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Review of  Approaches to Cognition through Text and Discourse

Reviewer: Marius Nagy
Book Title: Approaches to Cognition through Text and Discourse
Book Author: Tuija Virtanen
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Cognitive Science
Subject Language(s): Danish
Issue Number: 16.2190

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Date: Wed, 13 Jul 2005 14:06:50 +0300
From: Marius Nagy
Subject: Approaches to Cognition through Text and Discourse

EDITOR: Virtanen, Tuija
TITLE: Approaches to Cognition through Text and Discourse
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2004

Jozsef Marius Nagy, François-Rabelais University


Recent developments in discourse linguistics as well as in cognitive
linguistics have highlighted the common interest of these approaches of
language. But, despite their share interest in issues of discourse and
cognition, there is a wide gap between them caused by differences in the
frameworks and perspectives adopted for study.

The aim of the volume edited by Tuija Virtanen is to contribute to
bridging that gap by an interdisciplinary debate. The volume is organised
in individual chapters which, despite the variety of methods adopted for
study, focus on text and discourse in a given situational context and on
individual and distributed cognition. As Virtanen points out in the
introductory chapter "what is shared is an awareness for the fact that
discourse and cognition can only be studied with the help of discourse and
cognition". The individual contributions deal with a large area of data
from a several languages (including discourse in bilingual settings)
ranging from narrative to non-narrative, spoken to written, informative to
literary, experimental to authentic, professional genres to impromptu
speech, from public to private or semi-private discourse.


In the opening chapter (Text, discourse and cognition: An introduction),
Tuija Virtanen discusses the relation between language, discourse and
cognition. Text and discourse linguistics focus on text/discourse in
context. Virtanen highlights the bi-directional view of text and context:
if the form of a particular text is affected by its context, texts and
discourses themselves contribute to the construction, maintaining and
alteration of contexts. In cognitive linguistics, much studies dealing
with text and discourse has been centred on individual cognition,
i.e. "the inferences that people are required to make to interpret
discourse, and the assumptions they seem to be making about their
interlocutors' consciousness and memory constraints as manifested in
discourse". The author argues convincingly for a shift of interest
to 'distributed cognition'. A central area in the study of discourse and
cognition is the analysis of the variation across texts and discourses. In
Virtanen's opinion, there are two essential dimensions of discourse
variation: text types and genres, both notions being prototypical
categorizations. Text types "reflect the way in which we view reality". As
she did earlier (cf. Virtanen 1992), the author argues for a distinction
between two basic, idealised, text types: the narrative, who "involves
human beings in a dynamic series of actions that have an outcome of some
sort different from the situation at the beginning of the series", and the
non-narrative (argumentative). Genres are closely related to particular
socio-cultural contexts. They are part of our distributed cognition or the
shared knowledge of a discourse community.

In chapter 2, entitled "Language, discourse and cognition: retrospect and
prospects", Robert de Beaugrande presents a dialectical model of language
and discourse such that language, conceived as "a theory of human
knowledge and experience", "specifies the standing constraints (i.e. what
words usually mean), whereas discourse, conceived as practice of human
knowledge and experience, "manifests emergent constraints (i.e. what the
words mean in this particular stretch of discourse)". Hence, theory of
language turns into 'theoretical practice', essentially 'practice-driven',
and practice of discourse into 'practical theory', essentially 'theory
driven'. Similarly, 'cognition' and 'language' interact in a dialectical
cycle, such that "cognition generates meanings, whereas language
determines meanings". Meanings are conceived not as mere units, but as
events in "a dialectical process which always has a context as its
cognitive architecture". A great challenge for cognitive linguistics, and
a possible way to bridge the gap between text linguistics and cognitive
linguistics, is the study of meaning by examining a "very large corpora of
text and discourse". In the final of his contribution, the author argues
in favour of what he calls "cognitive text linguistics".

In her paper (On the discourse basis of person agreement), Anna Siewierska
examines person agreement making cross-linguistically. Hence, she
critically discusses two diachronic scenarios that have been proposed in
the literature for its development. The first, proposed by T. Givon, also
called NP-detachment, postulates that person agreement markers originate
in the third person pronouns. In the second, elaborated by Mira Ariel on
the basis of accessibility theory, the gramaticalization of person
agreement markers originates in the first and second person pronouns.
Siewierska argues for an extension of Ariel's model to third person forms
as well as to object functions too.

In chapter 4, entitled 'The information structure of bilingual meaning: a
constructivist approach to Californian Finnish conversation', M. M.
Jocelyne Fernandez-Vest examines information structure in impromptu speech
emerging in both monolingual and bilingual contexts, using the model of
Theme-Rheme-Mneme. The third element, Mneme (close to the 'tail' of
Functional Grammar or to Lambrecht's Construction Grammar 'antitopic'),
refers to formal properties ( a flat intonation) and semantic ones (
supposedly shared knowledge, affective modulation). The analysis of the
Californian Finnish narratives shows that there is a tendency for the
Rheme or the Mneme to be marked by code-switching from Finnish to English.
In conversation, code-switching is motivated b situational needs (e.g. the
presence of a monolingual addressee or the intention to be exact about
referents related to life in the USA) or the interlocutors 'memory
processes' (e.g. memorized social situation). The chapter deals also with
the problem of quantitative memory exemplified on the basis of a
monolingual (Sami) and a bilingual (Finnish Californian) corpus. In Sami
contexts, men and women manifest different mechanism of remembering dates,
estimating distances. In Californian Finnish contexts, the sex differences
concern code-switching at temporal signposts of a story.

