2012 – Prof. Leonard Talmy

University at Buffalo, State University of New York

Leonard Talmy, Professor emeritus of Linguistics at the State University of New York in Buffalo, is best known as one of the founding fathers of Cognitive Linguistics. Talmy's understanding of Cognitive Linguistics is rooted in the conviction that language as a cognitive system shares some of its fundamental design features with other cognitive systems (e.g., the human visual system), but also exhibits characteristics and organizational principles genuine to language alone. Thus, language structures can neither be directly derived from general cognition nor is language to be seen as a completely autonomous model of human cognitive architecture. Talmy's integrative and encompassive "Overlapping Systems Model of Cognitive Organization," an independent stance within Cognitive Linguistics may well explain why Leonard Talmy's work has been received and widely appreciated not only by linguists outside the paradigm, but also by developmental psychologists, applied linguists and foreign language teaching experts, and even philosophers. Among his best known and outstanding accomplishments at the interface of language and cognition are seminal studies on motion typology, cross-linguistic representations of space concepts, lexicalization patterns in the languages of the world, an evolutionary model of compositionality in language that is very much compatible with current neuroscientific binding models of neural synchrony. Beyond the core area of cognitive semantics, Leonard Talmy has published influential articles on the culture system and on narrative structure that testify to his rigorously interdisciplinary stance.


At the award ceremony for the Gutenberg Research Award 2012: Georg Krausch, JGU President, Leonard Talmy, and Matthias Neubert, Chair of the GRC Executive Committee (from left to right). Photo: Uwe Feuerbach, Schwabenheim

His commitment to the JGU Mainz, especially to its Department of English and Linguistics, has become visible for quite a few years now. From 2008 on, he has, apart from maintaining profound and long-lasting personal relations to individual members of the Department, been an external reviewer in a Habilitation, a guest lecturer in 2009, a consultant to one of the individual component projects in the large-scale research project on "Determinants of Linguistic Variation".