Cognitive approaches to language 2020

Anna Konstantynovska

Kamianets-Podilskyi National Ivan Ohiienko University

Scientific Supervisor: PhD, Kryshtalyuk H.A.


This paper argues that image schemas CONTAINER and OBJECT are mechanisms of toponym representation, based on cognitive perception. The application of human cognition gives a much more profound idea of what toponyms are.

Key words: toponym, CONTAINER, OBJECT, cognition, image schemas.

The process of place naming is very complex and informative. It is caused by historical, political, geographical and social factors. If we examine atoponym entirely, we can get information about the past of the area, where this or that place is situated.

Everyone has its own visualization of the geographic place. It is caused by the human’s ability to involve cognitive processes differently. That’s why everyone can give their ownevaluation of toponyms. Cognitive linguistics as a branch of linguistics helps to solve the secrets of human’s mental activity and factors affecting it. Perceptive process is one of the main factors, which gives the human different associations and experience of the notion. Associations have perceptual ground and become meaningful through image- schemas. The latter are patterns of conceptual nature which come from everyday activity and make up a set of associations, perceived as images.

  1. Johnson stated in 1987, that, image schema is a recurring dynamic pattern of our perceptual interactions and motor programs that gives coherence and structure to our experience. Experience is to be understood in a very rich, broad sense as including basic perceptual, motor-program, emotional, historical concepts. [1, p.4]

Image schemas provide the coherence and visualization of objects’ perception and has two basic principles: The first one is unification of sensory and motor elements into humans’ conscious. It can be shown well through manifestation of body’s position, highlighting, the position of arms, gestures or mimes, including emotions and mood. And the second one is producing a metaphor of elements in humans’ cognitive process. Image schemas can correlate with other elements of cognitive activity. It means correlation of containers with objects and vice versa. Such elements of cognitive activity as container and object can be manipulated by human’s perception, which is based on association and it can be changed due to context.

         In our research we use perceptual image schema OBJECT and spatial-motor image schema CONTAINER to explain how meanings of toponyms are constructed.

According to M. Johnson and G. Lakoff, the image schema OBJECT is based on specification, highlighting, unification the main element of schema in a whole. In most cases they are independent objects and to solve up which element is an object or container, we should have a context. The object is a pattern which can be metaphorically moved to other domains of experience.

The CONTAINER can be more generalized than OBJECT and have OBJECT in itself. It is also characterized as a region of conceptual domain.

Switching from CONTAINER to OBJECT shows mobility of toponym meaning and its different construction depending on the context. It means that a toponym’s meaning can be viewed as OBJECT or CONTAINER and even have a simultaneous representation. The latter depends on figure-ground and generality-specificity alignment. For example, toponym London is conceptualized as OBJECT at the background of Great Britain as a CONTAINER. Great Britain contains London, in other words. In this case Great Britain is general, while London is specific. But London is conceptualized through a CONTAINER which can become background for urban features viewed as OBJECTS.

The insignia Find your Great Britain to the LEFT of the web-page is represented as CONTAINER:

London’s most haunted locations. London is foregrounded as CONTAINER and locations as OBJECTS inside it.

The best places to eat traditional British food in London. The best places are foregrounded as OBJECT at the background of London as CONTAINER.

Beautiful neo-gothic architecture, completed in 1877 at the height of Manchester’s success in the cotton industry. The Town Hall has been the location for many films and TV programmes, often acting as a double for the Houses of Parliament.[2]

In this case The Town Hall is a foregrounded OBJECT and background is considered to be Manchester treated as CONTAINER element around the OBJECT.

Truro is the only city in Cornwall.

Truro is OBJECT , a specified element, and Cornwall is a layer. So, Cornwall is CONTAINER.

If we analyze some examples of toponyms’ mobility in discourse, the good example will be series “Peaky Blinders”. There is an extremely dynamic mobility of CONTAINER and OBJECT represented by toponyms, e.g. We should urgently go to Small Heath. Birmingham needs us.

A district of Birmingham, Small Heath is represented as OBJECT, while Birmingham is CONTAINER because Small Heath is situated in this city. Small Heath is a part of Birmingham, and in this case object is specific, while Birmingham is a container and it is more generalized.

One day I will find you. I will search every corner of the world, and Birmingham, will be the start of my route.[3]

In this case Birmingham is object, because there is one more generalized element – world. With the help of context the cognitive meaning is changed. World is container and Birmingham is object.

Perceptive process is one of the main factors, giving humans different associations and experience of the notion. Image schemas OBJECT and CONTAINER correlate with each other. They are mobile and dependent. But some factors such as individual perception or context can change either meaning or importance of image schematic toponym representation.


  1. Hampe B. “Image schemas in Cognitive Linguistics: Introduction.” From Perception to Meaning: Image Schemas in Cognitive Linguistic, edited by Beate Hampe, Mouton de Gruyter, 2005, pp. 1-12.
  2. Find Your Great Britain. URL: Access: 15.02.
  3. ‘Peaky Blinders’, created by Colm McCarthyTim MielantsDavid CaffreyAnthony ByrneOtto Bathurst, performance by Cillian Murphy, season 2 episode 3, Tiger Aspect Productions, 2013