Force Dynamics in Language and Cognition


  • Leonard Talmy

    Corresponding author
    1. University of California, Berkeley
    • Program in Cognitive Science, Institute of Cognitive Studies, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720

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“Force dynamics” refers to a previously neglected semantic category—how entities interact with respect to force. This category includes such concepts as: the exertion of force, resistance to such exertion and the overcoming of such resistance, blockage of a force and the removal of such blockage, and so forth. Force dynamics is a generalization over the traditional linguistic notion of “causative”: it analyzes “causing” into finer primitives and sets it naturally within a framework that also includes “letting,”“hindering,”“helping,” and still further notions. Force dynamics, moreover, appears to be the semantic category that uniquely characterizes the grammatical category of modals, in both their basic and epistemic usages. In addition, on the basis of force dynamic parameters, numerous lexical items fall into systematic semantic patterns, and there exhibit parallelisms between physical and psychosocial reference. Further, from research on the relation of semantic structure to general cognitive structure, it appears that the concepts of force interaction that are encoded within language closely parallel concepts that appear both in early science and in naive physics and psychology. Overall, force dynamics thus emerges as a fundamental notional system that structures conceptual material pertaining to force interaction in a common way across a linguistic range: the physical, psychological, social, inferential, discourse, and mental-model domains of reference and conception.