Contextualization and cognitive synergism: The interaction of ontology and epistemology in the interpretation of contexts
The interpretation of linguistically conveyed or mediated and linguistically realized meanings is taken to be the result of complex mental processes that are dynamically interactive on different levels. It is trivial to acknowledge that any act of interpretation is an integral part of cognition, provided we can establish fine-grained distributed models of cognition that include pragmatic indicators of varying degree and strength ranging from contextual cues and deictic parameters to social normativity, cultural dynamics and inter-subjective meaning negotiations. In order to support this claim, I will rely on the metaphorical notions of synergy and emergence.
Synergy and synergistic effects have been observed in complex systems (e.g. biological self-organization, organizational behaviour) in which the constituting elements work together and produce results not obtainable by any of the elements alone. At the level of linguistic structure, for example, synergy can be captured in the meaning construction of non-compositional linguistic expressions that defy the Frege Principle of compositionality and make use of new ways of conceptualization. At the level of discourse, however, contextualization comes into play which requires the conceptualization of situations and events, deictic relations, non-literal and figurative uses of linguistic expressions, together with various ways of meaning extension, such as metaphorization and mental space integration, exploiting the intentional stance for attributing mental contents to speech partners in order to predict their acts and the inferential mechanisms for interpreting conversational meanings.
Emergence is understood as complexity or complex patterns creating complex systems that arise out of numerous, relatively simple interactions. The study of language use in social contexts is a prime candidate for facilitating an improved understanding of complex, interactive cognitive systems.
Thus discourse interpretation based on discourse representation focuses not only on linguistic forms such as words and sentences, or, for that matter, constructions and formulaic expressions, but also on subtle cues exploiting indexicality, discourse and pragmatic markers, prosody, register, deictic relations, pragmatic and cultural parameters all of which are bound to signal contextual presupposition. Such contextualization cues have been studied by interactive sociolinguistics mostly and are considered to be culturally specific and usually unconscious in processing. As a side-effect, it has become widely accepted by today in intercultural communications studies that participants in a conversation coming from highly disparate cultural backgrounds may not recognize these subtle cues in one another’s speech, which often leads to misunderstandings or crosscultural miscommunication. Such specific phenomena of inappropriate communicational practices do not constitute the concern of the present investigation. Instead, I am interested in the general features of successful communication to be seen as a coherent system of meaningful acts guided by the faculty of social cognition.
Further, I will make an attempt at extending the notions of contextualization, contextualization cues and contextual presupposition by offering an analysis of context building involving a delicate interaction between the ontological and epistemological status of certain mental constructs (such as mental schemes, mental images, cognitive models or mental spaces) that are seen as building blocks in the process of constructing contexts for interpretation.
Therefore, in addition to pragmatic inferences (based on situated pragmatic knowledge) my analysis will adopt intentional inferences (based on contextual information extracted via the intentional stance between interlocutors) to fully encompass the domain of contextual presuppositions crucial for context-supported interpretations. My analysis emphasizes the integrating role of contextual observations which is based on the presumption that pragmatic and intentional inferences cannot be operative without recourse to contextual observations where the notion of context simultaneously exerts both its strong epistemological nature and its decisive ontological status. In other words, I will explore the Janus-face of the notion context which is to be conceived of as an epistemic construct (a result of plausible reasoning with possible worlds) on the one hand, and an
ontological entity (an apparent result of purposefully constructed virtual realities) imposing on and revitalizing texts as primary objects in a linguistic environment, on the other.
Without any unnecessary proliferation of the term, I will propose a systemic categorization of contexts relevant to the ontology-epistemology dichotomy in line with the conditions of discourse and language use. The ultimate aim of the present analysis is the conceptual articulation of a perspective on language and language use according to which the linguistic system facilitating verbal behaviour is seen as a dynamic instrument of coordination for joint and distributed action and cognition in the speech community where context construction plays a pivotal role as a prerequisite for performing acts of meaning.