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Preface to Meaning, Form, and Body

Fey Parrill, Vera Tobin, and Mark Turner

1 Introduction

The edited volume resulting from the first Conference on Conceptual Structure, Discourse, and Language (CSDL) states that the intention of the conference was to bring together researchers from both cognitive and functional perspectives (Goldberg, 1996). This is an excellent goal.

Both cognitive and functional (or usage-based) approaches share the assumption that language happens within a social and conceptual context, and that grammar is motivated by use. Cognitive approaches force us to confront the fact that language is part of general cognition, while usage-based approaches keep us grounded in the real phenomena of language. Bringing the two approaches together has resulted in powerful demonstrations of the value of taking real language data and building towards a theoretical framework that has explanatory power (witness the success of construction grammar).

The CSDL conference has a special status for two of the editors of the volume: CSDL-5 was the first academic conference they attended, and the unified approach to language they found there deeply inspired them both. The tenth conference is now approaching, and the field of linguistics has changed substantially since the inaugural meeting in 1995. It is therefore worth considering the extent to which the original goal has been achieved, whether it has shifted, and what it should be for future conferences. In this preface, we will describe the themes that link the papers in this particular volume, but we will also reflect on the future of this conference.

2 Changes in the field of linguistics that affect CSDL

The first CSDL conference—at which one of the editors of the current volume spoke—occurred in 1994, in San Diego. In that era, the International Cognitive Linguistics Association (ICLA) was still relatively new: ICLA was established during a conference held in 1989 in Germany. That conference was retroactively named the first ICLC, but the first conference announced as a conference of the ICLA was held in 1991, in Santa Cruz, California. In the 1990s, there were few venues in which to present research that was still seen as non-traditional and often marginal. Cognitive linguistics is now a thriving approach to the study of language. Fredrick Newmeyer's (2003) paper in Language explicitly points out that a shift has taken place in the field towards cognitive and usage-based approaches, and that this shift has been welcomed by other disciplines, especially psychology. The size of the ICLA conference (ICLC) and the diversity of research presented there both testify to the success of the cognitive approach.

One consequence of the success of cognitive linguistics in general, however, is that CSDL—ostensibly a union of cognitive and functional approaches—has become in effect the North American ICLC. In 2005, the Conceptual Structure, Discourse, and Language Association (CSDLA) became an affiliate of the International Cognitive Linguistics Association, in recognition of the fact that CSDL is a major forum for presentation of cognitive linguistic research.

Cognitive and functional, or usage-based, approaches are naturally allied. Indeed, it may be difficult to separate them. However, members of the CSDL research community should consider whether usage-based approaches are still fully represented at CSDL, and whether this unique feature of the conference should be prioritized. If cognitive linguists are no longer being exposed to research from a functional and usage-based approach, cognitive approaches increasingly run the risk of overlooking any number of significant facts about language as it is used, relying on potentially misleading or incomplete data, and losing sight of the range and sources of linguistic variation.

CSDL has been affected by a second shift within the field of linguistics: a movement towards the development and inclusion of methods for conducting laboratory experiments. The principal method of science is theory—that is, generalization over data. The data must be empirical, rather than imaginary. Science requires a second, all-important, empirical step: the worth of the scientific theory is to be determined by how well it captures data not used in the development of the theory, including data that do not yet exist. For most of science—astronomy, geology, evolutionary descent of species—data are robustly available, in what are by definition ecologically valid environments, and they can be gathered. Coming up with good generalizations—Newton's laws of motion, for example—is the crucial step. Scientific generalization over language data was very nearly the exclusive method used by early cognitive linguistics. But experiments are necessary to elicit data that are not plainly and indisputably available, and to help us choose between well-thought-out theories whose implications conflict on points for which there is no suitable naturally-occurring data to support one over the other. In choosing Einstein's mechanics over Newton's, we point to the orbit of Mercury: data gathered, but not from an experiment.

