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Subjectivity in the act of representing: The case for subjective motion and change

Abstract

The objective in the present paper is to analyze the aspect of subjectivity having to do with construing motion and change where no motion and change exists outside the representation, that is, in cases where the conceptualizer does not intend to convey the idea that these properties exist in the state of affairs described. In the process of doing so, I will elaborate on a critique of the notion of fictivity as it is currently being used in cognitive linguistics.

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Notes

  1. Note, by the way, that in adopting a philosophy according to which degrees, or modes, of reality/irreality is ascertained relative to an epistemically inpenetrable mind-independent reality, one easily runs into the paradox that the default state which is per definition unknowable yet serves to define realness/fictiveness; if all of human reality is a fiction, since the universe an sich is not cognizable to us, how is one able to make this assertion (that ‘human reality is a fiction’)? Supposedly one does not have access to the reality relative to which our fictive one is fictive.

  2. The quote is a translation of the title of one of the chapters in E. Benveniste’s Problèmes de linguistique générale: “L’homme dans la langue” (Benveniste 1966).

  3. Alerted to the phenomenal reality of speech acts and the very real effects these have in our lifeworld, Searle makes a case for an ontology informed by the conceptual, and indeed mind-dependent, realm of experience, arguing that the causal reality of these non-sensory phenomena, grounded in communicative interaction, supports a conception of reality as including the fundamentally “intentional” dimension of intersubjective meaning (Searle 1983).

  4. From ‘Road to Hana: Maui’s Ultimate Road Trip’, http://www.maui.worldweb.com/Paia/FeaturesReviews/LocalAttractions//8–146594.html

  5. A transcription of ten lectures on cognitive grammar delivered in Beijing in April 2006, published by Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, in the Eminent Linguists Lecture Series.

  6. Talmy discusses “coextension paths” in his chapter on fictive motion (Talmy 2000). Fictive motion in language, he writes, encompasses these categories (incl. subcategories): emanation; pattern paths; frame-relative motion; advent paths; access paths; and coextension paths (with reference to work on virtual motion in Talmy 1983; extension, Jackendoff 1983; abstract motion, Langacker 1987; subjective motion, Matsumoto 1996a, b, c).

  7. Notice, by the way, that the description of the hills as “an angry answer” to the water is a metaphor where the target domain is physical and the source domain is the ontological domain of communicative face-to-face interaction (aka the speech-act domain, cf. Sweetser 1990). This goes to illustrate that metaphoric meaning does not necessarily travel from physical experience to other more complex and abstract domains (as argued in much of the literature on the subject since Lakoff and Johnson 1980).

  8. Other phenomena included in Talmy’s proposed categories illustrate the ubiquity of virtuality (a notion applied to things that are ‘sensed’ rather than directly perceived, e.g. the trajectory line extending from the index finger in demonstrative pointing) and subject-relational sensibility in experience (e.g. frame-relative path examples): emanation paths (incl. orientation paths), pattern paths, frame-relative motion, advent paths, access paths, and coextension paths. Aside from these, there are categories of what Talmy calls “fictive presence”, pertaining to “structurality”: the sensing of object structure, path structure, reference frames, structural history and future, projected paths, and force dynamics. (Talmy 2000)

  9. Particular to Lakoff & Turner’s approach is their seeing this as-if meaning as the result of a conceptual metaphor (FORM IS ACTION). On this explanation, states have become the way they are because, metaphorically, someone made them that way. A variant account can be found in Michael Leyton’s Symmetry, Causality, Mind (1992) which unfolds an elaborate theory on this kind of resultative cognition. Instead of deriving meaning from metaphor, however, Leighton draws on the notion of narrative cognition. According to his “generative theory of space”, when non-symmetrical displays are perceived, we conceive of them in terms of causal narratives: The perceived shape of an object gives it its “history” (Leyton 1992).

  10. Cp.: The sentence ‘The general’s limosine grows longer’ does not take the role interpretation.

  11. This example was discussed by Sweetser in a talk given at the Center for Semiotics (University of Aarhus) in May 1996. See also Sweetser 1997.

  12. For a quick overview of the main grammatical differences between the two types of construction, see Matsumoto 1996c, pp. 144–146.

  13. Cf. the conceptual integration analysis in Brandt 2008 (pp. 124–134) based on the example in Fauconnier and Turner 2002 (p. 59).

  14. “I close my eyes and see a flock of birds. The vision lasts a second, or perhaps less; I am not sure how many birds I saw. Was the number of birds definite or indefinite? The problem involves the existence of God. If God exists, the number is definite, because God knows how many birds I saw. If God does not exist, the number is indefinite, because no one could have counted. In this case I saw fewer than ten birds (let us say) and more than one, but did not see nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, or two birds. I saw a number between ten and one which was not eight, seven, six, five, etc. That integer—not-nine, not-eight, not-seven, not-six, not-five, ect.—is inconceivable. Ergo, God exists.” (Borges 1998: 299)

  15. Anything that exists “in general” is assigned to non-actuality. If there is something with particular reference, on the other hand, it is said to be part of actuality (Langacker 1999: 80).

  16. The distinction between fiat and bona fide boundaries was introduced by Barry Smith in Smith 1995. Fiat boundaries are human-demarcation-induced boundaries; bona fide boundaries correspond to genuine physical discontinuities, which would exist even in the absence of the drawing of boundaries by cognitive agents.

  17. Cf. Pascual 2006 (p. 247).

  18. Most famously in An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1758).

  19. See also Talmy 2000, p.144, p. 154.

  20. “Conceptual structure is dynamic: it emerges and develops through processing time, this temporal dimension being inherent and essential to its characterization.” (Langacker 2002 handout: “Dynamicity, Fictivity, and Scanning: The Imaginative Basis of Logic and Linguistic Meaning” (p. 1), cf. also Langacker 2005 and Langacker 2001 (p. 15).

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Brandt, L. Subjectivity in the act of representing: The case for subjective motion and change. Phenom Cogn Sci 8, 573–601 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11097-009-9123-9

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Keywords

  • Subjective motion
  • Subjective change
  • Fictivity
  • Fictive motion
  • Semantic meaning
  • Enactment
  • Virtuality
  • Subjecthood
  • Construal