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Review of  Illocutionary constructions in English: Cognitive motivation and linguistic realization

Reviewer: Kim Ebensgaard Jensen
Book Title: Illocutionary constructions in English: Cognitive motivation and linguistic realization
Book Author: Nuria Del Campo Martínez
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Cognitive Science
Issue Number: 25.2425

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This book addresses syntactic realizations of directive, commissive and expressive speech act functions in English. It grows from a dissertation that adopts and seeks to further develop the Lexical Constructional Model (henceforth LCM).

It contains fifteen chapters, including an introduction and a conclusion. Chapter 2 accounts for the theoretical framework del Campo Martínez' treatment of illocutionary acts. Chapters 3 to 15 provide a catalog of illocutionary constructions, each discussing a particular illocutionary act function and analyzing its constructional realizations. Chapter 15 concludes.

The introduction, chapter 1, addresses previous work in speech act theory and analysis, distinguishing between grammatical speech act theories, which focus on the codification of speech act functions (e.g. Searle 1969, Halliday 1994, Dik 1989), and inferential speech act theories, which focus on the role of inference in decoding of speech act functions (e.g. Bach & Harnish 1979, Leech 1983), suggesting that both are insufficient in terms of which phenomena they can actually account for. She argues that a cognitivist approach may enable linguists to fill the gaps that grammatical and inferential speech act theories fail to address. According to del Campo Martínez, illocution is a matter of applying cognitive processes and inferential schemas to situational cognitive models. Moreover, illocutionary functions are linked to constructional structures. To address this, del Campo Martínez adopts LCM (e.g. Ruiz de Mendoza & Mairal 2011) and argues that speech acts draw on a cost-benefit idealized cognitive model (Ruiz de Mendoza & Baicchi 2007). Del Campo Martínez' study takes a semantics-oriented stance towards illocution rather than a pragmatics-oriented one, which is made possible by cognitivist conceptions of semantic structures and processes. Del Campo Martínez also accounts for her method of analysis in the introduction. She draws on corpus data retrieved from the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) and the British National Corpus (BNC), arguing, however, that the best empirical approach to illocutionary data includes metalinguistic intuitive judgments. Essentially, the method consists of elaborating a list of constructions in the corpora that do illocutionary work; she defends this method by comparing it to the lexicologist's challenge of deciding class membership of lexical items. While drawing on corpus data, and acknowledging the usefulness of statistical analysis, del Campo Martínez's position is 1) that statistical analysis is merely a complementary tool to cognitive linguistic qualitative analysis, 2) that it does not have explanatory value, and 3) that it is not able to reveal all constraints that apply to language production. Del Campo Martínez thus refrains from applying any statistical analysis beyond counting occurrences realizations of utterance functions, dividing them into construction types and their tokens of occurrence.

Chapter two is entitled 'A cognitive approach to illocution'. Spanning 85 pages, this massive chapter contains heaps of important information. The first subsection provides an overview of conceptual representation in cognitive accounts of language in general. Her overview of these concepts takes del Campo Martínez to Ruiz de Mendoza's distinction between low and high levels of linguistic description. Low levels cover specific levels of conceptual representation that involve entrenched links between elements of encyclopedic knowledge. High levels are generic levels of conceptual representation that are derived from low levels via generalization and abstraction over commonalities of low level structures. The second subsection provides an overview of cognitive approaches to grammar. Del Campo Martínez concludes the “main weakness of constructionist approaches concerns their inability to give a solid explanation of the element that constrain the unification of syntactic patterns and lexical entries” (p. 44). Having covered the essentials of cognitive linguistics and constructionist approaches to grammar, and having pointed out what she perceives to be their weaknesses, Del Campo Martínez devotes the third subsection to describing LCM. Combining principles from construction grammar with principles from so-called projectionist functional grammar models such as Role and Reference Grammar (e.g. Van Valin & LaPolla 1997) and Functional Grammar (e.g. Dik 1989) should, according to del Campo Martínez, cover the gaps left by its parent models. According to LCM’s proponents, the model ensures consistency and simplicity in the study of meaning construction. In simple terms, LCM integrates four constructional layers: namely, argument structure constructions, implicational constructions, illocutional constructions, and discourse constructions, all of which are governed by their own internal constraints. Two cognitive processes control the interaction between lexemes and constructions. The process of cued inferencing covers inference of implicit information from utterances via linguistic and contextual clues. The process of subsumption incorporates low level structures into high level structures, resulting in semantic representations ready for syntactic realization. LCM distinguishes between lexical templates and constructional templates. The former draws on the logical structures associated with lexemes in Role and Reference Grammar and the semantic primitives suggested by Wierzbicka (1996). The latter encompasses distinctive semantic, pragmatic, and contextual parameters within the same lexical domain. There are four types of constructional template in LCM, which correspond to the four levels mentioned above. The most important constructional template type in relation to del Campo Martínez' study is the illocutionary construction, which is a constructional templates realize illocutionary functions, which in LCM is linked up with the cost-benefit model. The fourth subsection addresses in detail the cost-benefit model, which consists of a number of idealized social interaction and relation types which are formulated as conditional structures. Two examples are “If it is manifest to A that a particular state of affairs is not beneficial to B, and if A has the capacity to change that state of affairs, then A should do so” (p. 78) and “If it is manifest to A that A is responsible for a certain state of affairs to be to A's benefit, A may feel proud about this situation and make it manifest to B” (p. 79).

