The aim of the article is to propose a cognitive theory of language as a unity of three aspects: representative, communicative, and interpretive that, on the one hand, respectively corresponds to the three main functions of language: cognitive, communicative, and interpretive, and, on the other, to the three systems of categorization realizing these functions: lexical, grammatical, and interpretive. It traditionally been held that language performs two basic functions (cognitive and communicative) and a number of complementary ones: aesthetical, emotional, meta-linguistic, orientating, manipulative, etc. In contrast with the traditional view we argue that all complementary functions are in fact nothing else but various specifications of the third basic function – the interpreting one. It grounds in the interpretive nature of cognition and language themselves, in their obvious integrity and is substantiated at the categorical level of language evincing special interpretive (modus) categories and tools of meaning construction. This assumption constitutes the Interpretive Commitment of any cognitive theory of language and the nature of that commitment is also substantiated in the article as well the types of linguistic interpretation and the cognitive models and schemas underlying it. Specifically, the article distinguishes between primary and secondary linguistic interpretation as its basic types, models of interpretation of the physical world and society, and those of interpretation of knowledge about the world and society. Some specific functions and types of linguistic interpretation are also outlined, among them selective interpretation, classification, and evaluation.
Keywords: Aspectcognitive theorydominantfunctioninterpretation
The problem of
The Interpretive Commitment places linguistic issues in the broader perspective of human cognition and conceptual organization by analyzing linguistic interpretation as a cognitive process. This provides deeper insights into the structure of the mind and conformity of linguistic and cognitive structures. Various studies of language use, of language structure and its categories within the framework of cognitive semantics give much evidence that language as a cognitive ability can have great impact on the content and functioning of the mind (Boldyrev, 2016, 2017, 2018). Our claim is that the exploration of problems of language-and-mind interplay needs to be accounted for not only from a cognitive but also from an interpretive perspective. This approach to language as an important interpretive factor in the structure of mind is what is referred to in the article as the Interpretive Commitment of Cognitive Linguistics.
The claimed approach is based on the Theory of Linguistic Interpretation, for details see also (Boldyrev, 2011, 2014) as part and further development of the Theory of Cognitive Semantics. Its main assumptions are: 1) that cognition and language-use are highly interpretive processes; 2) therefore language performs the three main functions: cognitive, communicative, and interpretive; 3) linguistic structures, categories, and forms play a significant role as cognitive schemas mediating processes of perception, structuring the mind, and communicating knowledge.
The problem is that there is a very large body of data demonstrating that knowledge representation involves three functions of language, rather than two as has traditionally been held before: that of cognitive, communicative and
Following from the problem stated the research questions to be dealt in the article are: to identify and explore representational, semiotic and interpretive aspects of language as correlating to its cognitive, communicative, and the interpretive functions; to complement and enhance existing theoretical frameworks with relevant methods, procedures and analytical techniques sufficient for analyzing language as a threefold integral unity with special interest on its inalienable interpretive aspect as one of the dominants which cannot be neglected in any sound cognitive theory of language.
Purpose of the Study
Obviously, the methodology to the theory of knowledge representation in language including its interpretive aspect at most comprises methods applied in Cognitive Semantics. Depending on knowledge formats the methodologies can be grouped into standard and non-standard. The first group (standard) of methods encompasses well-known techniques that are employed to analyze conceptually simple formats of knowledge, such as conceptual analysis proper, prototype-based analysis, frame semantics analysis, etc. Methods of the second type (non-standard) are mostly innovative and are specially devised to analyze conceptually complex (multi-component, integrative, multi-aspect, matrix) formats, such as categorical analysis, concept-based linguistic taxonomy analysis, cognitive-matrix analysis, the analysis of the cognitive-discursive interpretante and some other techniques, see for more details ( Boldyrev, 2018).
The representational aspect of language provides linguistic formats of knowledge that reveal how speakers conceptualize and categorize the world in language and through it. There are two types of linguistic formats of knowledge: conceptually simple formats and conceptually complex formats. Conceptually simple formats include outline-schemas, notions, prototypes, and other types of concepts and are characterized by sets of elementary or predictable attributes. For example, to identify a bird a speaker needs to know that birds have two wings, two feet, one beak, feathers, lays eggs.
