Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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AUTHOR: Bartmiński, Jerzy EDITOR: Zinken, Joerg TITLE: Aspects of Cognitive Ethnolinguistics SERIES: Advances in Cognitive Linguistics PUBLISHER: Equinox Publishing Ltd YEAR: 2012
Marta Degani, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, University of Verona, Italy
SUMMARY The volume brings together a collection of papers by the Polish ethnolinguist Jerzy Bartmiński. Except for chapters 2, 3, 10 and 12, the work was previously published in Polish between 1985 and 2006. This reflects the major aim of the editor, Joerg Zinken, who would like to share research that is well known in Eastern Europe with an English-reading audience.
The book opens with a brief introduction by the editor, defining the Ethnolinguistic School of Lublin and explaining how it relates to and differs from Anglo-American cognitive linguistics. The Ethnolinguistic School of Lublin represents “a distinctive cognitive-linguistic approach to the study of language in its cultural context” (p.1), and has developed from the research of Bartmiński and his team over four decades. Most of this work appears in the international journal “Etnolingwistyka”, and it led to the publication of the “Dictionary of Folk Symbols and Stereotypes” (1996-1999). The distinctiveness of the School lies in its focus on the description of folk varieties of Polish. Research is based on fieldwork and the collection of real world data of a typically oral tradition (e.g. stories, conversations, songs, proverbs, fairy tales, folk poetry). The socio-cognitive component of the School consists in its aim to reconstruct the worldview of rural speakers of Polish from the linguistic data and in its study of terms that refer to culturally important values (e.g. freedom, work, family, church, father, bread). This socio-cultural orientation is shared with current trends in Anglo-American cognitive linguistics (cf. Evans & Pourcel 2009). The two traditions also have in common an interest in lexical semantics and patterns of conceptualization. The Ethnolinguistic School of Lublin is further linked to Anna Wierzbicka’s work on semantic primes and cultural keywords.
As pointed out in chapter 2, the revival of cognitive ethnolinguistics in Eastern Europe has historical motivations. During communist occupation, people experienced how the language of propaganda strongly influenced their own perception of reality. When the Soviet Union and the Eastern Block eventually collapsed, people felt a need to reconstruct a sense of shared identity. This process clearly involved consideration of the role of language in shaping local, regional, national and group identities. The cognitive ethnolinguistic enterprise responded to this need by putting the close connection between language, speech community and its culture at the core of its investigations.
Chapters 3 to 9 illustrate Bartmiński’s view of the inextricable relationship between language and culture by shedding light on key notions that inform and give coherence to his own analyses.
As already hinted at, his overarching aim is to reconstruct ‘the linguistic worldview’ of an idealized speaking subject who belongs to a rural community and is a speaker of colloquial Polish (chapter 3). By linguistic worldview Bartmiński intends “a language-entrenched interpretation of reality, which can be expressed in the form of judgments about the world, people, things and events” (p. 23). This interpretation of reality is both subjective (individual) and intersubjective (social). It is the result of a subject’s perception and conceptualization but it also “unites people in a given social environment” by constructing a “community of thoughts, feelings and values” (p. 23).
The linguistic worldview that Bartmiński describes is based on overtly or covertly assumed systems of ‘values’ (chapter 4). Values relate to the “characteristics of things but also things themselves, including concepts, states and situations, attitudes and behaviors, which function as ‘guiding ideas’ motivating people’s actions” (p.39). Values define a speaker’s social and cultural identity since they determine his/her construction of reality (i.e. conceptualization) and steer his/her action.
The analytical lens of Bartmiński’s research is focused on the expression of ‘stereotypes’ (chapter 5), understood as essentially descriptive judgments of an object that are only secondarily evaluative. The reason for this is twofold. Stereotypes are expected to reflect linguistically entrenched interpretations of the world. Stereotypes also indicate a speaker’s socio-cultural situatedness. Bartmiński’s treatment of stereotypes is partly indebted to Lippmann’s (1922) pioneering work on the topic, and to a large extent also to the later work of the American philosopher of language Hilary Putman (1975). From Lippmann, Bartmiński derives the idea of stereotypes as schematic images that are culturally rooted (based on common opinions about a certain phenomenon) and psychologically motivated (they reduce the effort of getting to know the world). However, it is Putnam’s understanding of stereotypes that fully reverberates in Bartmiński’s work. For Putman, as for Bartmiński, stereotypes are pervasive in the lexicon of every natural language, they are conventionalized and they are connected to connotative aspects of meaning (i.e. sets of meanings that one has in mind when using a term). In addition, according to Putman and Bartmiński, stereotypes can be best explored in colloquial speech.
Bartmiński’s description of stereotypes is guided by the ‘cognitive definition’ (chapter 6) which “aims to portray the way in which an entity is viewed by the speakers of a language [and] to represent socio-culturally established and linguistically entrenched knowledge, its categorization and valuation” (p.67). This approach presupposes an encyclopedic view of knowledge since extralinguistic phenomena like customs and beliefs are considered integral part of meaning.
