LINGUIST List 24.379|
Tue Jan 22 2013
Review: Cognitive Science; Semantics; Syntax: Panther & Radden (2011)
Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay
From: Daogen Cao <caodaogenmsn.com>
Subject: Motivation in Grammar and the Lexicon
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/22/22-2829.html
Editor: Klaus-Uwe Panther
Editor: Günter Radden
Title: Motivation in Grammar and the Lexicon
Series Title: Human Cognitive Processing 27
Publisher: John Benjamins
Reviewer: Daogen Cao, Zhejiang University of Finance and Economics
The present volume is a sequel to the volume “Studies in Linguistic
Motivation,” edited by the two editors in 2004, and so serves as a continued
discussion on linguistic motivation. It is demonstrated by the contributors
how language-independent factors such as bodily experience, emotion,
perception, action, social/communicative interaction, and culture, when
mediated through cognition, motivate grammar and the lexicon in a variety of
languages such as English, German, French, Italian, Hungarian, Russian,
Croatian, Japanese, and Korean.
The volume is divided into two parts plus an introduction. The first part
contains nine articles addressing issues of motivation pertaining to grammar,
and the second part comprises five articles that reveal and demonstrate
motivating factors in the lexicon.
The Introduction authored by the two editors presents a sketch of the overall
framework of the interaction among human systems as well as a summary of the
contributions to the volume.
In Part One, various aspects of grammar are explicated in terms of
language-independent motivational factors. According to Ronald Langacker, the
English auxiliaries are motivated by their crucial role as existential verbs.
They schematically predicate the existence of a relationship to be negotiated
by the interactive system. The default existential predicate is ‘do’; it
indicates the unqualified existence of a process for negotiating purposes.
‘Do’ is, therefore, needed with e.g. yes-no questions (‘Did she wait?’),
negative statements (‘She didn’t wait’), and affirmative statements (‘She DID
wait’), in which the grounded process is negotiated between the interlocutors.
In questions, for example, the hearer’s position is elicited. By contrast, in
positive statements the speaker takes the validity of the proposition for
granted, i.e. assumes that it is not to be negotiated. Therefore, the
existential ‘do’ is not needed and hence not expressed. As a result the
sentences ‘*She does will wait’ and ‘*She did wait’ with the unstressed form
of ‘did’ are ungrammatical.
Working within the cognitive linguistics theoretical framework, Rong Chen puts
forward a Ground-before-Figure (GbF) model that is instantiated by the
inversion of subject and lexical verb in sentences like ‘In the room was a
unicorn’, as well as the existential construction (e.g. ‘There is a unicorn in
the room’). Both the constructions are rooted in the gestalt-perceptual
principle of figure and ground. It is argued, however, that the existential
construction is more versatile (cf. ‘*In the room was no sign of life’ but
‘There was no sign of life in the room’), and is therefore a more typical
instance of the GbF model because the word there in the existential
construction designates mind as a default ground where virtually anything can
or cannot exist. The perceptual principles of figure-ground gestalt thus
motivate the GbF model and its linguistic manifestations.
Within Langacker’s Cognitive Grammar framework, Cristiano Broccias discusses
participant-oriented uses of adverbs, which exhibit cognitive and perceptual
motivations. Two types of participant-oriented adverbs are identified, viz.
“manner” and “transparent” adverbs. The former is exemplified by ‘Fred ate the
sausages ravenously’, in which the adverb not only indicates manner but also
assigns a property to the subject referent; the latter is exemplified by
‘Sally painted the house beautifully’, in which the adverb only indicates the
property of the object noun. It is claimed that the difference between the two
types of adverbs results from a difference in viewing arrangement, in
particular, the vantage point of the conceptualizer.