Recently in cognitive linguistics, the method of scientific generalization-and-evaluation has come to be supplemented with methods for conducting laboratory experiments. This marriage of experimental procedures with methods of scientific generalization has been fruitful. The use of methods from psycholinguistics to evaluate theoretical frameworks has provided further evidence that cognitive approaches are on the right track. As always, it is a struggle to keep the laboratory experiments free of the standard weaknesses: experimenter effects, elicitation via abnormal affordances in the laboratory, invalid linguistic environments, invalid motivational structures for subjects, inadequate statistical measures, and so on. It seems to us that cognitive linguistics has embraced the need to design laboratory experiments in ways that finesse or at least manage these potential limitations.

Experimental procedures are only one tool for doing research, and don't provide the only answer to a question. They can lead to, as Wallace Chafe puts it, "...a preoccupation with unnatural data and disregard for even the most obvious properties of conscious experience" (1994, p. 20). A shift towards experimental methods may also have the effect of alienating those who use observational methods, collect naturalistic data, or whose research centers on case studies or detailed analyses of small samples of language, and such researchers may be less likely to submit papers to CSDL.

Functional and usage based approaches have a long tradition of using empirical methods, particularly in corpus studies, and there have been many exciting advances in corpus linguistics in recent years. However, corpus studies may induce a focus on data—which are themselves inert—rather than theory. The laudable advances in statistical analysis that characterize some of the best recent work in corpus linguistics may also threaten to eclipse qualitative methodologies, which provide important information about sociological and dialectical variation, as well as other contextual factors affecting language use and structure.

What cognitive linguistics needs above all is the work of good minds, engaged in active, intelligent research and in conversation with one another. It will be so much the better if these good minds have available to them as many methods as possible for testing their thoughts. In our view, cognitive linguistics currently has the opportunity to pursue an integration of good theoretical, quantitative, qualitative, and experimental research, the whole being stronger than the parts, and cognitive linguistics in the current moment is engaged with the framework for this integration.

3 Recommendations

The goal of uniting cognitive and functional or usage-based approaches is a worthy one. Concrete steps can be taken to prioritize this goal, and we believe these efforts would have a salutary effect on both the organization and future research.

It is noteworthy that CSDL 8, 9, and 10 will all have been hosted in departments of cognitive science. Hosting the conference in a department of linguistics might encourage a balance in the representation of different methods, including both theoretical and quantitative work. In addition, the call for papers should explicitly note the goal of the conference, and should include the phrase usage-based. It has been absent in recent years, including the call for papers circulated by the current editors. Finally, at the time of this writing, the proposal for the next CSDL indicates that the conference will center on experimental methods. Such a conference would be an asset to the field, as it would help to ensure that researchers interested in exploring those methods have an opportunity for training. However, it might be of value to the field as a whole to have a future conference that provides training and focus on non-experimental methods. These methods are at the heart of our field.

4 This volume

The ninth conference on Conceptual Structure, Discourse, and Language was held October 18-20, 2008, at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, under the theme "Meaning, Form, and Body." It focused on two central, related research areas in the study of language. The first is the integration of form and meaning, and the second is the relationship between language and the human body—topics that intersect naturally, as in the study of grammatical constructions, conceptual integration, and gesture.

An obvious starting point for a volume that proposes to say something meaningful about the relationship between language and bodies is an investigation into the relationship between linguistic representations and perceptual experience. This collection thus begins, in its first chapter, with a vigorous argument that direct perceptual simulation indeed plays a pervasive and fundamental role in all language comprehension. Sarah Anderson and her collaborators present several pieces of experimental evidence for sensorimotor involvement in the processing of even the seemingly amodal linguistic operator of negation. Moving in the opposite direction, Caleb Everett's study of event classification in speakers of Brazilian Portuguese and Karitiâna provides evidence for the effect that grammatical categories can have on speakers' perception of objects in the world.

The construction of linguistic perspective is another tantalizing arena for exploring the importance of embodied experience for meaning construction and linguistic structure. In his chapter, Adam Głaz argues that Vantage Theory, which connects linguistic behavior to speakers' fundamental embodied experience of their own orientation in space and time, can serve as a psychologically plausible and useful approach to this phenomenon. His analysis extends Vantage Theory's range of application beyond its original confines of color categorization and brings it to bear on the rhetoric of political discourse.

