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Review of  Cognitive Stylistics

Reviewer: Geert Brône
Book Title: Cognitive Stylistics
Book Author: Jonathan Culpeper Elena Semino
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Ling & Literature
Cognitive Science
Issue Number: 14.880

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Date: Tue, 25 Mar 2003 10:33:35 +0100
From: Geert Brône
Subject: Cognitive Stylistics: Language and Cognition in Text Analysis

Semino, Elena and Jonathan Culpeper, ed. (2002) Cognitive Stylistics:
Language and Cognition in Text Analysis. John Benjamins Publishing
Company, xvi+333pp, paperback ISBN 1-58811-300-0, $29.95, Linguistic
Approaches to Literature 1.

Geert Brône, Department of Linguistics, University of Leuven (Belgium)


This volume is a collection of twelve contributions to the newly emerging
research paradigm of what is alternately labelled as Cognitive Poetics
(Tsur 1992; Freeman, in press) or Cognitive Stylistics (Weber 1996). This
inherently multidisciplinary approach aims to provide a meta-framework,
in that is focuses on the cognitive processing underlying literary
interpretation, instead of simply offering a new interpretation based on
a different framework: "It focuses on process, not product (M. Freeman,
this volume p. 43). Basically, cognitive stylistics integrates insights
from various disciplines in order to yield a powerful tool to analyse
(narrative) texts. Comparable to Psychostylistics, which combines modern
developments in stylistics with narrative psychology and psychiatry (e.g.
Bockting 1995), cognitive stylistics primarily draws from cognitive
linguistics, cognitive psychology and the stylistic tradition of
Foregrounding Theory (Mukarovský 1970). Of particular importance for the
development of cognitive stylistics is the widely held view in cognitive
linguistics that language is not an autonomous cognitive faculty and that
it reflects cognitive structure. All contributions in this volume thus
share the same focus on "analytical approaches that explicitly relate
linguistic choices to cognitive phenomena" (foreword p. x).

The first three papers by Hamilton, Freeman and Popova illustrate the
applicability of insights and terminology from cognitive linguistics to
the analysis of literary phenomena (and texts in general). More
specifically, they apply in their analyses the notions of conceptual
metaphor (Popova) and conceptual integration (or 'blending'; Hamilton,
Freeman), developed mainly in cognitive semantics (Lakoff & Johnson 1980,
Lakoff 1987; Lakoff & Turner 1989; Fauconnier & Turner 1998, 2002).

CRAIG HAMILTON in his paper explores instances of conceptual integration
in Christine de Pizan's 'City of Ladies'. From a theoretical point of
view, he argues that a cognitive turn in literary criticism, drawing from
insights from cognitive science, can reconcile the classic distinction in
literary criticism between historical and rhetorical lines through the
notion of 'materialism' ("Texts are material anchors for linguistic forms
of communication that span time an space"). On this view, interpreting
language (literary as well as non-literary) involves the complex
cognitive task of establishing conceptual connections or 'mappings'
between different domains. The cognitive-scientific framework that,
according to Hamilton, best represents the mental mapping capacity needed
to come to interpretations, is the theory of conceptual integration. In
his analysis of de Pizan's work, Hamilton argues that blending theory
provides a highly adequate and encompassing model for the analysis of how
related cognitive phenomena such as complex metaphorical mappings,
analogy and allegory are processed cognitively.

MARGARET FREEMAN ("The body in the word. A cognitive approach to the shape
of a poetic text") emphasises that the claim of 'materialism' and
'embodiment', central in cognitive linguistics, should lead to a
revaluation of form in the meaning construction process in poetry. In her
analysis of original hand-written versions of two poems by Emily
Dickinson, Freeman illustrates how meaning partly emerges from formal
aspects such as line breaks, markings, etc. Traditional critical
discussions of these poems have neglected or underestimated the
contribution of the physical form, basically because they did not adopt
the cognitive stylistic view that "language is embodied, just as the mind
is embodied" (p. 25). In a second part of the paper, it is argued that in
order to fully capture the meaning of a poem, one needs to recognise the
cognitive, cultural and contextual frame typically associated with a poet.

