14.880, Review: Stylistics: Semino & Culpeper (2002)

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LINGUIST List:  Vol-14-880. Wed Mar 26 2003. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 14.880, Review: Stylistics: Semino & Culpeper (2002)

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Date:  Tue, 25 Mar 2003 23:09:46 +0000
From:  Geert Brone <Geert.Brone at arts.kuleuven.ac.be>
Subject:  Cognitive Stylistics: Language and Cognition in Text Analysis

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Tue, 25 Mar 2003 23:09:46 +0000
From:  Geert Brone <Geert.Brone at arts.kuleuven.ac.be>
Subject:  Cognitive Stylistics: Language and Cognition in Text Analysis

Semino, Elena and Jonathan Culpeper, ed. (2002) Cognitive Stylistics:
Language and Cognition in Text Analysis. John Benjamins Publishing
Company, xvi+333pp, paperback ISBN 1-58811-300-0, $29.95, Linguistic
Approaches to Literature 1.

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/13/13-3179.html

Geert Brône, Department of Linguistics, University of Leuven (Belgium)


This volume is a collection of twelve contributions to the newly
emerging research paradigm of what is alternately labelled as
Cognitive Poetics (Tsur 1992; Freeman, in press) or Cognitive
Stylistics (Weber 1996). This inherently multidisciplinary approach
aims to provide a meta-framework, in that is focuses on the cognitive
processing underlying literary interpretation, instead of simply
offering a new interpretation based on a different framework: ''It
focuses on process, not product (M. Freeman, this volume
p. 43). Basically, cognitive stylistics integrates insights from
various disciplines in order to yield a powerful tool to analyse
(narrative) texts. Comparable to Psychostylistics, which combines
modern developments in stylistics with narrative psychology and
psychiatry (e.g.  Bockting 1995), cognitive stylistics primarily draws
from cognitive linguistics, cognitive psychology and the stylistic
tradition of Foregrounding Theory (Mukarovský 1970). Of particular
importance for the development of cognitive stylistics is the widely
held view in cognitive linguistics that language is not an autonomous
cognitive faculty and that it reflects cognitive structure. All
contributions in this volume thus share the same focus on ''analytical
approaches that explicitly relate linguistic choices to cognitive
phenomena'' (foreword p. x).

The first three papers by Hamilton, Freeman and Popova illustrate the
applicability of insights and terminology from cognitive linguistics
to the analysis of literary phenomena (and texts in general). More
specifically, they apply in their analyses the notions of conceptual
metaphor (Popova) and conceptual integration (or 'blending'; Hamilton,
Freeman), developed mainly in cognitive semantics (Lakoff & Johnson
1980, Lakoff 1987; Lakoff & Turner 1989; Fauconnier & Turner 1998,

CRAIG HAMILTON in his paper explores instances of conceptual
integration in Christine de Pizan's 'City of Ladies'. From a
theoretical point of view, he argues that a cognitive turn in literary
criticism, drawing from insights from cognitive science, can reconcile
the classic distinction in literary criticism between historical and
rhetorical lines through the notion of 'materialism' (''Texts are
material anchors for linguistic forms of communication that span time
an space''). On this view, interpreting language (literary as well as
non-literary) involves the complex cognitive task of establishing
conceptual connections or 'mappings' between different domains. The
cognitive-scientific framework that, according to Hamilton, best
represents the mental mapping capacity needed to come to
interpretations, is the theory of conceptual integration. In his
analysis of de Pizan's work, Hamilton argues that blending theory
provides a highly adequate and encompassing model for the analysis of
how related cognitive phenomena such as complex metaphorical mappings,
analogy and allegory are processed cognitively.

