is its disregard of people’s conceptualization differences. It does not focus on more and less typical features of object conceptualization and C. [Когнитивные исследования языка 2011]. The drawback of the prototype model of C. is its disregard of category members’ features (the membership criteria) and the category boundaries. In the process of C. the speaker may drift far enough from the prototype and place objects with quite low degree of similarity into the same category [Croft, Cruse, 2004]. For example, both amoeba and a human being may be classified as animals. That is why cognitive science is now preoccupied with the questions of fuzzy category boundaries [Rosch, Mervis 1975]; the conceptual structure of categories [Murphy 2014]; as well as teaching categorial thinking research in categorial-learning experiments [Smith, Minda 1998].

The advantages and disadvantages of these models still remain far from being totally ascertained. Cognitive scientists do not deny the significance of classical categories for mathematics, logics, natural sciences, and law [Ungerer, Schmid, 1996]. However, in respect of everyday life C. is better described by the prototype model thanks to its reliable psychological basis. Still, classical categories may be quite helpful in everyday life as well, when dealing with well-known concrete objects (table, gloves, rose, kangaroo). Difficulties appear when dealing with such spheres of life as friendship, feelings etc. [Lakoff, 1987].

  1. Bratseva



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Когнитивные исследования языка. Вып. X. Категоризация мира в языке. М.-Тамбов, 2012.

Cohen H., Lefebvre C. Handbook of Categorization in Cognitive Science. Elsevier, 2005.

Croft W., Cruse D.A. Cognitive Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

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Murphy G. Categories and concepts // Noba textbook series: Psychology / Eds. R. Biswas-Diener, E. Diener. Champaign, IL: DEF publishers, 2014. P. 512-528.

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