Bartmiński’s analysis is cognitive in the sense that he reconstructs a subject’s ‘point of view’ and ‘perspective’ through an examination of his/her linguistic ‘profiling’ of stereotypes (chapters 7-9). Even though point of view and perspective appear at times almost conflated, Bartmiński clarifies that someone’s point of view, system of values, rationality and knowledge of the world all contribute to the construction of perspective as a kind of superordinate category. Perspective then drives profiling, defined as a “subjective (i.e. performed by the speaking subject) linguo-conceptual operation, which consists in shaping the picture of the object in terms of certain aspects (subcategories, facets) of that object: e.g. its origin, features, appearance, function, experiences, events connected with them, etc., within a certain type of knowledge and in accordance with the requirements of a given viewpoint” (p. 89).
Here, the notion of profiling is very close to Langacker’s (1987) but the focus is different. Bartmiński is interested in defining the local rather than the universal when he commits himself to cognitive analysis. His emphasis is on the ‘facets’ (Langacker’s domains) of reality which are linguistically entrenched and emerge as typical for a particular speaking subject. Profiling depends on an ‘experiential frame’ that reflects spatio-temporal specificity and at the same time bears the traces of historical determinism. This approach makes the distinction between synchrony and diachrony collapse since the experiential frame that determines the subject’s profiling does not simply depend on an individual’s personal experience but it is also the product of social, collective memory. The outcome of profiling is a ‘profile’, understood as “a variant of the image of a given object, shaped through the selection of facets” (p.91).” “[D]ifferent profiles are NOT different meanings: they are ways of organizing the semantic content within meanings” (p.93).
All these concepts emphasize the absolute centrality of the ‘speaking subject’. In fact, the aim of the ethnolinguist is to reconstruct on a linguistic basis a subject-related/subject-oriented linguistic worldview found in a specific cultural community (i.e. lud polski ‘the Polish people’).
Each of the following chapters addresses a specific concept as it is understood in folk Polish. Chapter 10 concerns the stereotype of the sun and presents an extensive body of linguistic data based on the nineteenth and twentieth century documentation of Polish folk culture and the team’s fieldwork from 1960 to 1994. The meaning of sun is presented in the whole network of syntagmatic and paradigmatic relationships in different but related semantic fields. A full range of social, psychological, religious, emotive and symbolic meanings of the ‘stereotype sun’ is provided.
Chapter 11 deals with the stereotype of the mother. After discarding lexicographic definitions of the term as incomplete and approximate, Bartmiński shows the rich cognitive structure of the concept relying on data from questionnaires and written sources, including proverbs, patriotic poetry, sermons and folk songs. The analysis demonstrates how a speaker’s experiential frame has an influence on profiling. In students’ questionnaires, certain basic functions of the mother (e.g. caretaker, manager of family finances, mindful of her good looks) are only marginally recognized. The study also illustrates which facets can be recognized in the characterization of the mother (biological, psychological, social, ethical, connected with everyday life) and how they should be arranged (greater importance of the social facet relative to others).
In chapter 12, Bartmiński explains how the Polish DOM (house/home) is understood along three dimensions: a spatial/physical dimension (a building), a social dimension (a community of people) and a functional dimension (a family, an institution). In his view, these three aspects are not separate; on the contrary, they constitute a conceptual whole, “they are combined into a semantic gestalt, whose parts imply one another: the place, the event and the participants in the events” (p. 157).
In chapter 13 the conceptual base and the profiling of the Polish OJCZYZNA (homeland) are described. In Polish collective imagination great importance is attributed to the spatial, geographical understanding of homeland. Other dimensions include the communal and the cultural. What unites these three dimensions is something that is not unique to Polish culture: the conception of homeland as mother. The ‘national homeland’ is defined as the basic profile of the concept.
Bartmiński’s analysis of the changes in the stereotypes of the Germans in Poland (chapter 14) illustrates how profiling is socio-culturally determined. Linguistic entrenchment of stereotypical judgments about Germans can be found in a good number of Polish lexemes and idioms. The analysis of these linguistic expressions reveals significant profiles of Germans that are motivated by a long history of Polish-German relations. They include the profile of the German as ‘the invading enemy’ (ideological perspective), ‘the prototypical foreigner’ (cultural perspective) and ‘a well-off western European’ (civilizational perspective). This latter profile is the one that tends to be the default current interpretation.
In chapter 15 Bartmiński points out how the terms ‘prawica’ and ‘lewica’, which are used to refer to the political right wing and the left wing respectively, have become semantically vague in present-day Polish.