Dangling participles are considered poor expressions in written Standard
English, but their use cannot be eradicated in speech, as testified by the
data from the British National Corpus. Naoko Hayase argues that this is
because the construction is ecologically well motivated by its specific
communicative function within the grammatical system of English. Hayase shows
that constructions with a dangling participle describe a coherent “cognizance
scenario”, a scenario that is based on our common experience of noticing
something while engaged in some activity. The dangling participial
construction evokes a conceptualizer who conceives the situation described in
the main clause. The conceptualizer is typically the speaker or a virtual or
generic person. The dangling participial construction is thus highly
It is observed by Mitsuko Narita Izutsu and Katsunobu Izutsu that lexical
items such as English ‘while’, ‘where(as)’, German ‘während’, Japanese
‘-nagara’, ‘tokoroga’, and Korean ‘-myeonseo’ have all undergone a semantic
shift from the meaning of TEMPORAL/SPATIAL OVERLAP to the meaning of
CONTRAST/CONCESSIVE. Underlying the semantic change are motivational factors
that are both cognitive (metonymic inference) and perceptual. Experiments show
that metonymic inference is motivated by temporal/spatial overlap, which
largely corresponds to perceptual overlap in Langacker’s viewing arrangement
of two situations.
Through carefully designed experiments, Teenie Matlock shows that imperfective
descriptions of past events trigger more inferences than their perfective
counterparts. This result conforms with the semantics of the imperfective and
perfective aspect: the imperfective aspect provides an internal perspective of
a situation and focuses on its ongoingness, while the perfective aspect
provides an external perspective of a situation and focuses on its completion.
The “more action” effect of the imperfective is motivated by our ability to
mentally simulate events: in taking an internal view of an ongoing situation,
our subjective experience of the action increases and engages us in “moment to
Certain types of the caused-motion construction involve non-motion verbs, e.g.
‘He gazed me out of the club’. When such non-motion verbs are inserted into
the caused-motion construction, they are coerced into expressing a change of
location by virtue of metaphors like EXPERIENTIAL ACTION IS EFFECTUAL ACTION.
Using a decompositional approach, Annalisa Baicchi is able to account for the
change in valency of non-motion intransitive verbs and their
construction-coerced change in meaning.
The subject (doer) of clauses containing English ‘must’ is invariably marked
with nominative case but the subject of clauses containing Hungarian ‘kell’
has either nominative or dative case marking. The grammatical
nominative/dative alternation of the doer in Hungarian is accounted for by
Péter Pelyvás with the dual role attributed to the doer participant in the
conceptual structure: the agent-like role in performing the imposed act and a
passive role in the non-autonomous obligation portion of the event model
involving deontic modality.
The highly developed honorific systems in Korean and Japanese are functionally
similar but differ with respect to non-subject referent honorifics, which
indicate the speaker’s deference toward a non-subject referent participant in
the event described. Satoshi Uehara argues that the relatively higher
productivity of non-subject referent honorifics in Japanese is motivated by
two socio-cultural factors: the egocentric viewing arrangement which is based
on the Japanese self-humbling nature of deference, and the distinction between
‘uchi’ (‘inside’) and ‘soto’ (‘outside’) which refers to the omnipresent
boundary between the in-group and the out-group.
Part Two of the volume is devoted to motivational accounts of certain aspects
of the lexicon. Elena Tribushinina argues that the conceptual motivation in
adjectival semantics lies in cognitive reference points. The reference-point
reasoning is actually a pervasive cognitive phenomenon intrinsic to the
interpretation of dimensional adjectives. It is argued that a multitude of
reference points may be used to anchor conceptual specifications of
adjectives, prototypes being only a special case of the reference-point
mechanism. For example, dimensional adjectives may be interpreted vis-à-vis an
average value of the property (norm), endpoints of the scale (as with the
measure phrase ‘five feet seven inches tall’) and dimensions of the human body
(EGO) (as in the sentence ‘Giraffes are tall’).
The socio-cultural motivation of the use of the metonymy CAPITAL FOR
GOVERNMENT is investigated by Mario Brdar and Rita Brdar-Szabó, who find that
the metonymy is used more frequently in English and German than in Hungarian
and Croatian newspapers. For the latter two languages, they find that the
metonymy is more frequent in weekend editions than in workday editions. This
receives a motivational explanation given a cultural model which contrasts a
weekend frame of mind with an ordinary workday frame of mind.
