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Motivating the Symbolic

Towards a Cognitive Theory of the Linguistic Sign


Hubert Kowalewski

The book outlines a new approach to the study of motivation in language, which is firmly rooted in the paradigm of cognitive linguistics, but it is developed in critical (and constructive) dialogue with classical theories in semiotics: Ferdinand de Saussure’s structural linguistics and Charles S. Peirce’s model of the sign. The author’s proposal hinges upon the Peircean distinction between iconic, indexical, and symbolic signs, but the classical typology is reinterpreted within the framework of cognitive linguistics. The approach does not seek to "categorize" different linguistic expressions into one of the three Peircean types, but attempts to capture the dynamicity of meanings in terms of iconicity, indexicality, and conventionality. The book presents an analysis of selected vocabulary and morphosyntactic structures of English.

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Chapter 4. Practical applications of the new framework



Is an orange called an orange because it’s orange?

Robin Cowpertwait, Anglepoise (2008)

… or is orange called orange because an orange is orange? The tongue-in-cheek question asked in Robin Cowpertwait’s song Anglepoise, which is in fact a question about the motivation behind two senses of the word orange, sparked at least one violent academic discussion. The debate took place after the 2011 Science Fiction Research Association conference and, unfortunately, did not lead to any definitive conclusions (personal communication, 9 July 2011). One of the biggest problems in analyzing motivation behind the word like orange and many other linguistic signs is the fact that the etymological processes shaping motivation are non-deterministic (cf. Section 3.5.). In most cases, this means that semantic “reverse engineering” and black-box analysis insufficient and calls for more extensive reasearch into etymology, general history, culture, sociology, linguistic and extralinguistic context.

The last chapter of this book presents case studies of motivation underlying various types of linguistic data. The aim of this part is to demonstrate the practical application of the theoretical framework proposed in the previous chapter. The basic assumption is that this framework is useful for analyzing structures in various semantic fields and various levels of syntagmatic organization. For this reason, the linguistic material includes standalone mono- and polymorphemic words, bound morphemes, syntactic patterns and entire texts; words with a long history in the English language (e.g. cuckoo) as well as neologisms (monokini, -punk). Since the...

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