MARGARET FREEMAN (''The body in the word. A cognitive approach to the
shape of a poetic text'') emphasises that the claim of 'materialism'
and 'embodiment', central in cognitive linguistics, should lead to a
revaluation of form in the meaning construction process in poetry. In
her analysis of original hand-written versions of two poems by Emily
Dickinson, Freeman illustrates how meaning partly emerges from formal
aspects such as line breaks, markings, etc. Traditional critical
discussions of these poems have neglected or underestimated the
contribution of the physical form, basically because they did not
adopt the cognitive stylistic view that ''language is embodied, just
as the mind is embodied'' (p. 25). In a second part of the paper, it
is argued that in order to fully capture the meaning of a poem, one
needs to recognise the cognitive, cultural and contextual frame
typically associated with a poet.

YANNA POPOVA (''The figure in the carpet. Discovery and
re-cognition'') applies insights from cognitive linguistics to the
analysis of ambiguity in 'The Figure in the Carpet', a narrative by
Henry James. She argues that the diversity of interpretations offered
for this narrative (ironic and non-ironic readings) can be traced back
to the alternative, incompatible conceptual metaphors operative in
it. The skilful combination of Langacker's notion of 'construal'
(Langacker 1987) with insights from conceptual metaphor theory
illustrates how existing interpretations rely on and highlight some
metaphors present in the text itself, while fading others. Ambiguity
thus is viewed as ''the product of alternative metaphorical
conceptualisations'' (p. 66). In sum, Popova argues that a cognitive
approach to text processing and interpretation, instead of trying to
resolve ambiguities, reveals how different critical readings of a text
can emerge and why some interpretations are more acceptable than

The following five chapters provide cognitive stylistic accounts based
partly on cognitive linguistics, while also drawing from other
cognitive paradigms. PETER STOCKWELL (''Miltonic texture and the
feeling of reading'') analyses for sonnets by Milton, based on the
notion of 'texture', which is pin-pointed by Semino and Culpeper in
the foreword to this volume as ''a combination of formal and
psychological features that contribute to 'how we feel our way through
reading a text'''(p. xii).  Stockwell argues that only by combining
the cognitive analysis of a variety of features, formal as well as
psychological (syntax, deictic shift, cognitive stance, conceptual
metaphor, attention), one can reveal the core of what is understood by
texture. This eclectic approach to cognitive poetics stresses that
texts are fundamentally intersubjective in nature.

ELENA SEMINO (''A cognitive stylistic approach to mind style in
narrative fiction'') argues that a cognitive stylistic approach to
literary texts is particularly suitable for the analysis of mind
style, the reflection in language of particular conceptual structures
and cognitive habits typical for an individual's world view. It is
hypothesised that by combining linguistic patterns with existing
cognitive theories, one can best arrive at conclusions about
characterisation. In her discussion of mind style in Louis de
Bernières 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin' and John Fowles's 'The
Collector', she illustrates how cognitive theories such as schema
theory, conceptual blending theory and cognitive metaphor theory can
be applied to explore how mind styles are linguistically developed
(e.g. through underlexicalisation and excessive use of specific
conceptual metaphors).

WILLIE VAN PEER and EVA GRAF (''Between the lines. Spatial language
and its developmental representation in Stephen King's 'IT''') aim at
testing the (implicit) cognitive stylistic assumption that stylistic
variation in language use is grounded in cognitive processes. This
assumption is tested quantitatively for the use of spatial features in
the language of children and adults in Stephen King's horror story
'IT'. In other words, if it is indeed the case that readers retrieve
cognitive processes of the speakers through the specific linguistic
structures that have been used, there should be noticeable difference
in the linguistic complexity between the language use of the main
characters as children in comparison to that of the same characters as
adults. The empirical, quantitative analysis of the use of spatial
concepts in child vs. adult language in 'IT' reveals that, indeed, the
child language differs markedly from the adult language in its
cognitive complexity (e.g. in the use of spatial metaphors). Van Peer
and Graf show that King successfully achieved to mirror the
developmental aspects in the use of spatial language.

