LINGUIST List 19.2927

Fri Sep 26 2008

Review: Anthropological Linguistics: Amberber (2007)

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        1.    Ludwig Fesenmeier, The Language of Memory in a Crosslinguistic Perspective

Message 1: The Language of Memory in a Crosslinguistic Perspective
Date: 26-Sep-2008
From: Ludwig Fesenmeier <>
Subject: The Language of Memory in a Crosslinguistic Perspective
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Announced at EDITOR: Amberber, MengistuTITLE: The Language of Memory in a Crosslinguistic PerspectiveSERIES: Human Cognitive Processing 21PUBLISHER: John BenjaminsYEAR: 2007

Ludwig Fesenmeier, Romanisches Seminar, Ruhr-University Bochum

SUMMARYThe purpose of the book under review is to explore ''the language of memory in across-linguistic perspective'' (p. 1), i.e. the volume addresses the question of''how different languages lexicalise the concept of memory'' (p. 5). The languagestaken into consideration are Polish, English, Dalabon, Russian, Chinese, German,Korean, East Cree, and Amharic.

The book contains ten articles which are preceded by a section ''About thecontributors'' (pp. ix-xi) and an ''Introduction'' written by the editor (pp.1-12); at the end one finds the ''Author index'' (p. 279), the ''Language index''(p. 281), and the ''Subject index'' (pp. 283f).

The contributions represent revised versions of the respective papers presentedat the ''Workshop on the Semantics of Memory in a Crosslinguistic Perspective'',held in November 2003 at the University of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia).

In the first article (pp. 13-39), Anna Wierzbicka answers the title question ''Is'remember' a universal human concept?'' by saying that '''[m]emory' [...] is notsomething that objectively exists'', but rather ''a construct, linked with thecurrent meaning of the English word MEMORY'' (p. 14, throughout this review, allcapital letters indicate italics in the original). Moreover, according to theAuthor, memory would encode a quite complex concept which, thus, has to bedecomposed in simpler terms in order to both demonstrate its language-specificsemantic configuration and allow for crosslinguistic comparison. The analyticaltool proposed is the ''Natural Semantic Metalanguage'' (henceforth NSM), currentlyconsisting of around 60 semantic primitives (see p. 18), the most relevant herebeing /think\ and /know\ [Editor's note: slashes are used in this review inplace of angled brackets]. After having briefly mentioned some of theexpressions for 'memory' and 'to remember' in different languages (AustralianAboriginal languages, French, German, and Russian) and after a short overlookover the semantic change of the English verb TO REMEMBER, Wierzbicka discussesin some detail ''some Polish words related to 'memory''' (p. 29), concluding that''most Polish words in this area do not match the meanings of English 'memorywords''' (p. 37).

John Sutton's paper ''Language, memory, and the concepts of memory'' (pp. 41-65)comments on the NSM approach (more precisely, on Wierzbicka's contribution) on amethodological level, stating first of all the many different kinds of inquiriesin the field of 'memory' and related concepts: there is a great amount ofresearch done especially in philosophy and cognitive and developmentalpsychology. The Author then goes on to reject a key assumption which parallelsthat made by Wierzbicka, concerning the very ''nature'' of memory: ''a number ofwriters [within science studies and the history of psychology] have usedevidence of HISTORICAL variation in the constitution of 'memory' to argue thatmemory is not a natural object or a natural kind, in just the same way thatWierzbicka uses cross-linguistic evidence'' (p. 47). In Sutton's view, suchdichotomies as 'nature vs. discourse' or 'science vs. history' are simplyirrelevant when ''appreciat[ing] and utilis[ing] cross-linguistic,cross-cultural, or historical evidence of substantial diversity'' (p. 48).Furthermore, the Author addresses Wierzbicka's explanation of certain Englishwords, suggesting that they are ''in certain different respects too strong, ingoing beyond the basic semantics of the English terms by building in too muchidiosyncratic metaphysical baggage'' (p. 53). He equally questions the ''deepdifferences between Polish and English attitudes to the past'' (p. 60) proposedby Wierzbicka on the basis of her analysis of Polish PAMIATKA (see pp. 32-35).In conclusion, Sutton argues for ''a broader interdisciplinary enterprise ofcoming to understand thinking about what happened before'' (p. 61).

