Scholarly article on topic 'Body parts in language: A cognitive semiosis of human mind'

Body parts in language: A cognitive semiosis of human mind Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

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Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — Keivan Zahedi

Abstract The aim of the present paper is two-fold: it shows how language reflects human cognitive grid universally in utilizing body parts in semiosis; and it attempts to delineate the extent of cultural differences as manifested in the linguistic variation of such semiosis. The framework adopted is the metaphoric Lakovian cognitive approach and the evidence draws on expressions in which human body parts have been used in the linguistic semiosis of Farsi and English. The examples are limited to instances of the ‘head’ area, e.g., hair and eyes. Results corroborate the researcher's hypothesis that metaphors are deeply rooted in human cognitive abilities of semiotic representations while languages as semiotic systems are limited to their cultural choices of semiotic mechanisms cognitively available to them.

Academic research paper on topic "Body parts in language: A cognitive semiosis of human mind"

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Social and Behavioral Sciences

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 32 (2012) 334 - 338

4th International Conference of Cognitive Science (ICCS 2011)

Body parts in language: A cognitive semiosis of human mind

Keivan Zahedi

Linguistics and Cognitive Science of Language, Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran

Abstract

The aim of the present paper is two-fold: it shows how language reflects human cognitive grid universally in utilizing body parts in semiosis; and it attempts to delineate the extent of cultural differences as manifested in the linguistic variation of such semiosis. The framework adopted is the metaphoric Lakovian cognitive approach and the evidence draws on expressions in which human body parts have been used in the linguistic semiosis of Farsi and English. The examples are limited to instances of the 'head' area, e.g., hair and eyes. Results corroborate the researcher's hypothesis that metaphors are deeply rooted in human cognitive abilities of semiotic representations while languages as semiotic systems are limited to their cultural choices of semiotic mechanisms cognitively available to them.

© 2011 Published by Elsevier Ltd. Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of the 4th International Conference of Cognitive Science

Keywords: Human organs; cognitive linguistics; Lakovian approach

1. Introduction

Whether we are 'selectivists' or 'constructivists,' we face an inevitable fact in the science of language: language is part and parcel of human cognitive capacity. The basis of what I prefer to call 'languaging' is a process known to linguists, semioticians and information theorists as semiosis. As defined in the dictionary of Webster, semiosis is 'a process in which something functions as a sign to an organism,' and in our situation, the organism is the human being.

In my own terms then, languaging is the process of cognitive semiosis. This paper intends to look at this process based on a specific type of data: body parts. I contend that body parts in all languages constitute an inseparable aspect of human cognitive semoisis. As such, what I choose to call 'anthropocentricism' is a basic element of cognitive processing of language. The framework of such an inquiry into languaging is cognitive linguistics in general, and Lakoff's 'conceptual metaphors' in particular. It will be argued that one of the foundations of linguistic semiosis is the human cognitive capacity of metaphoric conceptualization of anthropocentrism. Langacker (2002) mentions the Gordian knot of linguistics to be how to reconcile linguistic universalism with linguistic variation and diversity. In his own words:

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +98-09123588705; fax:+0-000-000-0000 E-mail address: kzahedi@sbu.ac.ir

1877-0428 © 2011 Published by Elsevier Ltd. Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of the 4th International Conference of Cognitive Science doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.01.049

Among the fascinations of natural language is its amenability to being characterized by two apparently contradictory statements: (i) that all languages are basically alike; and (ii) that languages may be fundamentally different from one another and can vary without essential limit. Linguistic theorists face the challenge of accommodating the observations and insights that support these opposing positions. Ideally, an overall account of language structure should specify both the nature of its universality and the extent of its diversity, as well as the source of each (p. 138).

Although this paper does not aim to unknot this complication, it will address the issue by offering evidence and arguments in favour of the possibility for a 'dénouement' using how human beings cognize the world through and by means of their own physique. Similar attempts were earlier made by Zahedi (2009a) and Zahedi and Shams (2009b) using an argumentative approach and using data on family—kinship terms in particular—respectively. The following falls within the same pursuit using evidence from human external bodily organs.

