“The Same, but Different”. A Cognitive Linguistic Approach to Variantivity

by Aleksandra Majdzinska (Author)
©2018 Monographs 188 Pages


This study focuses on the concepts of similarities and differences considered within the framework of cognitive linguistics and its understanding of mental construal as our ability to form alternate conceptualisations. The author employs selected cognitive models in the analysis of a variety of verbal, visual, and verbo-visual texts from the domains of literature, art, the press, as well as internet communication. With a focus on the practical dimension, the author suggests that comparing theme-related texts, alternative conceptualisations, and variations might be used as a strategy in teaching cognitive linguistics.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Preface
  • Chapter One: Theoretical considerations
  • 1.1 Similarity, resemblance, analogy
  • 1.1.1 Introduction
  • 1.1.2 Assessment of similarity in perception and cognition
  • 1.1.3 Expression of similarity in language
  • 1.2 The art of choice
  • 1.2.1 Rhetoric
  • 1.2.2 Stylistics
  • 1.3 Alternative conceptualisations in Cognitive Linguistics
  • 1.3.1 Dimensions of imagery according to Langacker (2008)
  • 1.3.2 The schematic systems by Talmy (2000)
  • 1.3.3 Conceptual metaphor and conceptual integration
  • 1.4 Types of variantivity
  • Chapter Two: Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style and its extensions
  • 2.1 Exercises in style by Raymond Queneau
  • 2.1.1 Introduction
  • 2.1.2 Variant construals
  • 2.1.3 Variations on a theme
  • 2.2 Inspirations
  • 2.2.1 Introduction
  • 2.2.2 Transcodings
  • 2.2.3 Innovative inspirations
  • Chapter Three: Further examples of variant constructions
  • 3.1 Introduction
  • 3.2 Alternate construals of the same event: two press articles
  • 3.3 Verbal variations
  • 3.3.1 Two unusual translations of The Bible
  • 3.3.2 Song makeovers
  • 3.3.3 Variations on a motif: haiku poems
  • 3.4 Visual and verbo-visual inspirations
  • 3.4.1 Famous paintings and their variations
  • 3.4.2 Theme and variations in photography
  • 3.4.3 Memes as variations on a theme: the case of “The Scream”
  • Chapter Four: Practising variation
  • 4.1 Introduction
  • 4.2 The first steps: teaching Queneau
  • 4.3 Further exploration: different variant texts
  • 4.3.1 The Cinderella stories
  • 4.3.2 Alternate construals of a news story
  • 4.3.3 Verbo-visual materials
  • 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style by Matt Madden
  • Grumpy Cat memes
  • 4.4 Term papers
  • Conclusions
  • Index
  • References
  • Series Index

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I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Professor Joanna Jabłkowska, Dean of the University of Łódź, and Professor Łukasz Bogucki, Head of the Institute of English Studies at the University of Łódź, for the opportunity to publish this book.

My grateful thanks are also extended to Professor Piotr Stalmaszczyk, Head of the Department of English and General Linguistics at the University of Łódź, for his advice, assistance and academic support throughout, as well as feedback and comments, which contributed to the improvement of the scientific quality of this book.

I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Professor Alina Kwiatkowska from the University of Łódź, an exceptional mentor who patiently guided me through my research and offered invaluable insights into Cognitive Linguistics as I was trying to fully embrace it.

I would like to thank Professor Barbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk from the State University of Applied Sciences in Konin, and Professor Elżbieta Tabakowska from the Jagiellonian University, Kraków, for their insightful comments on my PhD dissertation, which have significantly improved the quality and organisation of this work.

I am grateful to all the authors of verbal and visual materials which inspired my analysis for generously sharing them with me.

Last but not least, a large “thank you” to my family, whose support, patience and love all the way through the process of writing this book were my strongest encouragement and motivation. ← 7 | 8 →

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My interest in variation dates back to my MA courses at the Institute of English Studies of the University of Łódź. Investigating texts of different kinds (both literary and non-literary), I had many occasions to note that the same situation may be shown from various angles. I decided to write my MA thesis within the framework of Cognitive Linguistics, focusing on the notion of perspective, as explicated by Ronald Langacker (1987) and Leonard Talmy (2000). Inspired by Langacker’s ideas on construal, I have since begun to see alternative forms in all possible situations, which culminated in my doctoral project devoted to alternative conceptualisations. The present book is a revised version of my University of Łódź 2016 PhD dissertation.

It can be obviously argued, at a very general level, that everything comes in variant forms – people, objects, and events. We always have a choice, and we try to choose the most suitable alternative when we engage in comparing things, noting their similarities and differences. We can all intuitively or rationally recognise similarity, which was the point of departure for this project. We are also well aware of the fact that no resemblance is ever complete. The phrase “the same, but different” from the title of this book seems like a contradiction in terms, but it occurs in many casual conversations, where a person might say, e.g. “I’ve got the same bag, only a little different” and would be easily understood. “Same-same, but different” is a popular Indo-Chinese saying. Traders from Thailand will use it when they want to sell a fake product: two items look identical, but in fact one is a mere copy of the other. This seemingly contradictory phrase is thus used to express the intuition of a close relationship between ideas or objects which are strongly similar on some level, though dissimilar on others.

