LINGUIST List 23.3940

Mon Sep 24 2012

Review: Semantics; Cognitive Science: Bartmiński (2012)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <jsalmonslinguistlist.org>



Date: 24-Sep-2012
From: Marta Degani < martadeganiyahoo.it>
Subject: Aspects of Cognitive Ethnolinguistics
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Needed some work, but the author dealt with things efficiently.

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-650.html

AUTHOR: Bartmiński, JerzyEDITOR: Zinken, JoergTITLE: Aspects of Cognitive EthnolinguisticsSERIES: Advances in Cognitive LinguisticsPUBLISHER: Equinox Publishing LtdYEAR: 2012

Marta Degani, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, University ofVerona, Italy

SUMMARYThe volume brings together a collection of papers by the Polish ethnolinguistJerzy Bartmiński. Except for chapters 2, 3, 10 and 12, the work was previouslypublished in Polish between 1985 and 2006. This reflects the major aim of theeditor, Joerg Zinken, who would like to share research that is well known inEastern Europe with an English-reading audience.

The book opens with a brief introduction by the editor, defining theEthnolinguistic School of Lublin and explaining how it relates to and differsfrom Anglo-American cognitive linguistics. The Ethnolinguistic School of Lublinrepresents "a distinctive cognitive-linguistic approach to the study of languagein its cultural context" (p.1), and has developed from the research ofBartmiński and his team over four decades. Most of this work appears in theinternational journal "Etnolingwistyka", and it led to the publication of the"Dictionary of Folk Symbols and Stereotypes" (1996-1999). The distinctiveness ofthe 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 atypically oral tradition (e.g. stories, conversations, songs, proverbs, fairytales, folk poetry). The socio-cognitive component of the School consists in itsaim to reconstruct the worldview of rural speakers of Polish from the linguisticdata and in its study of terms that refer to culturally important values (e.g.freedom, work, family, church, father, bread). This socio-cultural orientationis shared with current trends in Anglo-American cognitive linguistics (cf. Evans& Pourcel 2009). The two traditions also have in common an interest in lexicalsemantics and patterns of conceptualization. The Ethnolinguistic School ofLublin is further linked to Anna Wierzbicka's work on semantic primes andcultural keywords.

As pointed out in chapter 2, the revival of cognitive ethnolinguistics inEastern Europe has historical motivations. During communist occupation, peopleexperienced how the language of propaganda strongly influenced their ownperception of reality. When the Soviet Union and the Eastern Block eventuallycollapsed, people felt a need to reconstruct a sense of shared identity. Thisprocess clearly involved consideration of the role of language in shaping local,regional, national and group identities. The cognitive ethnolinguisticenterprise responded to this need by putting the close connection betweenlanguage, speech community and its culture at the core of its investigations.

Chapters 3 to 9 illustrate Bartmiński's view of the inextricable relationshipbetween language and culture by shedding light on key notions that inform andgive coherence to his own analyses.

As already hinted at, his overarching aim is to reconstruct 'the linguisticworldview' of an idealized speaking subject who belongs to a rural community andis a speaker of colloquial Polish (chapter 3). By linguistic worldviewBartmiński intends "a language-entrenched interpretation of reality, which canbe expressed in the form of judgments about the world, people, things andevents" (p. 23). This interpretation of reality is both subjective (individual)and intersubjective (social). It is the result of a subject's perception andconceptualization but it also "unites people in a given social environment" byconstructing a "community of thoughts, feelings and values" (p. 23).

