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Motivating the Symbolic

Towards a Cognitive Theory of the Linguistic Sign

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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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Concluding remarks

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It should not come as a surprise that the case studies presented in this chapter are sketchy and far from exhaustive, yet they were never meant to be so. The key rationale behind them was to showcase various ways in which linguistic motivation can link the phonological structure to conceptualizations, rather than to carry out an in-depth and comprehensive analysis of the data. Nonetheless, the analysis presents the descriptive and explanatory potential of the model devised in this book.

Several questions and residual problems deserve more attention. One of them is to what extent the factors of motivation proposed in the new framework influence grammatical (i.e. systemic) rules of language. The third chapter provided an example of duplication and triplication of morphemes in Bantu languages which symbolize iconically some grammatical aspects of a verb. Are there any other syntactic or morphological rules affected by conceptualized similarity and conceptualized contiguity?

Another doubt concerns the degree of awareness of the motivating processes on the part of language users. By analogy, one could proposed a distinction between “compositionality” and “analyzability” of motivation (cf. Section 1.1.1.). The framework developed in this book does not rest on the assumption that the networks of motivating relationships shown in Chapter 4 are synchronically present in the minds of speakers. The minimal motivating relation which has to occur in the speaker’s linguistic system is the conventional sign-metonymic association between a phonological form and a concept. This requires nothing more than “automatically processesed...

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