CATHERINE EMMOTT (''Split selves in fiction and in medical life
stories.  Cognitive linguistic theory and narrative practice'')
discusses the phenomenon of split selves in narratives. She argues
that the account of 'split self metaphors' as offered within
conceptual metaphor theory (Lakoff 1996) does not suffice for a
cognitive stylistic view. Emmott points out that cognitive linguistic
insights should not be blindly adopted by cognitive stylisticians, but
that rather an eclectic approach is recommendable, drawing from
narratology, stylistics and cognitive linguistics. In her analysis of
split selves in fiction and autobiographies of victims of a physical
trauma (e.g. a stroke), she convincingly shows the need for a broader
framework, which can capture e.g. the dynamic representation of
characters in extended texts. In sum, Emmott argues in favour of a
multidirectional multidisciplinary approach in which cognitive
stylistics draws from cognitive linguistics and vice versa.

GERARD STEEN (''Metaphor in Bob Dylan's 'Hurricane'. Genre, language,
and style'') provides an empirical study of metaphorical and
non-metaphorical language and style, and argues that a cognitive
approach to text cannot do without the notion of genre, a mental
representation in language users with specific cognitive models and
expectations. In the empirical part of the paper, he discusses a study
of the metaphors in Bob Dylan's song 'Hurricane', in which eight
variables are compared for their influence on metaphor recognition and
tested in an informant-based study. The outcome is that, indeed,
metaphorical language is affected by genre, that genre aspects are
reflected in language (genre-specific variables). In sum, Steen argues
for genre as the encompassing framework for text analysis, although he
admits that still a lot of fine-tuning is needed, for example by
drawing from psychological accounts of text processing.

Chapters 9, 10 and 11 introduce a number of less cognitive linguistics
oriented accounts dealing with specific (textual) phenomena. YESHAYAHU
SHEN (''Cognitive constraints on verbal creativity. The use of
figurative language in poetic discourse'') presents and tests his own
Cognitive Constraints Theory (CCT), a tool for the description of
structural regularities in the use of figurative language in poetic
discourse. CCT claims that those structural regularities are the
reflection of a compromise between aesthetic goals (novelty and
creativity) and the cognitive constraints of communicability
(comprehensibility). Shen discusses three different types of
figurative expressions (zeugma, synaesthesia, oxymoron) in poetic
corpora and reveals strong structural preferences in the use of these
figures (e.g. the literally interpreted component first in zeugma). He
argues that CCT, while partly drawing on the insights of cognitive
metaphor theories, provides a broader perspective on verbal creativity
than existing cognitive linguistic accounts.

SALVATORE ATTARDO (''Cognitive stylistics of humorous texts'')
provides an account of the humorous effects in longer stretches of
text, using the inherently cognitive GTVH (General Theory of Verbal
Humor). This linguistic and cognitive humour theory aims at providing
a cognitively adequate account of the interpretation of all types of
humorous texts (and not just jokes, as is the focus of more
traditional accounts). Partly based on insights from psycholinguistic
research in text processing, the paper presents an application of GTVH
to Oscar Wilde's 'Lord Arthur Savile's Crime'. Empirical analysis in
GTVH shows how different types of humour and humorous plots can be
analysed in a quantitative manner and how this can contribute to a
critical evaluation and aesthetic judgement of humorous narratives.

JONATHAN CULPEPER (''A cognitive stylistic approach to
characterisation'') introduces an account of characterisation, which
addresses both cognitive and textual aspects. The model Culpeper
defends presents a mixture of humanising and purely textual approaches
to characterisation, which draws in part from text comprehension
models (van Dijk and Kintsch 1983) and schema theory from social
cognition (cognitive prototypes). It is argued that such a hybrid
model can best approach the dynamic ways in which characters are built
up, partly through inference, in the reader's mind.