YANNA POPOVA ("The figure in the carpet. Discovery and re-cognition")
applies insights from cognitive linguistics to the analysis of ambiguity
in 'The Figure in the Carpet', a narrative by Henry James. She argues that
the diversity of interpretations offered for this narrative (ironic and
non-ironic readings) can be traced back to the alternative, incompatible
conceptual metaphors operative in it. The skilful combination of
Langacker's notion of 'construal' (Langacker 1987) with insights from
conceptual metaphor theory illustrates how existing interpretations rely
on and highlight some metaphors present in the text itself, while fading
others. Ambiguity thus is viewed as "the product of alternative
metaphorical conceptualisations" (p. 66). In sum, Popova argues that a
cognitive approach to text processing and interpretation, instead of
trying to resolve ambiguities, reveals how different critical readings of
a text can emerge and why some interpretations are more acceptable than

The following five chapters provide cognitive stylistic accounts based
partly on cognitive linguistics, while also drawing from other cognitive
paradigms. PETER STOCKWELL ("Miltonic texture and the feeling of
reading") analyses for sonnets by Milton, based on the notion of
'texture', which is pin-pointed by Semino and Culpeper in the foreword to
this volume as "a combination of formal and psychological features that
contribute to 'how we feel our way through reading a text'"(p. xii).
Stockwell argues that only by combining the cognitive analysis of a
variety of features, formal as well as psychological (syntax, deictic
shift, cognitive stance, conceptual metaphor, attention), one can reveal
the core of what is understood by texture. This eclectic approach to
cognitive poetics stresses that texts are fundamentally intersubjective
in nature.

ELENA SEMINO ("A cognitive stylistic approach to mind style in narrative
fiction") argues that a cognitive stylistic approach to literary texts
is particularly suitable for the analysis of mind style, the reflection in
language of particular conceptual structures and cognitive habits typical
for an individual's world view. It is hypothesised that by combining
linguistic patterns with existing cognitive theories, one can best arrive
at conclusions about characterisation. In her discussion of mind style in
Louis de Bernières 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin' and John Fowles's 'The
Collector', she illustrates how cognitive theories such as schema theory,
conceptual blending theory and cognitive metaphor theory can be applied to
explore how mind styles are linguistically developed (e.g. through
underlexicalisation and excessive use of specific conceptual metaphors).

WILLIE VAN PEER and EVA GRAF ("Between the lines. Spatial language and
its developmental representation in Stephen King's 'IT'") aim at testing
the (implicit) cognitive stylistic assumption that stylistic variation in
language use is grounded in cognitive processes. This assumption is
tested quantitatively for the use of spatial features in the language of
children and adults in Stephen King's horror story 'IT'. In other words,
if it is indeed the case that readers retrieve cognitive processes of the
speakers through the specific linguistic structures that have been used,
there should be noticeable difference in the linguistic complexity
between the language use of the main characters as children in comparison
to that of the same characters as adults. The empirical, quantitative
analysis of the use of spatial concepts in child vs. adult language in
'IT' reveals that, indeed, the child language differs markedly from the
adult language in its cognitive complexity (e.g. in the use of spatial
metaphors). Van Peer and Graf show that King successfully achieved to
mirror the developmental aspects in the use of spatial language.

