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On defining image schemas

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 May 2014

Department of Cognitive Science, University of California San Diego
Institute for Culture and Society, University of Navarra
*Address for correspondence: e-mail: Jean Mandler:; Cristóbal Pagán Cánovas:


In this theoretical paper we propose three different kinds of cognitive structure that have not been differentiated in the psychological and cognitive linguistic literatures. They are spatial primitives, image schemas, and schematic integrations. Spatial primitives are the first conceptual building blocks formed in infancy, image schemas are simple spatial stories built from them, and schematic integrations use the first two types to build concepts that include non-spatial elements, such as force and emotion. These different kinds of structure have all come under the umbrella term of ‘image schemas’. However, they differ in their content, developmental origin, imageability, and role in meaning construction in language and in thought. The present paper indicates how preverbal conceptualization needs to be taken into account for a complete understanding of image schemas and their uses. It provides examples to illustrate this influence, the most important of these being the primacy of imageable spatial information.

Research Article
Copyright © UK Cognitive Linguistics Association 2014 

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