Chapter 5 (Point of departure: cognitive aspects of sentence-initial
adverbials) explores the discourse functions of sentence-initial
adverbials (i.e. adverbs, prepositional phrases, noun phrases, phrases and
clauses) in written texts from a cognitive point of view. Virtanen focuses
her analysis on the "prototypical adverbials of time, place and manner".
The analysis shows that sentence-initial position has a great cognitive
potential, creating coherence and determining point of view for what
follows. Particular categories of adverbials are 'professionalized' in
given discourse functions indicating manner of speaking, beliefs,
attitudes and so forth. Finally, sentence-initial adverbials can be
related to distributed knowledge as they can be connected to the socio-
cultural context.

Chapter 6 entitled 'What is foregrounded in narratives. Hypothesis for the
cognitive basis of foregrounding' is by Brita Wårwik. The author explores
the parallels between the textual foreground-background distinction and
perceptual and cognitive principles of organization. The foregrounding and
backgrounding of elements in narratives is analysed by three cognitive
perspectives: the figure-ground distinction, the EVENT prototype and
salience, including also a consideration of the role of iconicity.

The contribution of Lita Lundquist (From legal knowledge to legal
discourse and back again) deals with the analysis of expert and non-expert
knowledge of two types of legal concepts: 'contract' and 'judgement'.
Using the semantic notion of 'qualia' borrowed from Pustejovsky's works
(cf. The Generative Lexical, 1995), the author shows the great difference
that exists between the knowledge structure of expert and non-expert text.
The analysis highlights that experts not only use a higher number of
qualia than non-experts but they are also able to recognize more qualia
than a non-expert one.

In chapter 8 Anne Marie Bülow-Møller (Conditionals: your spaces or mine)
proposes a study of conditionals in context arguing that classifications
based on decontextualized sentences do not hold in practice. The analysis
shows that use of conditionals in argumentative discourse cannot be
accounted for without a consideration of the context and the communicative
strategies of the interlocutor engaged in the discourse.

The paper of Martina Björklund (Communicative fragments and the
interpretation of discourse) focuses on the analysis of literary
discourse. The author argues, following Gasparov, the essential role of
the recognition of communicative fragments with their mental
representations and the whole communicative landscape they evoke (genres,
styles, thematic fields, concrete texts and utterances) in the
perception/interpretation of discourse, of any discourse not just literary
one. In the conception of Gasparov, communicative fragments are "discourse
fragments of various lengths, stored n the speakers' memory as whole fixed
elements, i.e. they are not generated by the speaker according to
grammatical rules". Communicative fragments are given in a dynamic way
such that is by principle impossible to say where one communicative
fragment ends and where another begins.

In the final chapter of the volume (Drawing the line: a contested
conceptual model in Danish 'child care talk'), Peter Harder investigates
the negotiation of common ground, through the analysis of a particular
conceptual model in a Danish context, that of 'drawing the line' (grœnse
metaphor) in the interaction between adults and children from whom they
are responsible. The metaphor is used about situations where the issue
comes up whether adult should restrain the children's activity or not. The
author highlights the role of mapping from source to target domain "as a
social process rather than a purely conceptual one" and argues for the
conception of conceptualization as an ongoing process "where mental
structures meets actual experience and there is a struggle to impose some
conceptual order in it" rather than as a product, i.e. "as a part of a
fully mapped-out conceptual world".


The volume represents an important contribution to the development of both
text/discourse linguistics and cognitive linguistics. The emphasis
on 'distributed cognition' in several articles makes possible the focus on
the cultural dimension of cognitive sciences and the elaboration of a
semiotics of culture. This fact implies the focus on "the fundamental
character of creation inherent to the cognitive essence of language"
(Coseriu, 1952/1991), which, unfortunately, lack in many works done in the
area of cognitive linguistics. Hence, I completely agree with the critical
remarks raised against cognitive semantics by Coseriu (1990). A text, as
Rastier (2001) points out, is not a set of cognitive schemata. Its
structure doesn't consist in mental correlates. A text is not a set of
representations, but a structured set of constraints on the formation of


Borcila, Mircea, 1997, The Metaphoric Model in Poetic Texts, in Szoveg és
stilus. Text si stil. Text and Style, Cluj, Presa Universitara, p. 97-104

Coseriu, Eugenio, 1952/1991, La creacion metaforica en el lenguaje, in E.
Coseriu, El hombre y su lenguaje. Estudios de teoria y metodologia
lingüistica, Madrid, Gredos, p. 66-102

Coseriu, Eugenio, 1980/1997, Linguistica del testo. Introduzione a una
ermeneutica del senso, Roma, La Nuova Italia Scientifica

Coseriu, Eugenio, 1990, Semantica estructural y semantica cognitiva,
in "Jornadas de filologia", Barcelona, pp. 239-282

Rastier, François, 2001, Arts et sciences du texte, Paris, PUF


Jozsef Marius Nagy is a student at the François Rabelais University in
Tours (General Linguistics and Classical Philology). His main intersts are
in epistemology of linguistics and discourse analysis.

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