2. LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT
2.2. PROTOYPE THEORY
When it comes to categorization, there are two extreme approaches in the semantic-cognitive-functional area within the Western tradition and these are the Platonic and the Wittgensteinian point of view (see also Givon 1986, 77). Plato argued that the membership in categories is defined by the possession or non-possession of criterial properties (necessary and sufficient properties), while Wittgenstein argued that categories have blurry edges and are subject to change, rather than being absolute (ibid.). Considering just one of these two extreme views as the right one is not possible nor accurate; appropriately describing categories requires finding a compromise between these two views or, in other words, a hybrid solution (see also Givon 1986, 78).
While Givon differentiates between the Platonic and the Wittgensteinian view, Goddard makes a slightly different distinction. On one side of the spectrum is the Aristotelian view, i.e. the classical view, which proposes that nominal categories are based on a fixed set of features, which implies that category membership is fixed (see also Goddard and Wierzbicka 2014, 39). On the other end of the spectrum lies the prototype approach, which proposes that category membership has different degrees and fuzzy boundaries (see also Goddard and Wierzbicka 2014, 40). We can thus conclude that the classical view can be referred to as Platonic or Aristotelian, while the opposing view in question can be referred to as the Wittgensteinian view, which created the basis for the prototype theory.
2.2.1. Challenging the Classical View
The classical theory of categories holds that an entity can be named by a word if it contains all the features that define the meaning of that word (see also Taylor 2008, 39). In other words, word meaning can be defined by a set of features (ibid.). This theory also states that all members of a category have equal status and that a category has a clear, defined membership, i.e. boundaries (ibid.). However, many linguists, such as Eleanor Rosch,
believed that such an approach to words and their referents, and also the meaning it entailed, was not sufficient (see also Taylor 2008, 39). Rosch challenged the classical view on category membership by claiming that not all members of a category have equal status; some members 'better' represent their category (i.e. are more prototypical) than others (ibid.).
Besides Rosch, who is considered one of the greatest contributors to the field of categorization, other cognitive psychologists, such as Lloyd, Posner and Keele, also presented non-extremist solutions that combine features of both the Platonic and the Wittgensteinean views (see also Givon 1986, 78). Such a hybrid solution was later on accepted and supported by linguists (e.g. Lakoff, Johnson, Givon), who presented this solution as the Prototype Theory (see also Givon 1986, 78-79). Just like Wittgenstein, the prototype theory suggests that categories are not always defined by a few criteria properties (see also Givon 1986, 79). The prototype theory also supports the Wittgensteinian view by suggesting that members of different categories might share some properties (ibid.).
2.2.2. What is a Prototype?
The term prototype can be used to designate category exemplars or to designate mental representations (see also Vandeloise 2003, 401). In other words, the prototype of a category is the most typical member of a certain category (see also Givon 1986, 79). This member possesses the biggest number of crucial characteristic properties (ibid.). Another way to describe a prototype would be to characterize it as an entity that is most likely to be referred to by a word (see also Taylor 2008, 48). Put differently, the prototype serves as a suitable overall summarizer of the category, especially if the category in question is basic (see also Posner 1986, 59). A more straightforward definition was offered by Kronenfeld, according to whom focal referents (or in other words prototypes) are typical or average exemplars (2000, 206).
10 2.2.3. Gradation
Internal structuring of categories is expressed through category membership, vagueness at the edges of categories, and other factors that are the result of the prototypical organization of categories (see also Eynde 2003, 428). This is where gradation takes place. The notion of gradation in the prototype theory was presented by Rosch and her colleagues who described categories as having a prototype with unclear boundaries and with more dominant and less dominant members of a category; the dominant, i.e. superior forms and words being placed the closest to the prototype (see also Posner 1986, 55). All properties are weighed in terms of their importance and all members of a category are ranked in terms of how many of these properties they possess, which indicates their degree of prototypicality (see also Givon 1986, 79). In other words, what determines the category membership degree of a category member is its degree of similarity to the prototype of that category (see also Lakoff 1999, 391).
The gradation aspect of the prototype theory leads us to the radial network theory, according to which there are more and less central members of a category which suggests that the central members are more prominent in an individual's mind. However, several studies show that some people learn many terms by giving advantage to the more peripheral members.
According to Rice, one such study shows that children learn the use of prepositions by initially acquiring uses that are somewhat peripheral (qtd. in Cuyckens et al. 2003, 22).
The Flexibility of the Prototype Theory
As mentioned previously, the prototype theory states that not all members of the same category need to share all of the features of that category in order to be its members. This characteristic often creates blurry edges; it is sometimes difficult to determine the boundaries of a category, i.e. if some peripheral members even belong to a certain category. However, category membership is flexible, rather than fixed, and is usually impacted by context, i.e.
linguistic and sociocultural factors. What an English-speaking person might consider a prototype of a certain category, a Slovenian-speaking person might not. For example, if asked
to provide a prototype for the category 'pastry', an English person would probably list the Victoria sponge cake, the English trifle, or the lemon drizzle cake, while someone from Slovenia would probably think of traditional Slovenian pastries, such as potica, gibanica or štrudel.
The flexibility feature is crucial for the prototype theory since we cannot create a new category for every new context because, in principle, the potential number of different contexts is infinite (see also Givon 1986, 98-99). These differences in category membership, i.e. internal structuring of prototypes provide evidence that different individuals organize lexical categories differently, which confirms a link between psycholinguistics and the prototypical organization of categories. (Taylor 1989 qtd. in Eynde 2003, 428). This, however, comes as no surprise since prototypes are often considered to have a direct link to the nature of human categorization (see also Lakoff 1999, 391). In other words, the prototypical representation of categories “fits with general properties of the human mind”
(Posner 1986, 59).