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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 23. Performative Metaphor in Cultural Practices (Katherine O’Doherty Jensen)


Katherine O’Doherty Jensen

Chapter 23

Performative Metaphor in Cultural Practices

I cannot hear what you are saying – your actions speak too loud.

Chinese proverb

1. Introduction

I draw attention to a cognitive operation that has been overlooked, but nevertheless has pervasive functions in the constitution of human cultures. This operation concerns the capacity to discern and align gradient differences between entities, such that quite different entities – including affects, actions, events and material objects – are treated as analogues of each other. It mediates the performance of signifying practices and the communication of un-verbalized meanings in many spheres of everyday life.

Natural languages express and mediate discernments of categorial distinctions between one kind of entity and another. They also mediate the shared appreciation of gradient distinctions, that is to say, “more-or-less” differences – often expressed by modifiers such as very, extremely, almost, including gradable adjectives such as younger, higher, closer. Categories are of course also distinguished non-verbally. Just as a gesture can signify “good-bye”, so manners of dress can signify gender difference, while one composition of foods signifies “breakfast” and quite a different composition signifies “dinner”. Sometimes the point is made that categorial distinctions tend towards ambiguity when communicated non-verbally, compared with the relative precision of language. The point under consideration here, however, is that non-verbal communication differs from language insofar as it centrally concerns the display, expression and discernment of gradient rather than categorial distinctions. Moreover, the shared...

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