Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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Date: Fri, 25 Nov 2005 10:31:44 +1100 From: Dennis Alexander Subject: Figurative Language: Cross-cultural and Cross-linguistic Perspectives
AUTHORS: Dobrovol'skij, Dmitrij; Piirainen, Elisabeth TITLE: Figurative Language SUBTITLE: Cross-cultural and Cross-linguistic Perspectives SERIES: Current Research in the Semantics/Pragmatics Interface PUBLISHER: Elsevier Ltd. YEAR: 2005
Dennis Alexander, School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics, University of New England, Australia
This monograph contains: a preface, an introduction, fourteen chapters, references, abbreviations, an index of linguistic units, a subject index, and a name index. The book appears to be printed on semi-gloss paper in an 8 point font. The languages examined include: English, German, Dutch, Swedish, French, Russian, Lithuanian, Greek, Finnish, a German dialect WML, and Japanese.
In the preface, the authors assert the need to address issues outside of linguistics proper in the study of conventional figurative language (CFL). The project for the book is the development of a linguistic theory capable of taking into account the image component and cultural content included in idioms and lexicalised metaphors. The introduction also identifies the scope of the topic covered as including idioms, proverbs, one word metaphors and similar conventionalised figurative units in the lexicon of a given language. It also explains the need to go beyond linguistics to look in other cultural codes than the natural language system. The approach is identified as cognitive because it is uses ''different types of knowledge as an explanatory basis for linguistic phenomena.''
Chapter 1 introduces the six working hypotheses underlying the research, the languages analysed and how various criteria can be applied to distinguish conventional figurative units (CFUs) from other related phenomena. For their distinction between literal, non-literal, and figurative phenomena they rely on the notion of an image component as a conceptual structure that mediates between the lexical structure and the actual meaning of figurative units. They also use the notion of 'additional naming' as a means of identifying CFUs. By 'additional naming' a CFU is seen as another way to say something that can already be said in a more direct and primary way.
Chapter 2 contains significant explanation of CFL and conventional phraseology. It also develops a typology of CFUs as phrasemes. It deals with idioms, similes, restricted collocations and proverbs using examples from a range of languages.
Chapter 3 deals with the idea of cross-linguistic equivalence of idioms. Many idioms are examined with respect to their semantics, syntactics, and pragmatics. They show how the image component is crucial to cross-linguistic analysis and how it is not definitive of equivalence because of functional and syntactic factors. This is achieved through careful and subtle analysis of differences between posited semantically equivalent idioms in a range of languages. They develop a notion of functional equivalence in place of what they view as the traditional idea of ''full equivalence''.
This is a crucial chapter. Here the authors draw some fine grained distinctions relating to the motivation of CFUs and their relations to, among other things, conceptual metaphors, rich imagery, stereotypes, kinegrams, and textual dependence. The differences between index- based, iconic, and symbol-based motivations drawn in this chapter become important in later chapters. The blending of different kinds of motivation is also examined briefly.
Chapter 5 is an extended treatment of the notion of phraseological and idiomatic 'false friends' across languages. It shows how CFUs from two languages can have similar mental images and lexical items in their composition yet have quite different semantics. Different salient features of the knowledge of the source domain are shown to come to the surface in each of the CFUs in a 'false friends' relationship. An interesting notion here is the quasi-false friends relation identified between a Finnish and a Japanese idiom based on spoons: arising from different source concepts with similar targets, they have similar meaning but are not true false friends.
Chapter 6 is an examination and critique of the Cognitive Theory of Metaphor (CTM) and its application in CFU analysis from a number of perspectives including linguistics and anthropology. The conclusion of this chapter is that rich images are more promising than CTM for revealing semantic and pragmatic features of every single CFU – not a small claim.
Chapter 7 is an implementation of some ideas developed so far in the book to the field of idioms of fear. The empirical results canvassed demonstrate that cognitively based semantic theories are compatible with the ideas of semantic decomposition developed in structural semantics. However, the examination of fear idioms here does not find support for the traditionally posited oppositions applied to fear (strong vs. not strong; expectations vs. reaction; personal vs. general; etc). However a connection is found between imagery and oppositions such as acceptable vs. unacceptable fear; serious vs. not serious causes; and, quality of the person vs. external conditioning. In particular, Dobrovol'skij and Piirainen find that the same emotion expressed by different means can invoke different parts of people's conceptual knowledge and thus not remain completely the same emotion.