In his contribution ''Standing up your mind. Remembering in Dalabon'' (pp. 67-95),Nicholas Evans explores the possibilities of linguistic expression in thecognitive domain in Dalabon, an Australian Aboriginal language, ''now spokenfluently by fewer than a dozen people'' (p. 67), where ''expressions specificallydedicated to remembering'' (p. 68) are completely missing: there is, rather, thebound root BENG, generally covering ''the whole realm of mind'' (p. 76), which isthe morphological basis for verbs such as BENGDI and BENGKAN, denoting, amongothers, the concept of 'to remember'. The Author proposes to treat these verbsnot as polysemous, but rather as monosemous, presuming ''a single meaning foreach, from which the various contextual readings emerge from interactions withother grammatical elements in the verb (particularly the tense, aspect and moodinflections) and from other aspects of context'' (p. 84); in the case of BENGDI,this single meaning can be glossed as 'to have a thought or experiencetemporarily in one's conscious mind' (see p. 85), while BENGKAN can beparaphrased as '''[to] have continually in one's mind''' (p. 86). Finally, in aquite intriguing ''Appendix'' section (pp. 91-94), Evans addresses the questionwhether in Dalabon /think\ and /know\ can be treated as semantic primitives inthe NSM sense. His answer is negative, for according to the Author, thislanguage lacks verbs meaning PRECISELY 'think' and 'know' (see p. 92). He thusmakes a strong case for keeping the ''fundamental assumptions of the NSM schoolof semantics'' strictly distinct: ''(a) each language can be used as its ownmetalanguage [...] (b) the set of 'semantic primitives' yielded by (a) in eachlanguage is isomorphic and directly intertranslatable'' (p. 91).

Anna A. Zalizniak draws attention to ''The conceptualisation of REMEMBERING andFORGETTING in Russian'' (pp. 97-118), which according to another analysis,affirmatively quoted by Zalizniak, follows the metaphor of possession/loss (seep. 98). As for remembering, the Author argues that an opposition exists betweenverbs denoting states (imperfective POMNIT'), processes (imperfectiveVSPOMINAT'), and events (perfective ZAPOMNIT' and VSPOMNIT'); concerningforgetting, Russian appears to use three quasi-metaphorical expressions: ''1)[...] momentary dropping out of an object [...]; 2) a gradual disappearance of'signs' of the life experiences 'written down' in the mind [...]; 3) thecovering with something like mist'' (p. 110). Discussing the possible semanticdecomposition of POMNIT', Zalizniak shows that at least for certain readings, asemantic primitive /know\ has to be included, since in some cases POMNIT' can besubstituted by ZNAT'.Cliff Goddard offers ''A 'lexicographic portrait' of FORGETTING'' (pp. 119-137;italics in original), examining the subcategorization frames of English TOFORGET with special interest to their possible semantic motivations. Theanalysis is mainly corpus-based (COBUILD corpus) and uses the NSM technique forthe semantic description. The Author discusses in turn the three main clausalcomplement types (TO FORGET TO/THAT/WH-complement), NP-complements, TO FORGETABOUT, TO FORGET associated with certain kinds of modifiers (''I'll neverforget'', ''I can't forget''), and some idiosyncratic uses (e.g. ''Forget it!'', TOFORGET ONESELF). Goddard points out parallels between clausal and nominalcomplement constructions and identifies a total of fifteen different, though''interrelated lexicogrammatical constructions [of TO FORGET], each with aspecific meaning'' (p. 134). In his ''Concluding remarks'' (pp. 134f), he stressesthe necessity of a joint approach, where semantic analysis ''make[s] sense of[...] both syntactic options and actual usage patterns'' (p. 135).

The article of Zhengdao Ye (pp. 139-180) is entitled '''Memorisation', learning,and cultural cognition'', more specifically being devoted to ''The notion of BÈI('auditory memorisation') in the written Chinese tradition''. The Author analyzesin detail the Chinese expression BÈI, which is of central interest here, andproposes a distinction between two different, yet metonymically relatedreadings: BÈI-1 focuses on the act of memorization itself, while BÈI-2 denotesthe result of BÈI-1. Furthermore, BÈI appears to be generally restricted to therealm of verbal learning, while this is not the case with its semanticnear-equivalent JÌ, ''which is akin to 'taking a mental picture', using objectsthat are not restricted to 'texts''' (p. 175). Ye applies the NSM approach inorder to present the meanings of these highly culture-specific concepts in sucha way that they become ''accessible and intelligible to people from otherlanguage and cultural backgrounds'' (p. 148).

