LINGUIST List 23.2341

Wed May 16 2012

Review: Cognitive Science; Pragmatics: Harder (2010)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 16-May-2012
From: Avi Weizmann <>
Subject: Meaning in Mind and Society
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AUTHOR: Peter HarderTITLE: Meaning in Mind and SocietySUBTITLE: A Functional Contribution to the Social Turn in Cognitive LinguisticsPUBLISHER: De Gruyter MoutonYEAR: 2010

Avi Weizmann, PhD, Israel


This book describes the course of action, the methodology and the linguisticreasons whereby cognitive linguistics is developing in order to take account ofsocial aspects of language and meaning. Cognitive science joins together severalsciences, including linguistics. The particular focal point of the volume isexplaining that social cognitive linguistics (SCL) can contribute both to thepublic-civil and academic arenas.

The Introduction analyzes some of the basic concepts of the theory, withparticular emphasis on "conceptual frames" and the importance of discourse/s.Harder explains that his book was undertaken with two purposes with one beingacademic and the other "civic".

Chapter 1 is about the different types of cognitive models. The author's purposeis to give a description of the most important fundamentals in the renewal oflinguistics that CL brought about. He intentionally tries to construct anidealized cognitive model of what may be classified as 'classic cognitivelinguistics'.

Chapter 2 studies social processes and common cognitive models of meaning.Harder analyzes social context oriented work that is presently developing withinCL. The most noteworthy expression of the usage-based style is "variationaldescription", whereas the most fundamental modification from the individual mindto minds in an interactive style is the use of the term "intersubjectivity".

Chapter 3 explains the origin and history of SLC as a field of linguisticresearch. Harder discusses French poststructuralists (e.g. Bourdieu and Passeron1990); discourse analysis (e.g. Laclau-Mouffe 1985; Tannen 1994; Riggins 1997;Fairclough 2003; Geeraerts 2003; O'Halloran 2003; Quist 2005; Eckert 2008);discursive psychology (e.g. Atkinson and Drew 1979; Pother and Wettherell 1987);systemic functional linguistics (e.g. Halliday 1967-68); and socially basedtheories of meaning (e.g. Butler 2003). Finally, he presents new insights of CL.

Chapter 4 analyzes the socio-cognitive aspects of human language and differentstructures of language. In this chapter, which is one of the most important ofthe book, Harder introduces the basic aspects of projects in and perspectives onsocio-cognitive approaches. The chapter's rationale is to allow the cognitivelinguist to judge whether his/her project takes account of social context.

Chapter 5 covers the semantics of social constructions in relation to linguisticprocesses and subjective meaning. The author talks about the relation between"flow" and "competency" and does so with reference to meaning rather than structure.

Chapter 6 studies the role of norms in SLC. The author argues that the socialtwist contains a change of "structure" that reflects itself in the perception oflanguage as "flow", "competency" and "langue". Harder claims that afunction-based explanation is needed to appreciate the social aspects of a"structure".

Chapter 7 is on style-discourses (cf. Schegloff 1999) and their application todifferent types of contexts. This chapter also addresses salient theoreticalapparatuses of SLC. Harder highlights the collaboration between conceptualcontent and social constructions and analyzes, with great acumen, the "war onterror" (cf. Lakoff 2008).

Chapter 8 looks at the relation between ethnic groups, social linguistics, andcategories of meaning. Harder affirms and believes that academic analyses ofmeaning in society serve a civic function. He requests that we be decidedlydedicated to being considerate about what is going on in the object of explanation.

Chapter 9 is a synthetic presentation of the book's main thesis and discussions.'Meaning-in-society' is discussed as "a constituent of the sociocultural niche,[that] forms part of complex entities with extra-mental (including causal)properties. A crucial type of such entities are "niche concepts" which representthe way the community "cuts the pie" as part of lived practices" (p. 447).


Peter Harder, in his first-rate book, elaborated through seven years of studyand research, has a main objective that is well delimited throughout the book'seight chapters. He achieves this while maintaining a balance betweenobjective-technical and understandable styles. He describes the methods,scientific hypotheses and linguistic theories through which CL can be applied,not only to the individual mind, but also (and predominantly) to thesocial-public domain of human reality (i.e. the social-cognitive world).

The book offers a very rich and detailed critical overview of relevantlinguistic theories. Harder calls "cognition in action" the new social turn of CL.Its foundation is the public basis of meaning as well as the interaction betweencognitive and non-cognitive aspects of reality or, as is frequently said in the courseof his explanation, mental and non-mental objects of language. This "cognition inaction" has a central intuition, or better said, a working hypothesis withtwo levels of reality -- the personal and social -- which are inter-related withdynamism through personal and contextual-social meaning. Certainly, these kindsof intuition, as Harder says, have a very common, and to some extent, obviousoutline; but on the whole we don't find scientific developments about the"cognition in action" starting point, nature, and main characteristics. As such,this book offers a new and personal insight.

Harder locates CL within a wider shared perspective and also offers a verycomprehensive, critical and clever debate with reference to classical andmodern linguistic theories pertaining to the topic. For example, it isnoteworthy to mention that some significant research about CL has stressed,almost exclusively, the significance of the personal mind's relation to issuesdealing with meaning (Searle 1995). Harder doesn't disagree directly with Searleand others but goes beyond such an approach and argues for the condition of theso called "levels-of-analysis" (cf. the influences of Russell's theory of types(1907-1908) with influence of the communications theory of Bateson (1980)).

We have a personal level and a collective level of meaning but not, as Hardersays unambiguously, a collective mind independent of the individual one. Thus,Harder applies the concept of "joint attention" (Tomassello 2008), which takesfor granted that plain intentional achievement enables language education andlearning processes, and as such, is the valid missing link between automaticinput and language in the mind. "Joint attention" is an especially useful andinteresting CL tool that embraces the two dimensions we are dealing with here --personal mind and environmental reality -- as aspects of the unique dimensionof "we".