CATHERINE EMMOTT ("Split selves in fiction and in medical life stories.
Cognitive linguistic theory and narrative practice") discusses the
phenomenon of split selves in narratives. She argues that the account of
'split self metaphors' as offered within conceptual metaphor theory
(Lakoff 1996) does not suffice for a cognitive stylistic view. Emmott
points out that cognitive linguistic insights should not be blindly
adopted by cognitive stylisticians, but that rather an eclectic approach
is recommendable, drawing from narratology, stylistics and cognitive
linguistics. In her analysis of split selves in fiction and
autobiographies of victims of a physical trauma (e.g. a stroke), she
convincingly shows the need for a broader framework, which can capture
e.g. the dynamic representation of characters in extended texts. In sum,
Emmott argues in favour of a multidirectional multidisciplinary approach
in which cognitive stylistics draws from cognitive linguistics and vice

GERARD STEEN ("Metaphor in Bob Dylan's 'Hurricane'. Genre, language, and
style") provides an empirical study of metaphorical and non-metaphorical
language and style, and argues that a cognitive approach to text cannot do
without the notion of genre, a mental representation in language users
with specific cognitive models and expectations. In the empirical part of
the paper, he discusses a study of the metaphors in Bob Dylan's song
'Hurricane', in which eight variables are compared for their influence on
metaphor recognition and tested in an informant-based study. The outcome
is that, indeed, metaphorical language is affected by genre, that genre
aspects are reflected in language (genre-specific variables). In sum,
Steen argues for genre as the encompassing framework for text analysis,
although he admits that still a lot of fine-tuning is needed, for example
by drawing from psychological accounts of text processing.

Chapters 9, 10 and 11 introduce a number of less cognitive linguistics
oriented accounts dealing with specific (textual) phenomena. YESHAYAHU
SHEN ("Cognitive constraints on verbal creativity. The use of figurative
language in poetic discourse") presents and tests his own Cognitive
Constraints Theory (CCT), a tool for the description of structural
regularities in the use of figurative language in poetic discourse. CCT
claims that those structural regularities are the reflection of a
compromise between aesthetic goals (novelty and creativity) and the
cognitive constraints of communicability (comprehensibility). Shen
discusses three different types of figurative expressions (zeugma,
synaesthesia, oxymoron) in poetic corpora and reveals strong structural
preferences in the use of these figures (e.g. the literally interpreted
component first in zeugma). He argues that CCT, while partly drawing on
the insights of cognitive metaphor theories, provides a broader
perspective on verbal creativity than existing cognitive linguistic

SALVATORE ATTARDO ("Cognitive stylistics of humorous texts") provides an
account of the humorous effects in longer stretches of text, using the
inherently cognitive GTVH (General Theory of Verbal Humor). This
linguistic and cognitive humour theory aims at providing a cognitively
adequate account of the interpretation of all types of humorous texts (and
not just jokes, as is the focus of more traditional accounts). Partly
based on insights from psycholinguistic research in text processing, the
paper presents an application of GTVH to Oscar Wilde's 'Lord Arthur
Savile's Crime'. Empirical analysis in GTVH shows how different types of
humour and humorous plots can be analysed in a quantitative manner and how
this can contribute to a critical evaluation and aesthetic judgement of
humorous narratives.

JONATHAN CULPEPER ("A cognitive stylistic approach to characterisation")
introduces an account of characterisation, which addresses both cognitive
and textual aspects. The model Culpeper defends presents a mixture of
humanising and purely textual approaches to characterisation, which draws
in part from text comprehension models (van Dijk and Kintsch 1983) and
schema theory from social cognition (cognitive prototypes). It is argued
that such a hybrid model can best approach the dynamic ways in which
characters are built up, partly through inference, in the reader's mind.