The final three chapters in Part Two focus on motivational processes with
linguistic sources, i.e. motivational links among lexical items. Daniela
Marzo’s article investigates Italian native speaker judgments about
motivational relations in the lexicon, and develops Peter Koch’s conception of
motivation by regarding a lexical unit as motivated if it is both formally and
conceptually related to another lexical unit. Potential motivational relations
in the lexicon are also the subject of Birgit Umbreit’s article. In contrast
to traditional studies, which view motivation as a unidirectional process from
a “motivational base” to a more complex unit, Umbreit proposes a
multidirectional network of motivated relations.
The issue of motivatability is central to Christina Sanchez-Stockhammer’s
article, in which degrees of a lexeme’s motivatability are distinguished. For
example, English ‘football’ is “fully motivatable”, ‘income’ is “partially
motivatable”, ‘understand’ is “unmotivatable but transparent” and ‘leaf’ is
“unmotivatable”. The analysis of the motivatability of the 2,500 most frequent
words of English and German conducted in the article confirms that German
vocabulary is indeed more motivatable than English vocabulary. However, the
assumption that this is due to the larger stock of Romance words in English
could not be confirmed.
As is demonstrated by this volume, motivation in grammar and the lexicon can
be established as a central theoretical construct in the study of natural
language. The collection of papers brought together in this volume points
unmistakably to the fact that much that is done in the fields of cognitive and
functional linguistics contributes to the study of motivation in language. In
fact, an overriding task for linguistics is to address the issues of how much
language is motivated and how it is motivated. This is consistent with the
fact that motivation is in a large part a principle of language.
Although Radden & Panther (2004:42) once modestly claimed that “it is
impossible to provide conclusive evidence for or against the hypothesis that
all of language is motivated by language-independent factors”, as Ronald W.
Langacker remarks in his contribution to this volume (p. 30), “virtually
everything [in language] is motivated”, and motivation affords some middle
ground which is an alternative to the two extreme positions, namely, full
predictability of language structure and complete arbitrariness of language
structure. In a similar vein, Heine (1997:3) argues that since “human
behaviour is not arbitrary but […] driven by motivation”, language structure,
which is a product of human behaviour, “must also be motivated”. It is
therefore not implausible to see motivation in language as being normative,
which is divergent from de Saussure’s (1916/1959) notion of relative
motivation in the sense that motivation is but a limiting case of
arbitrariness (Radden & Panther 2004). And if motivation in language is the
norm that reduces arbitrariness to the status of being the last resort in
language (Lakoff 1987), then explanatory adequacy as a standard laid down for
the formulation of linguistic theories is translatable as revealing the
motivated correlation between language and language-independent factors, of
which cognition plays a central role (Introduction to this volume by Panther &
Radden, p. 2). Linguistic inquiry should adopt a motivational approach to
most, if not all, linguistic phenomena.
At this junction, we would like to do some justice to generative grammar, in
particular, Chomsky’s Transformational Generative Grammar, which also has,
among others, the theoretical aim of attaining explanatory adequacy but which
receives much criticism from cognitive linguists for the thesis of the
autonomy of grammar. For example, in his contribution to the present volume
(p. 30), Langacker attacks the thesis once again by saying that generative
grammar as an autonomous or self-contained system (module) would imply full
predictability internally (serving to predict/generate all and only the
grammatical sentences of a language) and essential arbitrariness externally
(without being constrained by other factors such as cognition, communication
and social interaction).
