We divide the world into categories in order to make sense of it and act capably in it. This process of categorisation is manifested both cognitively and linguistically.

Scientific discussions:

Cohen, H., and Lefebvre, C. (2005). Bridging the category divide. In H. Cohen and C. Lefebvre (Eds), Handbook of categorization. Summer institute in cognitive sciences on categorization (pp. 1-15). Amsterdam: Elsevier. (full preview)

An overview of the handbook’s contributions, including discussion of some of the key questions they address, including: what categories actually are (in relation to e.g. concepts or the process of categorisation), the nature of categories (e.g. discrete/mixed, overlapping or not), whether categories manifest modality effects (e.g. via language or sensory experience), and whether there are universal or innate categories. The introduction also highlights some of the disciplinary differences amongst linguists, philosophers, and cognitive anthropologists, and maps out the most important links to other fields of study.

Rosch, E. (1978). Principles of categorization. In E. Rosch and B. B. Lloyd (Eds), Cognition and categorization (pp. 2-48). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. (full text)

An influential account of how and why categorisation is underpinned by the principles of ‘cognitive economy’ and ‘perceived world structure’, which have systematic consequences for levels of abstraction in categorisation (incorporating a primary ‘basic’ level, e.g. chair rather than the less detailed furniture or the more detailed kitchen chair) and the internal structure of categories (including prototypes, e.g. chair or table rather than lamp, and fuzzy boundaries). These insights have implications for the study of imagery, perception, development, and language, although the assumption throughout is that the categories to be explained are found in a culture and coded in the language of that culture at a particular time – rather than, say, offering a childhood developmental account or a psychological account of adult category-processing.

Harnad, S. (2005). To cognize is to categorize: Cognition is categorization. In H. Cohen and C. Lefebvre (Eds), Handbook of categorization. Summer institute in cognitive sciences on categorization (pp. 20-45). Amsterdam: Elsevier. (full text)

The author’s abstract can’t really be improved on: ‘We organisms are sensorimotor systems. The things in the world come in contact with our sensory surfaces, and we interact with them based on what that sensorimotor contact “affords”. All of our categories consist in ways we behave differently toward different kinds of things – things we do or don’t eat, mate-with, or flee-from, or the things that we describe, through our language, as prime numbers, affordances, absolute discriminables, or truths. That is all that cognition is for, and about.’ All kinds of examples are given, including from Borges’s story ‘Funes the Memorious’, and an Appendix provides a critique of Rosch’s account.

Cognitive humanities discussions:

Stockwell, P. (2002). Prototypes and reading. In P. Stockwell, Cognitive poetics: An introduction (pp. 27-40). London: Routledge. (partial preview)

Sets out the basics of cognitive categorisation since the rise of embodied cognition, and explains its relevance to some of the linguistic details of literary language, and to how we categorise literature itself. The chapter covers prototypes and fuzzy boundaries, family resemblances, categories (including the privileged ‘basic level’) and context-dependence, how we recognise categories (holistically and then through decomposition – a process analogous to literary interpretation), and how categories and their interrelations combine into ‘idealised cognitive models’ and these in turn into shared ‘cultural models’. Ideas are given for how to apply these concepts together with literary ones.

Steen, G. (1999). Genres of discourse and the definition of literature. Discourse Processes, 28(2), 109-120. (full text)

Starting from the question ‘what kind of discourse is literature?’, this chapter takes a prototype-categorisation approach to classifying types of literary discourse, in a taxonomy from the subordinate to the basic and superordinate levels, showing how this way of proceeding is preferable to alternative classificatory systems.

Sinding, M. (2003). Prototype structure of the genre of Menippean satire. In M. Sinding, The mind’s kinds: Cognitive rhetoric, literary genre, and Menippean satire (pp. 36-53). Doctoral thesis, McMaster University. (full text)

Suggests that the history of Menippean satire can be thought of as a series of exemplars, with earlier instances influencing later ones to produce a set of variant forms linked by ‘family resemblance’, with primary and secondary, or central and noncentral, members. This chapter analyses Mennipean satire as an ‘idealised cognitive model’, asking how its prototypical exemplars relate to the overall model, how its genre features relate to centrality, how those features can be defined in conceptual terms, what kinds of variations define the primary extensions of the model, and what all this might tell us about other genre categories.

Hanauer, D. (1996). Integration of phonetic and graphic features in poetic text categorization judgements. Poetics, 23, 363-380. (full text)

An empirical investigation of the roles of graphic and phonetic information as mediated by readers’ literary educational background in the categorisation of texts as poetic (using manipulated sections of two poems by James Joyce). The study was designed to adjudicate between the traditional (formalist) and the radical conventionalist positions on this question. Both factors played a role, with expert literary readers accepting a wider variety of formal textual features as characteristic of poetic texts (on a scale from ‘not a poem at all’ to ‘clearly a poem’).