Another direct inspiration for this project was the book by the French writer Raymond Queneau, Exercises de style (1947), which comprises ninety-nine retellings of the same source story, and can thus be seen as a demonstration of the possibilities of variant construal. It showcases variations of different kinds: those departing widely from the original story in terms of construal and those remaining closer to it, varying solely in the lexical choices, register, or generic conventions. On the basis of this dichotomy, I have decided to assign the stories to either of the two categories: alternative conceptualisations and variations on a theme. This distinction is later extrapolated onto some other texts I am going to analyse. The book has been translated intra- and intermodally, and some of the translations (visual and verbo-visual) will be also discussed here. Queneau’s ← 9 | 10 → Exercises inspired my further investigation of retellings, reshowings, variations, permutations, and alterations in literature, the arts and non-literary texts. As such “exercises” in text and image transformation seem increasingly popular in the era of the new media, this book might be of interest to those wishing to learn more about their mechanisms. It might be possibly used as a teaching aid in cognitively-oriented academic courses in linguistics, stylistics, or poetics. Such an application will be proposed in the last chapter.

Assumptions and objectives

The project is based on two assumptions. First, comparing is fundamental to human thinking; it is one of the most basic cognitive operations. Encountering something for the first time, we try to compare it to something familiar in order to view it as part of some system. Learning new things is grounded in previous experiences, which are vital for categorisation, problem solving, or skill acquisition. The perception of similarity, inherent in comparing, is crucial for human thinking. There is a correlation between the concepts of similarity and variation – we can recognise different conceptualisations of the same thing thanks to the process of comparison which maps out their correspondences and disparities. The ubiquity of this operation is reflected in the large number of linguistic expressions introducing comparative structures.

Secondly, scholastic and practical interest in variation and variantivity has not appeared in recent years. It goes as far back as ancient rhetoric, “the art of choice”, focused on the selection of the most suitable linguistic form to achieve the speaker’s communicative aim. Today, it resounds in the cognitivist idea of alternate conceptualisation – the new take on the observation that the same subject matter may be mentally construed and interpreted in a number of ways.

Both of those assumptions are discussed in more detail in the first chapter, which constitutes the theoretical foundations of my work.

My aim is to analyse selected texts as examples of different kinds of alternate construal within the framework of Cognitive Linguistics. My three main objectives are as follows: to explicate the idea of alternate conceptualisations and variation (embracing two sub-types) with reference to the Cognitive Linguistics concept of construal, to apply the model in the analysis of authentic texts to see if it is useful in such an analysis, and to report on the application of the model in the academic teaching of chosen cognitivist concepts.

Selecting my materials for analysis, I was looking for variety and representativeness. While the founding father of Cognitive Linguistics, Ronald Langacker, and his scholarly followers have used specially constructed sentences ← 10 | 11 → to exemplify differences in construal, I discuss such (local and global) differences analysing longer authentic texts, from a broad range of both literary and (especially) non-literary contexts. I also discuss the variant construal of some bimodal (verbo-visual) or strictly visual texts, as the basic mechanism of variation appears to be the same regardless of the code.


Similarities and differences are the main motif of the whole book – each of the performed analyses is based on the relation of resemblance/difference. That is why the first chapter considers the theory behind those concepts. As Cognitive Linguistics draws heavily on cognitive psychology, I examine briefly the research on similarity judgement, resemblance, and analogy carried out within this discipline. I also note the Gestalt psychology observations on perception of visual similarity. The point of departure for my examination of the concept of similarity and variation in language is classical rhetoric and stylistics, advancing the idea of choosing the best form to achieve the desired effect. The main focus in this chapter, however, is on the variations in the construction and interpretation of the same objective scene or situation. Since it has been one of the major areas of interest of the cognitive linguistic theory, I will present several cognitivist perspectives on this issue, associated with some concepts relevant for my further explorations, in particular the notion of alternate construal worked out by Ronald Langacker (2008), the schematic systems discussed by Leonard Talmy (2000), the theory of conceptual metaphor by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1980/2003), and of conceptual integration by Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner (2002). The theoretical chapter concludes with the proposal for the methodological division of the texts collected for analysis into variant/alternate construals, variations on a theme, and variations on a motif.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (December)
Similarity Alternative conceptualisation Mental construal Perspective Variation Conceptual blending
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 187 pp., 46 fig. b/w

Biographical notes

Aleksandra Majdzinska (Author)

Aleksandra Majdzińska is a lecturer at the Institute of English Studies at the University of Lodz (Poland). She holds a PhD in Linguistics. Her research interests include cognitive linguistics, mental imagery and perspective, word-image interactions, and cognitive stylistics.


Title: “The Same, but Different”. A Cognitive Linguistic Approach to Variantivity
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190 pages