A Note on Cognitive Semantics and Categories

Since 2012, I have been reading and tracking the developments in the field of cognitive linguistics and semantics. It’s a field that, in my opinion, has significant implications for Hebrew Semantics and textual analysis. I have yet to see any Semitic lexicon seek to advance its linguistic methodology on the basis of Cognitive Semantics, like we find in the work of FrameNet (https://framenet.icsi.berkeley.edu/fndrupal/). It’s a dream of mine to see something similar for Hebrew.

Apropos cognitive linguistics and cognitive semantics, I’ve introduced some of the fundamental ideas into the field of Qumran studies. One book that has had a significant influence on my thinking has been George Lakoff’s Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things. This quote from Lakoff serves as an epigraph in my forthcoming book on the Community Rules (and not-Community Rules!):

Categorization is not a matter to be taken lightly. There is nothing more basic than categorization to our thought, perception, action, and speech. Every time we see something as a kind of thing, for example, a tree, we are categorizing. Whenever we reason about kinds of things—chairs, nations, illnesses, emotions, any kind of thing at all—we are employing categories.1

There is no avoiding categories. The challenge we face: how do we know what categories are operative in an ancient text?


Fillmore, Charles J. “Frame Semantics.” Pages 373–400 in Cognitive Linguistics: Basic Readings. Cognitive Linguistics Research 34. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2006.

Fillmore, Charles J., and Beryl T. Atkins. “Toward a Frame-Based Lexicon: The Semantics of RISK and Its Neighbors.” Pages 75–102 in Frames, Fields, and Contrasts: New Essays in Semanitc and Lexical Organization. Edited by Adrienne Lehrer and Eva Feder Kittay. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Langacker, Ronald W. Foundations of Cognitive Grammar: Descriptive Application. Vol. 2. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987.

———. Foundations of Cognitive Grammar: Theoretical Prerequisites. Vol. 1. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987.

Lakoff, George. Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Winter, Steven L. A Clearing in the Forest: Law, Life, and Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

———. “Frame Semantics and the ‘Internal Point of View.’” Pages 115–27 in Law and Langauge. Edited by Michael Freeman and Fiona Smith. Current Legal Issues 15. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.


  1. George Lakoff, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 5–6.

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