Conventionalized (and non-conventionalized) illocutionary constructions codify scenarios in this cognitive model. For instance, a request like 'Could you bring me a glass of water' codifies the following idealized scenario in the cost-benefit model: “If it is manifest to A that a potential state of affairs is beneficial to B, then A is expected to bring it about” (p. 78), such that the bringing of water is beneficial to the speaker and the listener is then expected to bring the speaker a glass of water. In this subsection, del Campo Martínez also presents her specific approach to illocution which draws on and refines the framework already provided in LCM. Thus, she introduces a system of formulation of high-level models that generate the low-level scenarios in the cost-benefit model, and a specification of constructional realization of illocutionary functions.

The remaining chapters, save chapter 15, offers del Campo Martínez' analysis of constructional realizations of speech act types, which each chapter addressing its own speech act type. The speech act types covered are orders, requests, advices, offers, promises, threats, congratulations, thanks, apologies, pardons, condolences, and boasts. These chapters are similarly organized, so that a description of the general structure will suffice here. The first part discusses the semantics of the speech act type in question, linking it up with the cost-benefit model such that the codified conventions and parameters associated with the speech act type are specified. This is followed by an overview of constructional realization procedures of the speech act type in question. The analysis is tied in with the three basic sentences types – namely, imperative, declarative, and interrogatives. Before going through these a quantitative overview is given in which the distribution of constructional types and tokens over the three sentence types is offered (using raw frequencies). The qualitative analysis takes the form of a construction-by-construction description of the realizations of the act function in question, belonging to each of the three sentence types. Each description is accompanied by a few examples from COCA and BNC. To give an example of the nature of her analysis, del Campo Martínez finds that, within the domain of imperative realizations of the speech act of advising, there are two constructions the collective number of occurrences of which is sixteen: 'consider VP' an 'think about VP'. The former is described as asking the listener to evaluate the benefits of doing something, presenting the act as a hypothetical one rather than a real one. The latter is described as having the same premise as the former, but 'think about' requests an evaluation by the listener which is less careful. Thus, del Campo Martínez offers not just descriptions of the constructional realizations in question; she also addresses the differences and similarities between several of the constructions within a given illocutionary domain. At the end of the day, the analysis strikes me as catalog of illocutionary constructions, which is definitely useful -- both because of the descriptions that are provided and with a view to future research.

Del Campo Martínez' book is definitely interesting, and provides some interesting insights into speech acts from a constructional perspective. There has been a general focus on semantics in construction grammar, although pragmatics has always been considered part of what constitutes in the content of a construction. For instance, Croft (2001) includes discourse-pragmatics on the content plane of a construction, and Fillmore et al. (1988) operate with the idea of pragmatic points in their treatment of idiomatic constructions. However, systematic studies of pragmatic aspects of constructions are still few and far between, so, in that sense, del Campo Martínez' dissertation is definitely a contribution to both construction grammar and illocution theory that should not be underestimated.

