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Meaning, Mind and Communication

Explorations in Cognitive Semiotics

Edited By Jordan Zlatev, Göran Sonesson and Piotr Konderak

This volume constitutes the first anthology of texts in cognitive semiotics – the new transdisciplinary study of meaning, mind and communication that combines concepts and methods from semiotics, cognitive science and linguistics – from a multitude of established and younger scholars. The chapters deal with the interaction between language and other semiotic resources, the role of consciousness and concepts, the nature of metaphor, the specificity of human evolution and development, the relation between cognitive semiotics and related fields, and other central topics. They are grouped in four sections: (i) Meta-theoretical perspectives, (ii) Semiotic development and evolution, (iii) Meaning across media, modes and modalities, (iv) Language, blends and metaphors.

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Chapter 19. Deonstemic Modals in Legal Discourse: The Cognitive Semiotics of Layered Actions (Todd Oakley)


Todd Oakley

Chapter 19

Deonstemic Modals in Legal Discourse: The Cognitive Semiotics of Layered Actions

1. Cognitive semiotics and institutional discourse

Many approaches within cognitive semiotics presume that linguistic meaning is constituted by human interaction and intersubjectivity (e.g. Zlatev, Racine, Sinha and Itkonen 2008); therefore, models of language cannot be theorized absent some non-trivial usage-based account of linguistic structure, which arises from the social agency of participants as they cope with their elaborate symbolic milieus.

If cognitive semiotics names a paradigmatic shift in the cognitive sciences toward language as one of many semiotic modes of fluent coping, and if part of our coping is decidedly related to institutions and their operations, then attention needs to be paid to language as an institutional phenomenon. Much of human meaning making in the West takes place in and among written documents, many of which play a determining role in the construction of social reality (cf. Searle 1995).

On this occasion I seek to look at institutional language through the lens of modality, a pervasive feature of grammars and lexicons for expressing the speaker’s subjectivity in relation to events, actions, and states, especially as they pertain to other subjectivities. Standard linguistic studies of modality proceed as if it is simply a type of linguistic category and then investigate such forms and their syntactic distributions within and across clausal boundaries. Traditional linguistic methods have produced useful insights and generalizations upon which the present...

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