Chapter 8 is a development and application of cognitive modelling, based on Fillmore's Frame Semantics, to CFU analysis. A number of analytical and operational concepts and tools are developed and applied to notions such as the fifth wheel of a car/cart and 'black sheep'. Again the orientation is towards uncovering motivational links between the composition and the meaning of CFUs.
Chapter 9 is an extended application and demonstration of the analytical techniques of Chapter 8 to the concept of HOUSE as used in idioms from mainstream European languages, WML, and Japanese. The conceptual differences and their realisations in CFUs are profound and revealing, though, on occasion, do appear almost banal.
Chapters 10 and 11 deal with the difficult issue of culture. In so doing they develop an elaborate technology for analysis of culture and cultural symbolism in relation to CFUs. Dobrovol'skij and Piirainen identify and develop five types of culture-based knowledge applicable to CFUs: social interaction; material culture; inter-textual phenomena; fictive conceptual domains; and, cultural symbols. They then examine the notion of blending of these phenomena. A brief set of applications to names, idio-ethnic realia, and culture specific targets demonstrates that CFUs can be profoundly affected by culture. A particularly interesting element of this examination is that of the GDR idioms, their motivation and embeddedness in a particular culture.
Chapter 11 pursues the concept of culture into symbolism. While Dobrovol'skij and Piirainen eventually opt for a Saussurian approach to symbolism, they also consider other approaches including, briefly, the Peircean sign functions. In this chapter they draw and demonstrate a particularly important distinction between 'metaphor' and 'symbol' as figurative devices, with the latter being more deeply embedded in culture than the former. The idea that an analysis of symbols in CFUs requires the analyst to look outside the domain of linguistics into other cultural codes is presented with compelling clarity.
Chapters 12 and 13 are applications of the theory developed in the previous chapters to the fields of number and animal based CFUs. The cross-linguistic and cross-cultural underpinning and analysis arising from this examination is both informative and revealing in both depth and detail. The peculiarities of the symbolism of 'quatre' in French are pertinent and well contrasted with other European languages. The contradictory symbolism of WOLF and its roots in, for some languages, a distant past is also valuable in an age where in some views yesterday is ancient history.
Chapter 14 summarises and re-presents the theory of CFLT in a comprehensive and concise manner. While it does canvas future applications of the theory, it does not do so at the expense of clear exposition.
This is a very detailed work based on a sizable corpus from the languages examined. It is rigorous and comprehensive as well as comprehensible in its synthesis of concepts, techniques, and perspectives from sometimes divergent fields. For those working in the fields of cross-cultural, cross-linguistic, and figurative linguistics, this book is an important theoretical contribution.
While it does canvass the work of a number of authors in relation to cross-linguistic and cross-cultural studies, there does seem to be scope for fruitful examination of Wierzbicka's Cultural Scripts approach (Wierzbicka 1990), especially in relation to explication of underlying cultural symbolism. In relation to this, and notwithstanding the critique of Wierzbicka's analysis of Russian cultural scripts, the work of Goddard on Peircean sign functions (Goddard 2002) is also relevant to the discussion of cultural symbolism.
The theoretical exposition is well supported by the data adduced. The extensive application of the theoretical framework across different languages and semantic domains is a real strength of this book. In their synthesis of different analytical frameworks and their analysis of competing theoretical perspectives, Dobrovol'skij and Piirainen remain focussed on conventionalised figurative language. This focus is maintained in their application of their theoretical insights into the data.
The theory and its application by the originators is well demonstrated, and is itself very practical: not quite a cookbook, but it both explains the theory and demonstrates its application in comprehensible steps. In the case of this book, the use of an idiom of evaluation is almost mandatory. The utility of the theory can only be assessed by ongoing application, development, and dialogue with other users: i.e. the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Goddard, C. (2002). Ethnosyntax, Ethnopragmatics, Sign-functions and Culture. Ethnosyntax, in Explorations in grammar and culture ed. by N. J. Enfield. Oxford, Oxford University Press. 1: 52-73.
Wierzbicka, A. (1990). Cross-cultural pragmatics: the semantics of human interaction. Berlin, Walter de Gruyter.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Dennis Alexander is a PhD student at the University of New England. His research interests are figurative language, semantics, corpus linguistics, language, culture and cognition, and the philosophy of language. His work to date has used NSM as a tool in the investigation of the semantics of abstract and figurative expressions.