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Review of  Aspects of Cognitive Ethnolinguistics

Reviewer: Marta Degani
Book Title: Aspects of Cognitive Ethnolinguistics
Book Author: Jerzy Bartmiński Joerg Zinken
Publisher: Equinox Publishing Ltd
Linguistic Field(s): Semantics
Cognitive Science
Issue Number: 23.3940

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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

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).

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.

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.

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 English-Maori bilinguals.

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