''A corpus-based analysis of German (SICH) ERINNERN'' (italics in original) is thetopic of the paper by Andrea C. Schalley and Sandra Kuhn, which, in contrast towhat its title suggests, is not based on usage or on syntactic structures (as isGoddard's, see above), but aims ''to identify rigorously what is actually part ofthe lexical semantics of the verb (SICH) ERINNERN'' (p. 182f; italics inoriginal); the examples discussed, however, are taken from the COSMAS II corpus.The framework used is that of ''Unified Eventity Representation'', based on the''Unified Modeling Language'' (see p. 182); the approach chosen is called''object-oriented'' (p. 182): at the centre of this model lies ''the concept of anobject or entity, whose characteristics, relations to other entities, behaviour,and interactions with other entities are modelled'' (p. 182). The Authors starttheir analysis by discussing in some detail the study of Van valin & Wilkins1993, and then propose ''prototypical components of REMEMBER [capitals inoriginal], where REMEMBER [capitals in original] is understood as the eventitywhich comprises the 'core semantics' of (SICH) ERINNERN [italics in original]''(p. 192). Applying this analysis to German (SICH) ERINNERN, Schalley and Kuhnidentify four different readings of the verb: an ''achievement ERINNERN'' and itscausative variant, an ERINNERN 'to be similar to' and an ERINNERN used to makethe addressee ''aware of 'what she should know''' (p. 197). The Authors concludethat ''there is some non-neglectable semantic difference but that there is noclear-cut reading difference'' (p. 205).

In '''Do you REMEMBER where you put the key?' The Korean model of REMEMBERING''(pp. 209-233; italics in original) Kyung-Joo Yoon deals, on the basis of NSM,with the ''translational counterparts of REMEMBER'' (p. 209; italics in original),showing that none of the Korean expressions taken into consideration meanexactly the same as the English verb TO REMEMBER. The items focused on areSAYNGKAKNA- 'come to think, be reminded of', KIEKNA- 'memory comes', KIEKHA-'remember, recall', and KIEKHAYNAY- 'manage to remember', which can beconsidered ''basic in terms of frequency of use, complexity of meaning, andmorphological structure'' (p. 215). According to the Author, KIEKNA- andKIEKHAYNAY- differ from KIEKNA- in that the former two express the speaker'svolition to remember, while the latter ''implies involuntary retrieval'' (p. 225),KIEKHAYNAY- nevertheless focusing more strongly the deliberate character of theretrieval than does KIEKHA-. Concerning the semantically very close expressionsKIEKNA- and SAYNGKAKNA-, Yoon suggests that the former ''entails a past timereference intrinsically'' (p. 229), while in the latter case, such aninterpretation seems to be due to inferences drawn from the context.

The following article by Marie-Odile Junker deals with ''The language of memoryin East Cree'' (pp. 235-261), an Algonquian language, which appears not to have''a specific word for 'memory', but rather a hyperonym that encompasses allmental processes'' (p. 259); nevertheless, one finds several verbs which ''areused to express concepts corresponding to the English words 'remember','forget', and 'remind''' (p. 241). Some of them have in common the rootCHISCHIS(I)-, e.g. CHISCHISÛ 'to remember something from the past', which allowsfor three different constructions: with the conjunct preverbs CHECHÎ, E, and KÂ,respectively. According to the Author, these constructions can be paralleledwith the English TO + infinitive construction, the accusative -ING construction,and the THAT construction, and can thus be classified, in line with the approachof Van valin & Wilkins 1993, as PSY-ACTION, DIRECT PERCEPTION, and COGNITIONCOMPLEMENT (see p. 242f). Furthermore, Junker shows how in East Cree the conceptof 'memory' is also an important category for the description of certaingrammatical items: the felicitous use of a certain class of demonstrativepronouns (called ''absentative demonstratives'', p. 251) requires both the speakerto remember the entity referred to and the hearer to agree on such a (virtual)''presence'' by remembering (see pp. 251-253); there are also special verb formswhich are used ''when the speaker knows and remembers what something or someonelooked like before, but now sees that it has changed'' (p. 254), but areincompatible with sentences which do not presuppose such knowledge (see ex. 90and 91 on p. 255, glossed as ''I do not know that/if it was white'').