Chapter 16 represents Bartmiński’s response to one of Wierzbicka’s studies where she contrasts Russian ‘sud’ba’ (fate) to Polish ‘los’ (destinity, fortune) and provides cultural, historical motivations for this differentiation. While ‘sud’ba’ implies a vision of life being governed by an external force that humans cannot control, the notion of ‘los’ suggests that people can steer and shape their life. According to Wierzbicka, the Polish worldview is guided by the concept of ‘los’ due to the pro-Western orientation of Polish culture, its Catholicism and national history. Wierzbicka also mentions the existence of Polish ‘dola’ (the equivalent of Russian ‘sud’ba’) but she relegates that to the peasant tradition. Bartmiński clarifies that both ‘los’ and ‘dola’ feature in the contemporary standard literary variety of Polish and that embracing either the one or the other is dependent on an individual’s understanding of reality. “The two conceptions correspond to two contrasting attitudes to life” (p. 211).
To conclude, in the last chapter Bartmiński expresses his wish that more comparative research be carried out beyond the traditional comparative-historical paradigm. The kind of research that he advocates should be contrastive, based on the notion of typology, and focused on the semantic (in the broad sense) analysis of sociopolitical and ethical lexis (e.g. democracy, nation, justice, responsibility, conscience, courage, work, truth, etc.). Such research could “contribute to a better coexistence of nations” (p. 221).
EVALUATION The book presents a condensed but very detailed and highly informative description of the main tenets at the core of cognitive ethnolinguistics.
Bringing together some of Bartmiński’s most representative publications, this volume succeeds in its aim to create a bridge between two traditions -- Polish ethnolinguistics and Anglo-American cognitive linguistics -- that, though developed independently, seem to share basic assumptions. In particular, extensive studies in lexical semantics that involved the analysis of Polish culturally connoted terms seem to have developed in parallel with Charles Fillmore’s and George Lakoff’s semantic investigations. Bartmiński’s treatment of lexical concepts presupposes an understanding of words/concepts against the background of their rich semantic frames and radial networks of semantic categorization. Furthermore, Bartmiński’s notions of viewpoint, perspective, facets, profile and profiling represent theoretical elaboration close to Ronald Langacker’s theory of Cognitive Grammar, especially those on profiling. Even closer connections can be seen between Bartmiński’s understanding of stereotypical judgments and Hilary Putnam’s definition of stereotypes.
The focus of Polish cognitive ethnolinguistics on the regional, and the local in particular, is a reminder of a more traditional leaning of Polish ethnolinguistics towards dialectology. This aspect makes the approach consonant with current trends in cognitive linguistics that emphasize the socio-cultural component of meaning (cf. recent work on cultural conceptualizations in Sharifian 2011).
Here and there Bartmiński alludes to the benefits of an interdisciplinary dialogue between linguistics and literary studies and takes Bakhtin as a case in point. According to Bartmiński, the body of literature on the construction of worldviews from different viewpoints that literary scholars have accumulated translates into the linguist’s interest in anthropological descriptions. These are seen as two sides of the same coin. Bartmiński also hints at possible paths of future development. Thriving Polish ethnolinguistic research could stimulate the growth of similar schools in different European contexts, which could improve intercultural understanding.
As a whole, the volume is well structured and coherent in its internal organization. In a sense, the book is divided into two parts. The line of argument is developed from chapters that basically respond to a need for theoretical exposition (chapters 1 to 9) to subsequent chapters where exemplification of applied research abounds and case studies of culturally connoted terms are presented (chapters 10 to 17).
Cross-referencing between different chapters contributes to making the volume organic and help the reader see connections between the diverse elements of the composite theoretical apparatus. The interconnectedness of language and culture is clearly and thoroughly developed in the chapters dealing with the Polish stereotypes of sun, mother, house/home, homeland, ‘German’ and the cultural key words ‘los’ and ‘dola’.
This book is a much welcome contribution to (English-reading) academia, and it will be of particular interest for scholars working in the diverse fields of cognitive linguistics, sociolinguistics, anthropological linguistics and intercultural semantics/communication.
REFERENCES Evans, Vyvyan & Stéphanie Pourcel. 2009. New Directions in Cognitive Linguistics. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins.
Langacker, Ronald. 1987. Foundations of Cognitive Grammar, vol. 1, Theoretical Prerequisites. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Putnam, Hilary. 1975. Mind, Language and Reality. Philosophical Papers, vol. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sharifian, Farzad. 2011. Cultural Conceptualizations and Language: Theoretical Framework and Applications. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Marta Degani is an Assistant Professor of English Linguistics at the
University of Verona, Italy. She holds an MA in Applied Linguistics from
Macquarie University, Sydney and a PhD in English Studies from the
University of Venice. In academic year 2010-2011 she was a Visiting Scholar
at the School of Maori and Pacific Development, University of Waikato,
Hamilton (New Zealand). Her research interests include pragmatics,
semantics (functional and cognitive), varieties of English, discourse
analysis and corpus linguistics. She has published on language contact in
New Zealand English, in both literary and non-literary texts, and
(inter)-subjectivity with English modal verbs. Her current focus is
cognitive linguistics, in particular its application to the speech of