The bodies of speakers play complicated roles in two papers that investigate the boundaries and interactions between "gestural" and "linguistic" performance in the same communicative modality. The studies presented in Marcus Perlman's chapter suggest that speech rate often functions as an iconic vocal gesture accompanying (indeed, inseparable from) speech, perhaps arising from underlying sensorimotor simulations. Leland McCleary and Evani Viotti, meanwhile, analyze an extended narrative in Brazilian Sign Language and argue that idiosyncratic, gestural, or otherwise non-verbal elements play a larger role in signed discourse than generally recognized in the linguistics literature. The body tells secrets the conscious mind does not know in Svetlana Gorokhova's study of slips of the tongue, in which linguistic performance may provide unexpected clues about the activation processes that lie behind language production as well as language comprehension. Finally, the body also takes center stage in Judit Simo's cross-linguistic study of body part metaphors in Hungarian and American writing about chess, an unusually thorough and detailed catalog of metaphors in which the human body serves as the source domain.

The study of metaphor and metaphoric blends continues to figure prominently in the research represented at both the CSDL conference and in this volume: Vito Evola examines the idiosyncratic use of conceptual metaphors in the speech and gesture of two individuals discussing their personal religious beliefs. Anna Pleshakova provides a conceptual blending account of a recently emergent and wildly popular metaphor used in Russian media to refer to corrupt officers of law enforcement agencies, "werewolves in epaulettes." At the border of the blending-metaphor interface, Karen Sullivan and Eve Sweetser address the long-standing question of when, and whether, "Generic is Specific" blends should be considered metaphors at all. Vera Tobin's analysis of English constructions for expressing causation and change also makes use of blending theory, though its focus is on conceptual compression, rather than the relationship between metaphors and blends.

Other cognitive accounts of individual constructions make up a significant portion of this collection. Ron Langacker's analysis of the construction day after day extends a discussion he began, in brief, over ten years ago. This detailed account deploys the tools of Cognitive Grammar to demonstrate how a construction can indeed fit into the general patterns that characterize English grammar, despite defying the apparent constraints of constituent structure. Carol Moder and Naoki Otani, in two separate chapters, also consider sets of constructions in English, both from a usage-based standpoint. Moder's chapter takes on expressions using like to introduce a noun phrase, observing that previous accounts in cognitive linguistics have placed an emphasis on metaphoric uses that is not borne out by the relative frequency of these uses in natural language (making her paper an interesting and useful counterpoint to the several papers on metaphor in this volume). Otani discusses discourse-organizing functions of the particle aside, using a combination of quantitative and qualitative corpus analysis to put together an account of the grammaticalization of these constructions in contemporary American English.

Several other papers take a similarly close look at lexical items in languages other than English. Tuomas Huumo and Jari Sivonen present the case of the Finnish deictic verbs tulla ("come") and mennä ("go"), and their complicated, only partially metaphorically motivated, historical extension to abstract senses. Nina Yoshida considers another closely linked pair of lexical items, Japanese mono and koto, and their semantic extensions in constructions marking deontic and epistemic stance. Hélène Mazaleyrat and Audrey Rudel discuss the French adjective curieux, the conceptual motivations for its different primary senses, and its sensitivity to different constructional contexts. Takeshi Koguma's chapter proposes a new account of nominative/genitive conversion in Japanese, using Cognitive Grammar to explain both historical phenomena and existing constraints in a single framework.

5 Procedural details

Proposals to present a paper at the conference were submitted to a process of selection governed by blind peer review. After the conference, presenters were invited to submit their papers to a process of selection for inclusion in this volume, also governed by blind peer review. This volume is the result of those successive processes.


Chafe, W. (1994). Discourse, Consciousness, and Time: The Flow and Displacement of Conscious Experience in Speaking and Writing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Goldberg, A. (Ed.). (1996). Conceptual Structure, Discourse, and Language. Stanford: CSLI.

Newmeyer, F. J. (2003). Grammar is grammar and usage is usage. Language, 79(4), 682-707.

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