The final paper by Mengistu Amberber on ''REMEMBER, REMIND, and FORGET inAmharic'' (pp. 263-277) first examines three Amharic memory verbs, correspondingroughly to the English REMEMBER, REMIND, and FORGET, respectively; the Authorthen discusses some verbs which normally mean 'to think'/'to know', butoccasionally can also be used in the sense of 'to remember', underlining thefact that such polysemy does not, however, expand to the domain of 'forgetting'(see p. 275). Among the many interesting issues which emerge from the analysis,the most intriguing one appears to be the grammaticalization of the distinctionbetween volitional memory (''one is actively trying to recall'', p. 266) and asimple remembering act that happens to the experiencer. The methodologicalframework appeals to NSM and Jackendoff's Conceptual Semantics.

EVALUATIONThe different contributions treat a wide range of phenomena, showing that agreat and impressive variety of language-specific solutions exist for thechallenge of how to say ''what has happened before'', as John Sutton has put it.When comparing the results of the analyses of near-synonyms, languages turn outto differ with regard to the distinctions they make by lexical and/orlexico-grammatical means (e.g. the rather ''curious'' distinction between''remembering an habitual event and remembering a particular event'' in East Cree,p. 243); nevertheless, one also finds striking crosslinguistic parallels, e.g.''the distinction between intended and 'mind-popping' retrieval'' (p. 225) inKorean and that between volitional memory and the simple remembering act thathappens to the experiencer in Amharic.

A common methodological denominator of many of the contributions consists inthat they appeal to the decompositional NSM approach, basically accepting it asa suitable framework for the analyses to be undertaken. Differences mostlyconcern ''details'' such as the status of certain primitives (/think\ and /know\)in the analysis of the memory words of a given language (see, e.g., p. 103 forRussian and p. 190 for German); nevertheless, one also finds views which arerather globally opposed to some foundational issues related to the NSM approachand the study of 'memory' within such a framework (see Sutton's comment onWierzbicka's paper).

However, the volume under review not only brings together different languages,but also different theoretical frameworks: besides the NSM approach, articlesfrequently make reference to Van Valin & Wilkins 1993 (see, among others, thearticles by Schalley & Kuhn, Yoon and Junker), but one also finds more recentframeworks such as Unified Eventity Representation, applied to German data bySchalley and Kuhn.

Furthermore, some of the papers (Goddard, Junker, Amberber) can be seen ascontinuing previous work done on the semantically very close field of 'think'(see volume 14-2/3 of ''Cognitive Linguistics'', explicitly referring to p. 2)thus allowing for a more comprehensive view on the ''broad field'' of cognitive verbs.

As far as the several contributions are concerned, seeing that for reasons ofspace I cannot go into great detail here, I shall confine myself to some briefremarks:

Wierzbicka quotes the statement made by Umberto Eco that 'remembering' probablyis one of the ''elementary notions, common to everyone in the human race, thatCAN BE EXPRESSED in all languages'' (see p. 13; emphasis mine), but this is notto say that Eco ''is convinced [...] that all languages must have a WORD for it''(p. 20; emphasis mine): a point in case is Dalabon, which, according to Evans,''offers a number of distinct ways of talking about remembering [...] but withouthaving any lexicalised verb for 'remember''' (p. 90).

Admittedly, ''linguistics has not contributed so fully to the interdisciplinarystudy of diversity in ways of thinking about what happened before'' (p. 44), butthis is NOT due to the relative neglect of semantics, ''at least until recently'',as Sutton suggests: semantics not only represented an important linguisticsubdiscipline for quite some time, but also, already as early as 1966, KurtBaldinger had examined ''The Concept 'remember' and its representations inFrench'' as ''An Example of Conceptual Analysis'' (see Baldinger 1980, 160-205). Itis rather that cognitive linguistics/semantics is a relatively recent paradigm,especially committed to the possible relations between cognition and language(s)(note, nevertheless, that Baldinger's approach is structuralist in nature).