We would like to point out, however, that the syntactic component in the
hypothesized faculty of language now referred to as narrow syntax (Chomsky
2000; 2001) is autonomous in that the computation of and through syntactic
objects or syntactic features that takes place in narrow syntax is
encapsulated from other components or modules like morphology, phonology and
semantics. In other words, the narrow syntax computation does not see the
components external to the syntactic component, and the syntactic derivation
occurs without reference to meaning, discourse or language use. Once the
narrow syntax embarks upon a computation with the feature matrices retrieved
from the lexicon, it will do the computing with the given features only, being
precluded from either backtracking to morphology or looking ahead to phonology
or semantics until the Spell-Out operation that submits the product of
syntactic computation to interpretational mechanics (the inclusiveness
condition). For all this, however, what the ultimate output of the syntactic
computation is like is still shaped by what has been furnished by the lexicon
or morphological component. For one thing, lexicon or morphology feeds
syntactic computation; for another thing, it is the uninterpretable formal
features within the narrow syntax that trigger and drive certain syntactic
operations. Furthermore, what is yielded by the syntax will eventually be
subject to evaluation by the sensori-motor system (phonological component) and
the conceptual-intentional system (semantic component) that both interface
with narrow syntax. The evaluation is made with respect to the legibility
condition and the principle of full interpretation.
The above account, sketchy as it is, suffices to indicate that Chomsky’s
modular model of grammar is only in part or relatively autonomous. It is only
when feature assemblies are being processed that syntax can be said to be
autonomous. Autonomy of syntax is conditional and principled to the extent
that syntax is susceptible to morphology prior to syntactic computation and
evaluable posterior to syntactic computation in terms of semantics and
language use. In linguistic performances, there is likely to be insufficient
or excessive morphological information or wrongly chosen morphological
information entering narrow syntax, and in this case, just because of the
restriction imposed by the stringent inclusiveness condition which is a reflex
of narrow syntax autonomy, the narrow syntax would have no chance whatsoever
of mending the information (replenishing what is lacking or removing the
superfluous or replacing the mistaken) so that the computation could be saved
and the resultant structure would become possibly convergent. This constitutes
a case of autonomy of syntax causing its own crash, indicating that the
current model of grammar envisaged by Chomsky in his Minimalist Program does
not claim full predictability, thus escaping Langacker’s criticism. The escape
is possible because we have a different line of thinking over autonomy of
grammar or syntax, given Chomsky’s idea of grammar.
On the other hand, though the very narrow syntax computation does not lend
itself to influence from language-external factors such as cognition,
communication or social interaction, the general computational principles
posited in Chomsky’s model of grammar for computational efficiency are still
motivated by interpretational considerations such as economy or
interpretability/legibility or biological considerations, viz. the
consideration of perfection or optimality in language as a design solution to
the problem of how to make language both learnable and usable. This refutes
Langacker’s view that autonomy of grammar rules out the predictability of
grammatical rules on language-external grounds and consequently the rules take
As a final remark, it is worth noting that Chomsky has never been so ambitious
as to assert that syntax could lay claim to everything in language. In fact,
he acknowledges that grammars are shaped in part by function: “Surely there
are significant connections between structure and function; this is not and
has never been in doubt. […] Searle argues that it is reasonable to suppose
that the needs of communication influenced [language] structure” (Chomsky
Chomsky, Noam. 1975. Reflections on Language. New York: Pantheon.
Chomsky, Noam. 2000. Minimalist inquiries: The framework. In R. Martin et al.
(eds.), Step by step: Essays on minimalist syntax in honor of Howard Lasnik,
pp. 89-155. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
Chomsky, Noam. 2001. Derivation by phase. In M. Kenstowicz (ed.), Ken Hale: A
Life in. Language, pp. 1-52. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press
de Saussure, Ferdinand. 1916/1959. Course in General Linguistics. New York,
Toronto, London: McGraw-Hill.
Heine, Bernd. 1997. Cognitive Foundations of Grammar. New York and Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Lakoff, George. 1987. Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories
Reveal about the Mind. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
Radden, Günter & Klaus-Uwe Panther. 2004. Introduction: Reflections on
Motivation. In Radden, Günter & Klaus-Uwe Panther (eds.). Studies in
Linguistic Motivation (Cognitive Linguistics Research 28), pp. 3-46. Berlin:
Mouton de Gruyter.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Cao Daogen is a teacher teaching and studying linguistics in Zhejiang
University of Finance and Economics, English Department. He holds a Ph.D. in
Linguistics (Fudan University, 2005). His research interests include syntax,
semantics and cognitive linguistics.
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