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Introduction: Some theoretical prerequisites

The study of the strategic and tactical patterns of human interaction essentially boils down to studying the strategic structure of discourse, while the discourse phenomenon itself can generally be described as a verbal interaction procedure taking place in a given physical and social context where both the speaker and the listener act as the subjects of this procedure. The complexity of discourse and its multi-dimensional character have long been the factors that allow researchers to build a model of this process, and linguists are no exception here. In modern linguistics where language is viewed as a “window into human nature” (Potebnya 1999, Pinker 2008, etc.) modelling can be described as an attempt to reconstruct the mental space of an individual or (a much more challenging task) of a whole language community. As a linguistic model is always constructed, it cannot be identical to the actual array of phenomena constituting the content of our mentality. However, a precise linguistic model can be crucial in promoting our understanding of how mental phenomena are related, why they work in a certain way, and in forecasting the possible vectors of our mental sphere development.

The issue of cognitive modelling inevitably brings up the issue of mental spaces, a field pioneered by the works of Fauconnier (1994). In Fauconnier’s view-point, mental spaces are created by language expressions that “will typically establish new spaces, elements within them, and relations holding between the elements” (Fauconnier 1994: 17).

Let us consider a typical belief statement:

(1) Max believes (space-builder for M) that Susan hates Harry (establishes

relations between the component elements of M) (Fauconnier 1994: 17).

Example (1) clearly shows how the first part of the utterance outlines the mental space of the statement in question and sets its boundaries by explicating the subject and the content of the mental space M. The second part of (1) fixes the elements of the mental space M with the help of the arguments Susan and Harry and specifies relations binding them (hates).

Our understanding of the mental space phenomenon is quite different from the concept put forward by Fauconnier. We hold that the mental space essentially has a non-linguistic and pre-linguistic character. It develops before the language acquisition begins: it is the system that stores (and processes) information for other human systems (including language-dedicated performance systems) to access (Lenneberg 1967; Chomsky 2009) and process further. Therefore, emotions and assessments are mental “positions” (Harre 1991, Galasinski 2004) based on processing the acquired information and verbally represented in compliment discourse.

Language serves to reduce the complexity of the intellectual sphere by providing descriptive “labels” (Smith and Samuelson 2010) used to structure the mental content for verbal representation and subsequent interpretation. This allows us to argue that the mental space is not a uniform phenomenon and can be classified into two types that we term respectively “mental space 1” and “mental space 2”. Table 3-1 presents the distinctive features of each type.

Table 3-1: The distinctive features of “mental space 1” vs. “mental space 2”

Mental space 1

Mental space 2

Pre-verbal

Subject to verbal representation

Occurs simultaneously (mental positions are assumed relatively fast)

Evolves in successive progression (Piaget 1968)

Multi-dimensional

Linear

Personally and socially conditioned

Interpersonal

Semantically complex

Relatively simple semantically

Untranslatable to the recipient

Translatable to the recipient

Figure 3-1 demonstrates the correlation of the different types of the mental space with linguistic phenomena, at the same time showing the role of compliment discourse in representing mental positions, such as emotions and assessments.

Figure 3-1: The correlation of the mental space with linguistic phenomena

 
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