Harder includes "language in mind", subject meaning, and otherworldly-contextual meaning as a framework for our daily existence and linguisticexperience as being embedded in a shared contextual edge. It is important tohighlight that Harder offers examples that are very relevant and interesting inorder to better understand these concepts and their abstract properties.Furthermore, he promotes the importance of the causal interplay between mentaland non-mental factors. Social and public contexts act as meaning-producers orcauses. In this sense, following Wittgenstein (1953) and Tomassello (2008),Harder describes social reality as a process or flow dimension that highlightsthe objective value of external facts or events. This prevents the reduction ofsocial events to pure mental interpretation or subjective causation withoutlinks to external reality (e.g. society, different kinds of groups, states).Here, we could also find effective and well explained socio-politicalimplications of this theoretical approach.

Effectively, Harder discusses several ideological and systematic overviews ofthe levels "I" and "We" in some chapters (cf. Chapters 3 and 6), especiallywhen he considers epistemological limits, not only of major trends likestructuralism and iconic thinkers like Derrida (1967), but also in relation to"flow or process trend" as represented in CL. Also, Harder analyzes importantphilosophical background; he directly criticizes not only the traditional Aristotelianlinguistic theory but also the Platonic system (where ideal world = real world;material world = ephemeral). His purpose is to evaluate and reasonably appreciatethe value of the material and social world (not ephemeral in the Platonic sense) asthe cause of "linguistic meaning" and "linguistic structure".

The book critically articulates one further discrepancy between CL and the"Discourses" interpretative analysis. "Discourses" (Tomasello 2008) approachesgenerally could produce conflicts or could direct supposed and accepted meaningtowards a problematic situation that normally is ideologically partial whendescribing the corresponding objects of language and meaning. The big differencehere is that CL makes available a structure with the foundational purpose ofaction and joint support as components of a required framework for acceptingimpersonal and difficult processes.

Harder affirms that purposeful relationships are a vital component of theexternal circumstances and causality that configures meaning-in-society(together with its linguistic programming). "Functionality" is central tograsping the development of the main argumentation here and is perhaps its mostrelevant features. "Functional patterns" are not, like "langue", the socialdimension of language (as in the classical insight of Saussurre (1916), barelymentioned by Harder). On the other hand, "functionality" is better understood as"affordances" (cf. Gibson 1979) in the sense of how a determined socioculturalcommunity creates and uses linguistic meaning. The subject interacts with theexternal environment to find out possibilities for linguistically andpurposefully communicating.

Harder discusses the most important application of CL, which is its socialfacet, with respect to the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society of our time.CL advances the limits of "Discourses" based theories and analyses.Personally, I think Harder's interpretation is decidedly important forresearchers and students of CL and also for people interested in socialtheories, its relations with linguistic studies and the philosophical-ideologicalbackground of some linguistic theories. Notwithstanding, I suppose that thislast aspect, the ideological, and to some extent philosophical, framework isstill open for exploration and could be widened in subsequent studies of this type.

This book has made an admirable contribution to the rightly called "socialturn" of CL, inspired significantly by the Evolutionary Theory of Croft (2000,2001). Here, CL presents its singularity within the field of linguistic studies:Harder proposes new hermeneutics of Saussurean linguistics (especially thenotions of diachronic and synchronic) and even of "Discourses" studies.Harder's purpose is to develop "meaning in society" based on meaning in themind, according to classic CL, and moreover on meaning from inter-subjectiveand inter-social points of view. "Meaning in society" isn't explicitly,following the theory of Harder, a hypothetical mind of social structure, butrather the starting point of the approach called "Joint World", which integrateshypothetically preceding standard insights in an innovative and specialreassessment of sociocultural niches.

Functionality sets up the functional roles and the dynamical inter-relationsbetween the personal and collective levels analyzed here; starting up from theaptitude of the individual mind through the flow of activity ("parole" in theclassic Saussurean sense) oriented towards the social aspect of language as wellas meaning ("langue"). This web of functionality also operates with non-mental aspectsof human reality. Language and conceptualization are expressions of humans skillsand semantic proficiency makes it possible to stir up an array of offline meanings,which are prospectively input to courses of actions and different kind of facts and data.These would-be and possible meanings are produced by a mixture of forces toallow involvement of individual subjects (and of course, minds and languages)within social context or "niches" (as Harder says). "Meaning-in-society" ismeaning as the basic part of the "sociocultural niche" and its multifacetedelements. A critical category of such elements is "niche concepts", whichrepresent how some communities symbolize, interpret and linguistically adapttheir own societal experiences in the context of meaning as active elements ofthe linguistic processes described by SLC. Meanings as components of "socialconstructions" are components of the theory, close to non-abstract branches ofour world (and community, society and group), and linked to normative modelsand ethical standards. The most essential relevance of the construction offered in this book is that it theoretically elaborates and establishes a differencebetween concepts as elements of the objective-external frame and concepts aspart of personal-subjective proficiency and experience.

Overall, the book is a main contribution to CL studies and research onsocio-cultural and socio-political niches. The technical style and highlyscientific argumentation make this book especially apt for linguists andscholars interested not only in cognitive studies but also in philosophical andsociolinguistic studies. In sum, Harder's work represents a way of furtheringthe limits of linguistics, semantics, and also "Begriffsgeschichte", orconceptual history (cf. Koselleck 2002), through its social turn and newfunctional features of conceptual levels of both mind and meaning.


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Avi Weizmann is an Ancient Professor of Philosophy who is now retired butcontinues to research in the areas of philosophy of language, comparativelinguistics and philosophical studies.

Page Updated: 16-May-2012