Lecture 3. Reality conceptualization and the worldview.
· Study the term the “worldview”
· Study the components of the linguistic worldview
· Look at the role of conceptualization in the worldview formation
The primary commitments and theses of cognitive linguistics give rise to a specific and distinctive worldview, which has a number of dimensions. Collectively, these give rise to a distinctive cognitive linguistic perspective on the nature of language, its interaction with non-linguistic aspects of cognition, and the nature of the human mind.
Five dimensions of the cognitive linguistics worldview can be identified:
• Language reflects the embodied nature of conceptual organization.
• Language is a lens for studying conceptual organization.
• Language provides a mechanism for construal.
• Language can influence aspects of non-linguistic cognition.
• Humans have a common conceptualizing capacity.
Language reflects conceptual organization
Following the thesis of embodied cognition, cognitive linguists view language as reflecting the embodied nature of conceptual structure and organization. Hence, cognitive linguists study language by taking seriously the way language manifests embodied conceptual structure.
An outstanding example of this is the study of ‘conceptual metaphor’. For instance, we use language relating to more abstract domains such as time, in terms of space, as exemplified by the example in (1), or states in terms of locations exemplified in (2), precisely because at the level of conceptual structure time is systematically structured in terms of conceptual structure recruited from the domain of space, and states are structured in terms of locations in space. I consider the issue of conceptual metaphor in more detail later on.
1) Christmas is approaching.
2) She is in love.
Language is a lens on the mind
Second, language serves as a lens for studying aspects of the mind. It does so precisely because it reflects organizational principles of embodied cognition. For instance, by studying metaphorical patterns in language, the cognitive linguist is able to discern patterns in the nature and organization of conceptual structure. Conceptual metaphors, qua cross-domain mappings—mappings that relate distinct conceptual domains—are evidenced by virtue of examining distinctive and productive patterns in language in order to uncover their existence.
Language provides a mechanism for construal
Third, as language is constituted of a language-specific inventory of symbolic units, following the symbolic thesis, any given language provides a means of viewing the same state, situation, or event from the range of perspectives that are conventionally available to the language user, given the language-specific symbolic resources available. In other words, a language provides the language user with resources for viewing the same scene in multiple, and hence alternative, ways. This constitutes a mechanism for ‘construal’. Construal is a technical term for the facility whereby the same situation can be linguistically encoded in multiple ways. For example, someone who is not easily parted from his or her money could be either described as stingy or as thrifty. In keeping with the thesis of encyclopedic semantics, each of these words is understood with respect to a different background frame or cognitive model, which provides a distinct set of evaluations. While stingy represents a negative assessment against an evaluative frame of giving and sharing, thrifty relates to a frame of careful management of resources (husbandry), against which it represents a positive assessment. Hence, lexical choice provides a different way of framing ostensibly the same situation, giving rise to a different construal. Indeed, any given language, by virtue of containing a language-specific set of symbolic units, thereby provides a ready-made language-specific repertoire for construing human experience and the world in, necessarily, different ways. One reason for this is because different languages often encode culture-specific ideas and hence perspectives. For instance, the Korean word nunchi, which might be translated as ‘eye-measure’ in English, provides a conventionalized means of encoding the idea that a host evaluates whether a guest requires further food or drink in order to avoid the guest being embarrassed by having to request it. Of course, languages provide conventional means of alternate construal seven when two similar ideas are both conveyed in two different languages.
For instance, both English and French—related genetically and by area— have conventional means of expressing the notion of containment: the preposition in for English and dans for French. Yet the scene depicted by examples, involving a woman walking in the rain, is conventionally construed, in English, as exhibiting a ‘containment’ relationship as evidenced by (1), but in French as exhibiting an ‘under’ relationship, as encoded by the French preposition sous, evidenced in (2).
(1) The woman is walking in the rain.
(2) La femme marche sous la pluie.
The woman walks under the rain.
‘The woman is walking in the rain’.
Language influences non-linguistic cognition
The discussion of the English and French utterances in (1) and (2) also helps illustrate the fourth dimension of the cognitive linguistics worldview. As language provides a means of construing reality in alternate ways, and moreover remains connected to conceptual representation, it has a transformative function: It can influence aspects of non-linguistic cognition. That is, language doesn’t merely reflect conceptual representation; it can influence and affect it. For instance, as French and English each have conventionalized alternative ways of encoding a particular spatial scene, this leads to what Slobin has labeled differences in ‘thinking for speaking’: Users of any given language must pay attention to particular aspects of their experienced reality, at the expense of others, in order to package their thoughts for purposes of linguistic communication. Cognitive linguists hold that this language-specific ‘packaging’ has profound consequences on non-linguistic cognition. That is, language influences how we categorize aspects of our socio-physical environment, and how we think about reality, independently of language. Thus, different ‘choices’ of language for representing concepts can indeed affect non-linguistic thought, such as reasoning and problem solving.
A common human conceptualizing capacity
Of course, one of the charges that has been leveled at those who subscribe to a (neo) Whorfian perspective is that this entails that language determines how the world is viewed and categorized. If this view were correct, language would effectively provide a straitjacket, resulting in wholly distinct ways of conceptualization across languages and language users, which would be insurmountable.
However, the cognitive linguistics worldview treats language as but one of the mechanisms whereby humans construct their perceptual, cognitive, and socio-cultural reality. Cognitively modern humans have a common conceptualizing capacity: we share with our conspecifics a similar range of cognitive mechanisms and processes that provide us with multiple ways of construing reality. Language is but one modality, and hence but one way in which we interact with and learn about our environment, our socio-cultural reality, others around us, and ourselves. Cognitive linguists fully recognize that there are myriad ways in which humans experience their environment, including sense-perceptory experience, proprioception, and subjective experiences including affect, the visceral sense, and diverse cognitive evaluations and states. All of these experiences provide a rich basis for a multiplicity of mental representations, providing often complementary and even competing ‘views’ of reality. From the perspective of cognitive linguistics, semantic structure encoded by language can influence our conceptualizations, and other outputs of cognitive function, such as categorization, for instance. However, language does not determine them.
Problem questions: Can it be assumed that native speakers of different languages see the world differently, why (not)? Why hasn’t the theory of linguistic relativity still found its complete acceptance?