Consider the following two statements by Wierzbicka and Schalley & Kuhn,respectively: ''['Memory'] is a construct, linked with the current meaning of theEnglish word MEMORY - a construct that many psychologists and cognitivescientists tend to reify by treating it as something that 'exists' independentlyof the English language'' (p. 14); ''memory is not seen as something that existsobjectively (Wierzbicka, this volume)'' (p. 187). While Wierzbicka rightlyinsists on the language-specificity of WORD MEANINGS which may not be usedstraightforwardly as a ''neutral measure'' when discussing mental phenomena or the(extra-linguistic) concepts such WORDS refer to, Schalley & Kuhn seem to go astep further in generalizing this view.

As Evans rightly states (see p. 90), the study of lexemes pertaining to thecognitive domain is particularly difficult because of their non-ostensibledenotations. It appears thus more important to distinguish, both on theconceptual and terminological level, between what is linguistic and what isextra-linguistic. When reading the different contributions, one is confrontedwith expressions such as ''word'', ''meaning'', and ''concept'', the latter sometimesbeing clearly used as a synonym for 'word(-meaning)', sometimes clearly in thesense of 'conceptual entity'; yet sometimes one may have one's doubts: ''[thematter of current concern is the predicate '' used by Van Valin &Wilkins 1993] Yet, MIND is an English-specific concept and does not have exactcounterparts in, e.g. German or Korean'' (p. 188).

As far as the formal aspects of the volume are concerned, one notes

- some typographical errors (among others ''je me ra[p]pelle'' (p. 22), ''serappelLer'' (p. 26), ''pos[s]essing'' (p. 97), ''reZervation'' (p. 111), ''LoquoUr,ergo sum?'' (p. 117), ''While this MAYBE due to'' (p. 270));

- probably ''remnants'' of earlier versions of the papers: ''Dalabon is apolysynthetic VERB [language?] with a complex verb structure'' (p. 70), ''theanalysis OF THE proposed by Wierzbicka'' (p. 105);

- the quotation p. 67 taken from Auroux 1989, 14 (not 134) reads correctly ''Sansmémoire et sans PROJET, il n'y a tout simplement PAS de savoir.'';

- sometimes incomplete bibliographical references (missing page references orpublishing places, see among others pp. 95, 117, 261);

- in Goddard's paper, from p. 123 onwards, two different font sizes are used;the itemization of the constructions/explanations of TO FORGET ranges from ''A''to ''P'', but it contains only 15 items since there is no explanation ''C'';

- the page numbers given for ''Latin'' in the ''Language index'' sometimes refer to''Latin America'' (pp. 25, 36), those given for ''French'' sometimes refer to ahomonymous author (Robert M. French, p. 61) or to the WORD ''French'' in thetranslations of some examples (pp. 115f, 186).

In conclusion, despite the problems discussed so far, this volume devoted to''The Language of Memory in a Crosslinguistic Perspective'' is a book which haslong been sought and will serve the goals it is intended for most suitably.

REFERENCESAuroux, Sylvain. (1989) Introduction. In Auroux, Sylvain (ed.) _Histoire desidées linguistiques. Vol. 1: La naissance des métalangages en Orient et enOccident_. Liège/Bruxelles: Pierre Mardaga, 13-37.

Baldinger, Kurt. (1966) Sémantique et structure conceptuelle (le concept 'sesouvenir'). _Cahiers de lexicologie_ 8, 3-46.

Baldinger, Kurt. (1980) _Semantic theory_. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Van Valin, Robert D., Jr & Wilkins, David P. (1993) Predicting SemanticStructure from Semantic Representations: REMEMBER in English and its Equivalentsin Mparntwe Arrernte. In Robert D. Van Valin, Jr. (ed.) _Advances in Role andReference Grammar_, Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins (= _Current Issues inLinguistic Theory_ 82), 499-534.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERLudwig Fesenmeier teaches Romance linguistics at the Department of RomanceLanguages, Ruhr-University Bochum, and is currently working on his post-doctoralthesis on lexical synonymy in the Romance languages.