In the last chapter in the volume, REUVEN TSUR ("Aspects of Cognitive
Poetics") presents some of the basic concepts of his own theory of and
view on Cognitive Poetics (Tsur 1992). The innovative character of
cognitive poetics, on his view, is to be situated in the ability to offer
"cognitive theories that systematically account for the relationship
between the structure of literary texts and their perceived effects" (p.
278). The basic assumption of this approach thus is that cognitive
processes at the same time structure and constrain poetic form, the
reader's response and the critic's decision (p. 310). This assumption is
illustrated in an analysis of Hebrew and English texts which all describe
emotional qualities (more specifically "altered states of
consciousness"). In a second part of the paper, Tsur explores how
cognitive processes shape and constrain poetic rhythm and the rhythmical
performance of poetry. The conclusion he draws from his analyses is that,
although cognitive linguistics offers valuable insights for cognitive
stylisticians, the focus is fundamentally different in that cognitive
linguistics focus on conventionalised patterns in language use, whereas
cognitive stylistics emphasises creativity and "structured imagination"

In the afterword to the volume, DONALD FREEMAN, one of the pioneers in
cognitive approaches to literature, critically assesses the contributions
and opens up perspectives for future research in cognitive stylistics.


The volume as a whole presents an excellent overview of the different
innovative aspects of a cognitive stylistic approach to texts. The choice
of the contributions reflects the variety of directions this
multidisciplinary approach can take. All authors, dealing with very
different literary phenomena and types of discourse, illustrate that
cognitive approaches have a distinct advantage, in that they can cover
phenomena which have not been looked at from this angle in different
frameworks or have not received any scrutiny at all. Still, despite the
powerful influence from cognitive linguistics and cognitive psychology,
cognitive stylistics is far from a unifying cognitive approach to texts
(something which, admittedly, to a large extent holds for cognitive
linguistics as well). The lack of terminological consensus reveals the
serious want for work uniting the theoretical foundations and
terminological apparatus for cognitive stylisticians. A related issue is
the use of the notion 'cognitive' in cognitive stylistics. Applying
terminology from cognitive linguistics does not in se provide fundamental
new insights which deserve the label 'cognitive' (an issue also addressed
by Steen (this volume, p. 186). Rather, a new line of empirical research
is needed that tests the hypotheses offered in cognitive terms.
Nevertheless, this volume promises to be one of the pioneering works in a
fascinating newly arising discipline.


Bockting, I. (1995): Character and Personality in the Novels of William
Faulkner: A Study in Psychostylistics. New York/London: University Press
of America.

Fauconnier, G. & Turner, M. (1998): 'Conceptual integration networks'.
In: Cognitive Science 22:2, p. 283-304.

Fauconnier, G. & Turner, M. (2002): The Way We Think. Conceptual Blending
and the Mind's Hidden Complexities. New York: Basic Books.

Freeman, M. (in press): 'Cognitive Linguistic approaches to literary
studies: State of the art in Cognitive Poetics'. In D. Geeraerts & H.
Cuyckens (eds), Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.

Lakoff, G. (1987): Women, Fire and Dangerous Things. What Categories
Reveal about the Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, G. (1996): 'Sorry, I'm not myself today: The metaphor system for
conceptualisizing the self'. In G. Fauconnier & E. Sweetser (eds),
Spaces, Worlds and Grammar, 91-123. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (1980): Metaphors We Live By. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, G. & Turner, M. (1989): More Then Cool Reason. A Field Guide to
Poetic Metaphor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Langacker, R. W. (1987): Foundations of Cognitive Grammar: Theoretical
Prerequisites (Vol 1). Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Mukarovský, J. (1970): 'Standard language and poetic language'. In D.C.
Freeman (ed.), Linguistics and Literary Style, 40-56. New York: Holt,
Rinehart and Winston.

Tsur, R. (1992): Toward a Theory of Cognitive Poetics. Amsterdam:

Van Dijk, T. A. & Kintsch, W. (1983): Strategies of Discourse
Comprehension. London: Academic Press.

Weber, J-J (1996): The Stylistics Reader: From Roman Jakobson to the
Present. London: Arnold.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Geert Brône is a PhD student in linguistics at the University of Leuven (Belgium). He is currently preparing a dissertation on a cognitive linguistic approach to humour interpretation (supervised by Kurt Feyaerts). His main research interests are cognitive semantics, cognitive stylistics, (linguistic) humour theories and German linguistics.