In the last chapter in the volume, REUVEN TSUR (''Aspects of Cognitive
Poetics'') presents some of the basic concepts of his own theory of
and view on Cognitive Poetics (Tsur 1992). The innovative character of
cognitive poetics, on his view, is to be situated in the ability to
offer ''cognitive theories that systematically account for the
relationship between the structure of literary texts and their
perceived effects'' (p.  278). The basic assumption of this approach
thus is that cognitive processes at the same time structure and
constrain poetic form, the reader's response and the critic's decision
(p. 310). This assumption is illustrated in an analysis of Hebrew and
English texts which all describe emotional qualities (more
specifically ''altered states of consciousness''). In a second part of
the paper, Tsur explores how cognitive processes shape and constrain
poetic rhythm and the rhythmical performance of poetry. The conclusion
he draws from his analyses is that, although cognitive linguistics
offers valuable insights for cognitive stylisticians, the focus is
fundamentally different in that cognitive linguistics focus on
conventionalised patterns in language use, whereas cognitive
stylistics emphasises creativity and ''structured imagination''

In the afterword to the volume, DONALD FREEMAN, one of the pioneers in
cognitive approaches to literature, critically assesses the
contributions and opens up perspectives for future research in
cognitive stylistics.


The volume as a whole presents an excellent overview of the different
innovative aspects of a cognitive stylistic approach to texts. The
choice of the contributions reflects the variety of directions this
multidisciplinary approach can take. All authors, dealing with very
different literary phenomena and types of discourse, illustrate that
cognitive approaches have a distinct advantage, in that they can cover
phenomena which have not been looked at from this angle in different
frameworks or have not received any scrutiny at all. Still, despite
the powerful influence from cognitive linguistics and cognitive
psychology, cognitive stylistics is far from a unifying cognitive
approach to texts (something which, admittedly, to a large extent
holds for cognitive linguistics as well). The lack of terminological
consensus reveals the serious want for work uniting the theoretical
foundations and terminological apparatus for cognitive
stylisticians. A related issue is the use of the notion 'cognitive' in
cognitive stylistics. Applying terminology from cognitive linguistics
does not in se provide fundamental new insights which deserve the
label 'cognitive' (an issue also addressed by Steen (this volume,
p. 186). Rather, a new line of empirical research is needed that tests
the hypotheses offered in cognitive terms.  Nevertheless, this volume
promises to be one of the pioneering works in a fascinating newly
arising discipline.


Bockting, I. (1995): Character and Personality in the Novels of
William Faulkner: A Study in Psychostylistics. New York/London:
University Press of America.

Fauconnier, G. & Turner, M. (1998): 'Conceptual integration networks'.
In: Cognitive Science 22:2, p. 283-304.

Fauconnier, G. & Turner, M. (2002): The Way We Think. Conceptual
Blending and the Mind's Hidden Complexities. New York: Basic Books.

Freeman, M. (in press): 'Cognitive Linguistic approaches to literary
studies: State of the art in Cognitive Poetics'. In D. Geeraerts & H.
Cuyckens (eds), Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.

Lakoff, G. (1987): Women, Fire and Dangerous Things. What Categories
Reveal about the Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, G. (1996): 'Sorry, I'm not myself today: The metaphor system
for conceptualisizing the self'. In G. Fauconnier & E. Sweetser (eds),
Spaces, Worlds and Grammar, 91-123. Chicago: University of Chicago

Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (1980): Metaphors We Live By. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, G. & Turner, M. (1989): More Then Cool Reason. A Field Guide
to Poetic Metaphor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Langacker, R. W. (1987): Foundations of Cognitive Grammar: Theoretical
Prerequisites (Vol 1). Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Mukarovský, J. (1970): 'Standard language and poetic language'. In
D.C.  Freeman (ed.), Linguistics and Literary Style, 40-56. New York:
Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Tsur, R. (1992): Toward a Theory of Cognitive Poetics. Amsterdam:

Van Dijk, T. A. & Kintsch, W. (1983): Strategies of Discourse
Comprehension. London: Academic Press.

Weber, J-J (1996): The Stylistics Reader: From Roman Jakobson to the
Present. London: Arnold.


Geert Brône is a PhD student in linguistics at the University of
Leuven (Belgium). He is currently preparing a dissertation on a
cognitive linguistic approach to humour interpretation (supervised by
Kurt Feyaerts). His main research interests are cognitive semantics,
cognitive stylistics, (linguistic) humour theories and German


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