The linguistic worldview that Bartmiński describes is based on overtly orcovertly 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 'guidingideas' motivating people's actions" (p.39). Values define a speaker's social andcultural 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 anobject that are only secondarily evaluative. The reason for this is twofold.Stereotypes are expected to reflect linguistically entrenched interpretations ofthe 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 ofthe American philosopher of language Hilary Putman (1975). From Lippmann,Bartmiński derives the idea of stereotypes as schematic images that areculturally rooted (based on common opinions about a certain phenomenon) andpsychologically motivated (they reduce the effort of getting to know the world).However, it is Putnam's understanding of stereotypes that fully reverberates inBartmiński's work. For Putman, as for Bartmiński, stereotypes are pervasive inthe lexicon of every natural language, they are conventionalized and they areconnected to connotative aspects of meaning (i.e. sets of meanings that one hasin 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 thespeakers of a language [and] to represent socio-culturally established andlinguistically entrenched knowledge, its categorization and valuation" (p.67).This approach presupposes an encyclopedic view of knowledge sinceextralinguistic phenomena like customs and beliefs are considered integral partof 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 andperspective appear at times almost conflated, Bartmiński clarifies thatsomeone's point of view, system of values, rationality and knowledge of theworld all contribute to the construction of perspective as a kind ofsuperordinate category. Perspective then drives profiling, defined as a"subjective (i.e. performed by the speaking subject) linguo-conceptualoperation, which consists in shaping the picture of the object in terms ofcertain 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 agiven viewpoint" (p. 89).

Here, the notion of profiling is very close to Langacker's (1987) but the focusis different. Bartmiński is interested in defining the local rather than theuniversal when he commits himself to cognitive analysis. His emphasis is on the'facets' (Langacker's domains) of reality which are linguistically entrenchedand emerge as typical for a particular speaking subject. Profiling depends on an'experiential frame' that reflects spatio-temporal specificity and at the sametime bears the traces of historical determinism. This approach makes thedistinction between synchrony and diachrony collapse since the experientialframe that determines the subject's profiling does not simply depend on anindividual's personal experience but it is also the product of social,collective memory. The outcome of profiling is a 'profile', understood as "avariant 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 oforganizing 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 asubject-related/subject-oriented linguistic worldview found in a specificcultural community (i.e. lud polski 'the Polish people').

Each of the following chapters addresses a specific concept as it is understoodin folk Polish. Chapter 10 concerns the stereotype of the sun and presents anextensive body of linguistic data based on the nineteenth and twentieth centurydocumentation 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 andparadigmatic relationships in different but related semantic fields. A fullrange of social, psychological, religious, emotive and symbolic meanings of the'stereotype sun' is provided.

Chapter 11 deals with the stereotype of the mother. After discardinglexicographic definitions of the term as incomplete and approximate, Bartmińskishows the rich cognitive structure of the concept relying on data fromquestionnaires and written sources, including proverbs, patriotic poetry,sermons and folk songs. The analysis demonstrates how a speaker's experientialframe has an influence on profiling. In students' questionnaires, certain basicfunctions of the mother (e.g. caretaker, manager of family finances, mindful ofher good looks) are only marginally recognized. The study also illustrates whichfacets can be recognized in the characterization of the mother (biological,psychological, social, ethical, connected with everyday life) and how theyshould be arranged (greater importance of the social facet relative to others).

In chapter 12, Bartmiński explains how the Polish DOM (house/home) is understoodalong three dimensions: a spatial/physical dimension (a building), a socialdimension (a community of people) and a functional dimension (a family, aninstitution). In his view, these three aspects are not separate; on thecontrary, they constitute a conceptual whole, "they are combined into a semanticgestalt, whose parts imply one another: the place, the event and theparticipants 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 isattributed to the spatial, geographical understanding of homeland. Otherdimensions include the communal and the cultural. What unites these threedimensions is something that is not unique to Polish culture: the conception ofhomeland as mother. The 'national homeland' is defined as the basic profile ofthe 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 ina good number of Polish lexemes and idioms. The analysis of these linguisticexpressions reveals significant profiles of Germans that are motivated by a longhistory 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' (civilizationalperspective). This latter profile is the one that tends to be the defaultcurrent interpretation.