I have some reservations though. I am not quite sure I agree with Martinez' use of frequency and quantification in her analysis. The quantitative aspect of her analysis was mentioned above, but here is a closer description. For each of the three sentence types, she identifies the number of construction types within its domain, and then specifies the overall token frequency of the types collectively. For instance with the speech act of boasting, there are 11 declarative construction types, 2 interrogative construction types, and 2 imperative construction types. In all there are 270 occurrences of declarative speech acts of boasting, 14 occurrences of interrogative speech acts of boasting, and 6 imperative speech acts of boasting. These numbers are taken to be correlate with mechanisms of codification. Thus, in the case of boasting, declaratives are seen as being particularly suitable vehicles of boasting, as the high frequency of occurrence of boasting declarative constructional realization tokens correlates, in del Campo Martínez' analysis, with the fact that boasting essentially is a statement on the state-of-affairs. Imperatives and interrogatives, on the other hand, are not suitable for boasting, because of their non-declarative utterance functions, and this correlates with the low token frequency or constructional realizations within their domains. Such correlations may well hold. Indeed, it seems logical that there should be a correlation between frequency of occurrence and compatibility or incompatibility between utterance function and illocutionary function. However, because the data have not been statistically tested, we cannot know whether or not these correlations are actually statistically significant, and, strictly speaking, Martinez' quantifications do not -- from a statistical perspective – provide much evidence. Had they been tested for significance, then we would at least know whether or not the correlations were coincidental or not. Moreover, a more fine-grained approach to frequencies might also have been interesting and have shed some light on the use of the speech act constructions. For instance, it would be interesting to know if there are differences in frequency among the constructional realizations of a given illocutionary function within the domain of one sentence type. For instance, is 'can I congratulate you on NP' a more or less frequent imperative realization of the thanking speech act function than 'may I congratulate you on NP'? And are there differences in association patterns among different realization patterns?

However, del Campo Martínez does provide arguments for her use of quantification, so she can obviously not be accused of not having considered the usability of statistics. The monograph was originally a dissertation, and dissertations are often subject to space and time limitations. With that in mind, I find the scope of del Campo Martínez' study completely satisfactory. Because it is essentially a dissertation, the volume is of primary interest to researchers in pragmatics and construction grammar, and not relevant as teaching material -- although students working on a project on illocution would probably find it very useful.

These reservations aside, del Campo Martínez' study is an important contribution to construction grammar and cognitive linguistics in general, and to LCM in particular. As mentioned above, by addressing a pragmatic issue, it has generated important knowledge that construction grammarians in general can draw on in future research, and it reminds us that pragmatics (even if oriented towards conceptual semantics in this case) does have a place in constructionist-cognitivist theory. Secondly, given that LCM is a recent theory, still being developed, del Campo Martínez' treatment of illocutionary constructions within that framework is undeniably a contribution to LCM that will, I really hope, leave an imprint on LCM and play a role in its future development. Lastly, and this is to me the most important contribution, the many illocutionary constructions identified by del Campo Martínez in this study are now available to be further investigated, tested, and elaborated upon by linguists in the future (including herself, I hope). And the discovery of phenomena is, after all, one of the most important contributions one can make to any science.

Bach, Kent & Robert M. Harnish. 1979. Linguistic communication and speech acts. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Croft, William A. 2001. Radical construction grammar: Syntactic theory in typological perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dik, Simon. 1989. The theory of functional grammar: The structure of the clause. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Fillmore, Charles, Paul Kay and Catherine O'Connor (1988). Regularity and idiomaticity in grammatical constructions: The case of let alone. Language 64. 501–38.

Halliday, M.A.K. 1994. An introduction to Functional Grammar. 2nd ed. London: Edward Arnold.

Leech, Geoffrey. 1983. Principles of pragmatics. London: Longman.

Ruiz de Mendoza, Francisco R. & Annalisa Baicchi. 2007. Illocutionary constructions: Cognitive motivation and linguistic realization. In Kecskés, István & Laurence R. Horn (eds.), Explorations in Pragmatics: Linguistic, Cognitive, and Intercultural Aspects. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 95-128.

Ruiz de Mendoza, Francisco R. & Ricardo Mairal. 2011. Constraints on syntactic alternation: Lexical-constructional subsumption in the Lexical Constructional Model. In Guerrero, Pilar (ed.), Morphosyntactic alternations in English: Functional and cognitive perspectives. London: Equinox. 62-82.

Searle, John R. 1969. Speech acts: An essay in the philosophy of language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Van Valin, Robert, and Randy LaPolla. 1997. Syntax: Structure, Meaning and Function. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wierzbicka, Anna. 1996. Semantics, Primes and Universals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kim Ebensgaard Jensen is an associate professor of English at Aalborg University where he teaches courses in English linguistics and discourse analysis. His research interests include cognitive linguistics, construction grammar, and corpus linguistics.

Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 9783034312998
Pages: 324
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