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A Multi-dimensional Approach to Discourse Coherence

From Standardness to Creativity

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Pilar Alonso

This book presents a comprehensive study of the subject of text and discourse coherence, integrating some of the traditional trends of discourse analysis and creating new channels of research which help to understand the notion further. Based on the work of leading theoreticians and on the actual consideration of authentic linguistic material, the book identifies the structural and cognitive aspects of standard discourse coherence and, as a variation from other mainstream approaches, it also explores the more subjective and culturally-bound conceptual aspects of coherence construction in creative modes of discourse. To achieve these aims, the study incorporates concepts and analytical practices from cognitive linguistic theories of conceptualisation; additionally, it draws from theories of communication to address the idiosyncratic and socio-cultural aspects which affect the formation of coherent discourse patterns. The intention is to broaden the perspective of the subject and to focus on its complexity, as well as to stress the need to conceive of discourse coherence as a multi-dimensional phenomenon consisting of numerous procedural components.
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5. The theoretical background: A brief history of cognitive linguistics

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The notion of prototypes which as was seen in the previous chapter is central to the construction and functioning of mental models is also essential in later developments of cognitive-oriented linguistics. Developed by Eleanor Rosch and other researchers (1978), prototype theory studies the internal structure of categories, as well as our ability to interpret and organise experience. It studies how we assimilate, store and implement experience, and how it relates to our “mental dictionary”. All these operations are carried out in terms of categories, and categorisation is described as a basic cognitive function that we perform automatically and unconsciously whenever we see something or experience something, think or reason about something, or perform any kind of action. The theory contends that even though the things we see, do or experience are never the same, we are able to recognise and classify them because they share certain traits which identify them in our minds as members of a category. According to Rosch and her associates, categorisation is neither arbitrary nor necessarily imposed by conditions of discreteness present in the real world.

Prototype theory maintains that human beings do not have a category for every object, experience, or action in the world. A large proportion of our mental categories are not categories of things, they are categories of abstract entities represented in the human mind by the best or most representative example of that category. That example which often is the more familiar to us is called a prototype. A...

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