In chapter 15 Bartmiński points out how the terms 'prawica' and 'lewica', whichare 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 whereshe contrasts Russian 'sud'ba' (fate) to Polish 'los' (destinity, fortune) andprovides cultural, historical motivations for this differentiation. While'sud'ba' implies a vision of life being governed by an external force thathumans cannot control, the notion of 'los' suggests that people can steer andshape their life. According to Wierzbicka, the Polish worldview is guided by theconcept of 'los' due to the pro-Western orientation of Polish culture, itsCatholicism and national history. Wierzbicka also mentions the existence ofPolish 'dola' (the equivalent of Russian 'sud'ba') but she relegates that to thepeasant tradition. Bartmiński clarifies that both 'los' and 'dola' feature inthe contemporary standard literary variety of Polish and that embracing eitherthe 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 morecomparative research be carried out beyond the traditionalcomparative-historical paradigm. The kind of research that he advocates shouldbe contrastive, based on the notion of typology, and focused on the semantic (inthe broad sense) analysis of sociopolitical and ethical lexis (e.g. democracy,nation, justice, responsibility, conscience, courage, work, truth, etc.). Suchresearch could "contribute to a better coexistence of nations" (p. 221).

EVALUATIONThe book presents a condensed but very detailed and highly informativedescription of the main tenets at the core of cognitive ethnolinguistics.

Bringing together some of Bartmiński's most representative publications, thisvolume succeeds in its aim to create a bridge between two traditions -- Polishethnolinguistics and Anglo-American cognitive linguistics -- that, thoughdeveloped independently, seem to share basic assumptions. In particular,extensive studies in lexical semantics that involved the analysis of Polishculturally connoted terms seem to have developed in parallel with CharlesFillmore's and George Lakoff's semantic investigations. Bartmiński's treatmentof lexical concepts presupposes an understanding of words/concepts against thebackground of their rich semantic frames and radial networks of semanticcategorization. Furthermore, Bartmiński's notions of viewpoint, perspective,facets, profile and profiling represent theoretical elaboration close to RonaldLangacker's theory of Cognitive Grammar, especially those on profiling. Evencloser connections can be seen between Bartmiński's understanding ofstereotypical judgments and Hilary Putnam's definition of stereotypes.

The focus of Polish cognitive ethnolinguistics on the regional, and the local inparticular, is a reminder of a more traditional leaning of Polishethnolinguistics towards dialectology. This aspect makes the approach consonantwith current trends in cognitive linguistics that emphasize the socio-culturalcomponent of meaning (cf. recent work on cultural conceptualizations inSharifian 2011).

Here and there Bartmiński alludes to the benefits of an interdisciplinarydialogue between linguistics and literary studies and takes Bakhtin as a case inpoint. According to Bartmiński, the body of literature on the construction ofworldviews from different viewpoints that literary scholars have accumulatedtranslates into the linguist's interest in anthropological descriptions. Theseare seen as two sides of the same coin. Bartmiński also hints at possible pathsof future development. Thriving Polish ethnolinguistic research could stimulatethe growth of similar schools in different European contexts, which couldimprove intercultural understanding.

As a whole, the volume is well structured and coherent in its internalorganization. In a sense, the book is divided into two parts. The line ofargument is developed from chapters that basically respond to a need fortheoretical exposition (chapters 1 to 9) to subsequent chapters whereexemplification of applied research abounds and case studies of culturallyconnoted terms are presented (chapters 10 to 17).

Cross-referencing between different chapters contributes to making the volumeorganic and help the reader see connections between the diverse elements of thecomposite theoretical apparatus.The interconnectedness of language and culture is clearly and thoroughlydeveloped 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 itwill be of particular interest for scholars working in the diverse fields ofcognitive linguistics, sociolinguistics, anthropological linguistics andintercultural semantics/communication.

REFERENCESEvans, Vyvyan & Stéphanie Pourcel. 2009. New Directions in CognitiveLinguistics. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins.

Langacker, Ronald. 1987. Foundations of Cognitive Grammar, vol. 1, TheoreticalPrerequisites. 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: TheoreticalFramework and Applications. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERMarta Degani is an Assistant Professor of English Linguistics at theUniversity of Verona, Italy. She holds an MA in Applied Linguistics fromMacquarie University, Sydney and a PhD in English Studies from theUniversity of Venice. In academic year 2010-2011 she was a Visiting Scholarat 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, discourseanalysis and corpus linguistics. She has published on language contact inNew Zealand English, in both literary and non-literary texts, and(inter)-subjectivity with English modal verbs. Her current focus iscognitive linguistics, in particular its application to the speech ofEnglish-Maori bilinguals.

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