Cognitive (literary) Theory

Angus Grieve-Smith grvsmth at
Tue Jan 10 05:24:53 UTC 2012

     Last week at the Modern Language Association I presented my work 
connecting Bybee and Thompson's (2000) observations about the role of 
type and token frequency in the propagation of analogical language 
changes to Kroch's (1989) logistic model of S-curves in the same types 
of changes.

     I believe it was well-received, but I attended a few other papers 
that as a cognitive/functional linguist I was particularly excited 
about, and I wanted to share that with those of you who were not there.  
There is a relatively new movement in literary criticism known as 
"cognitive theory" which aims to apply some of the methods and findings 
of cognitive linguistics to the study and teaching of literature.

     I noticed that some of the MLA presenters referred to Lakoff and 
Johnson's (1980) theory of embodied metaphor, which is not terribly 
surprising given the role of metaphor in literature.  But after one talk 
I suggested that Rosch's (1973 and others) notion non-platonic 
categories, which Lakoff (1987, 2008) developed further, could be 
helpful in addressing a particular question of semantics, and mentioned 
that I had not heard anyone else mention them yet at the conference.

     One of the other attendees who was sitting near me mentioned that 
at the next session she was going to hear a panel on Cognitive 
approaches to teaching /Don Quixote/, which I had overlooked since I 
haven't read Cervantes or worked on Spanish, but in that panel every 
talk applied one or another finding from Cognitive Linguistics to 
Cervantes.  Sadly I didn't hear any mention of Langacker or Fillmore, 
but there was plenty of embodied metaphor, and one participant used 
Roschian categorization to explain shifts in the assignment of /Don 
Quixote/ from one literary genre or another over the centuries.

     This looks to me like an opening for some very fruitful discussion 
and collaboration between linguists and literary critics.  In the coming 
year I will be looking at literary conferences, panels and journals that 
indicate an openness to cognitive approaches as possible venues for 
presentations and publications, and reaching out to cognitive literary 
theorists who might be interested in presenting at the ILA's annual 
conference.  I hope to see some of you presenting your work in these 
venues as well.

     Have any of you encountered this Cognitive Theory so far?  I 
imagine George Lakoff has heard of it...

				-Angus B. Grieve-Smith
				grvsmth at

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