Conceptually complex formats are defined by sets of components and their obligatory and optional characteristics, as well as by sets of conceptual domains. For example, the word
All concepts as knowledge structures are functionally subdivided into static (thematic) and dynamic (situational, or operational). Thematic concepts represent overall knowledge of the world gained during the years and shared by the communities. They ground all sorts of categories and particular linguistic meanings constructed in discourse. Thematic concepts obviously can differ in content and configuration in individual human minds. Operational concepts are always situated and highly depended upon contexts. They are the meanings the speakers construe and exchange in communication. The thematic and operational concepts are related to one another as background and situational knowledge. The latter emerge in the processes of configuration of the former by means of various cognitive or linguistic mechanisms (construal operations), such as: profiling, focus shifting, double focusing, orientation, implication, inference, conceptual or linguistic derivation ( Langacker, 1991).
The three-level conceptualization and categorization of natural objects ( Rosch, 1978) give rise to
In language, all
Meaning-construction is highly dependent on contexts of knowledge that speakers possess as representatives of particular societies and cultures. The conceptual systems of individuals reflect patterns of behavior, ways of living and are influenced by social status, age, gender, level of education, occupation, etc. Cognitive contexts are specified within thematically-structured conceptual domains: HUMANS, ANIMALS, PLANTS, NATURE, ARTEFACTS, TIME, SPACE, etc., static by nature. The outcomes of verbal communication depend upon mutual “
Particular-meaning construction in discourse aligns with object-of-speech categorization as well as
These types are represented by
All functions and aspects of language can only be separated and examined apart for research reasons. In real communication, they are inseparable and align in conformity. The relationship of the first (representational aspect of language) with the second (semiotic) and the third (interpretive) reveals itself in a diversity of language units that are relevant for particular verbal communication (various parts and patterns of speech, sentence structures). These language units activate verbally constrained knowledge shared by the majority of the speakers of a language.
Interpretation is deeply ingrained in knowledge representation and verbal communication. There is much linguistic evidence that the cognitive activity of every human being is intentionally biased: the environment, the territory, the social status, the level of education, etc. influence the structure and content of human conceptual systems. Interpretation as a process is based on and deeply embedded in schemata that are represented by language as a tool for collective thinking.
The interrelation of the second (semiotic) and the third (interpretative) aspects of language, argued by researchers in cognitive psychology ( Barsalou, 2015), is clearly demonstrated by a variety of language units that represent individual knowledge dependent upon the speaker’s background. The interrelation of interpretation, representation and communication is objectified by
The interrelation of linguistic and cognitive processes as well as correlation and interplay of verbal and non-verbal knowledge highlights the vital role of language not only in the process of cognition itself, but also in structuring the human system of knowledge and shaping its cognitive dominants or personal constructs, as G. Kelly terms it in Personality Theory ( Kelly, 1963) which, in turn, makes the individual conceptual system of a particular speaker unique in many ways.
The interplay and conformity of the three aspects of language with a dominating role of the interpretive aspect make the core idea of the Theory of Knowledge Representation in Language presented in the article. These aspects correlate with the three functions of language and with the three systems of linguistic conceptualization and linguistic categorization that all merge into the integral whole of the linguistic representation system. Primary representation of knowledge of the world (conceptualization and categorization of events / objects, etc.) is maintained by its selective interpretation. It is shared by the speech community and is oriented towards principles of verbal communication. The latter, in turn, is involved in semiotic processes of meaning-construction, which are also inherently interpretive. Secondary representation (secondary conceptualization and secondary categorization) takes place when speakers classify, evaluate and re-interpret knowledge of the world to construct individual meanings in discourse.
The integrative unity of language as a functional system for operating with knowledge is based upon the inalienable links between conceptualization and categorization and is supported by their interpretative nature, as well as by the causal relation between linguistic and conceptual structures in verbal communication. It also comes from the need for language to simultaneously perform different functions.
The research was financially supported by Russian Science Foundation, project No. 18-18-00267 at Derzhavin Tambov State University, Russia.
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20 April 2020
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Discourse analysis, translation, linguistics, interpretation, cognition, cognitive psychology
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Boldyrev, N. N. (2020). The Interpretive Dominant In The Cognitive Theory Of Language. In & A. Pavlova (Ed.), Philological Readings, vol 83. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 1-8). European Publisher. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2020.04.02.1