Idealized Cognitive Model

Idealized Cognitive Models or ICMs were introduced by G. Lakoff in his book “Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind”. ICMs represent complex Gestalt structures, which organize our knowledge of the world.

Unlike frames (Ch. Fillmore) ICMs do not attempt to represent the world with absolute precision, they are culturally based and universal. To illustrate the notion of ICM G. Lakoff turns to the concept of the word Tuesday that makes sense only within an ICM that includes the conceptы of DAY as the time, during which the Earth makes the full cycle around the Sun, and of WEEK as a seven-day period of time [Lakoff, p. 70].

Another more complicated example is the concept BACHELOR that can be defined as an unmarried adult man. However, it is hard to qualify Tarzan or the Pope as bachelors, though they meet the definition. So, the concept is defined with respect to an ICM in which there is a human society with typically monogamous marriage, and a typical marriageable age. The model says nothing about the priests or representatives of the religions, in which the polygamy is permitted, i.e. the ICM fits in the system of certain segments of society, but it does not work in the peripheral cases [Lakoff, p.68-70].

Lakoff distinguishes between 5 types of ICMs:

  • Propositional ICMs include simple elements and connections between them. This type includes, for example, scenarios and scripts.
  • Image-schematic ICMs represent the image-schemas that describe different concepts based on the location of the object, its shape, trajectory of movement, etc.
  • Metaphoric mappings occur while transfer some items from one area to another, for example, when life is considered as a path.
  • Metonymic mappings apply when one concept replaces the other.
  • Symbolic ICMs describe the knowledge about the language.

Therefore, the term ICM is primarily based on Fillmore’s notion of frame and Lakoff and Johnson’s theory of metaphor. Along with mental spaces by G. Fauconnier, blends by M. Turner, image-schemas by R. Langacker and M. Joynson, ICMs are used as a way to represent knowledge structures and a tool to describe the semantics of linguistic expressions.

Further reading

Cienki A. Frames, idealised cognitive models and domains // The Oxford handbook of cognitive linguistics. D. Geeraerts, H. Cuyckens (eds.). NY: Oxford UniversityPress, 2007. — P. 170-187.

Lakoff G.Women, fire, and dangerous things: What categories reveal about the mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Valeriya Denisova (Ph.D student)

Translated by Tatyana Bocharova