2. Background

Works on conceptual metaphors proliferated since Lakoff and Johnson's (1980) theorising about how language operates cognitively. As they note:

metaphor pervades our normal conceptual system. Because so many of the concepts that are important to us are either abstract or not clearly delineated in our experience (the emotions, ideas, time, etc.), we need to get a grasp on them by means of other concepts that we understand in clearer terms... (p. 115).

However, works on body parts within the metaphoric basis of language have just recently attracted the attention of cognitive linguists in a systematic fashion and are apparently on the rise both in terms of quality and quantity. One way or another, all such works use or refer to idiomatic expressions in languages. This reference by itself indicates how body parts act metaphorically. However, languages use body parts differently in their cognizing the world. This difference can be argued to arise from the cultural differences which shape the world views of different peoples.

Reviewing such 'embodiment' approaches to the cognitive apparatus of metaphor, one comes across Gibbs, Costa Lima and Francozo (2004), in which metaphoric expression arise from people's normal and ordinary experiences of their bodies in action, and this serves as the source domain in conceptual metaphors (e.g., "I hunger for your sleek laugh" Gibbs et al., 2004). Kovecses (2002) had also mentioned that '[a]ccording to the cognitive approach, both metaphorical language and thought rise from the basic bodily (sensori-motor) experience of human beings, and it is a key instrument in organizing human thought.' (preface).

Langacker (1999, p. 208) argues that the ability to conceive one situation is dependent on the background provided by another situation. In our case then, the background is the set of body parts, what is known in Lakovian approach as the 'source domain' for the targeted domains of intended meanings. Other works also suggest that the domain of body parts is pivotal in metahporising bodily experiences (Goossens, 1990; Sweetser, 1990). Heine (1997, p. 40) emphasizes that one of the most important models for expressing concepts is the human body. Nunez and Freeman (1999) also indicate that the primacy of bodily orientation and real-time bodily action was shown to be 'at the very core of the cognitive mechanisms that make the concept of time flow possible' (p. 58)

So far for some works pointing to the universal aspect of cognitive metaphorising. Nevertheless, there are articles aiming at body parts in metaphor construction in terms of how different languages attempt to convey certain ideas through the metaphorical mapping of body parts. Seeger's (1975) research on Suya Indians from Brazil is an interestingly case since it antedates the seminal work of Lakoff and Johnson (1999). "When the Suya have learned something - even something visual such as a weaving pattern - they say, 'it is in my ear' (Seeger,1975, p. 214). Devereux (2003) in a related example shows how Sedang Moi from Indochina use the 'ear' as the source domain for the targeted concept of 'the seat of reason'. They use expressions like tlek 'deaf' and oh ta ay tue(n) 'has no ear' to signify lack of intelligence. One can also refer to Mberi's (2003) and Yu (2004) for works on other languages, e.g., Shona (a Bantu language spoken in Zimbabwe) and Chinese. Later works obviously focus on how languages diversify conceptual targets through human organs.

3. Method

This paper aims to serve as an initial report on a comprehensive quantitative research on the Farsi (i.e., Modern Persian) data collected from Persian dictionaries supplemented by a questionnaire related specifically on how human organs function metaphorically in languaging.

Therefore, the method for presenting the results in this paper is qualitative, rather than quantitative, in nature utilising descriptive analysis. It uses theoretical constructs of 'source' (concrete) vs. 'target' (abstract) domains of the Lakovian approach to cognitive linguistics. It reports instances of body parts limited to the 'head area' and further provides relevant counterparts in the English language.

4. Data Analysis

All languages make use of metaphors of the bodily terms. However, their linguistic renderings are NOT (necessarily) always the same across languages. In an initial look at the data gathered from Farsi followed by a primary comparison with the possible English counterparts, four different linguistic categories emerge:

4.1. Category 1: Absence vs. Presence

A linguistic expression is used in Farsi but not in English, or vice versa. For example, "pi/ ani" in Persian which literally means "forehead" in English and metaphorically signifies luck or recognition. Also, English 'I let my hair down,' which metaphorically signifies behaving informally/to relax, has no Farsi equivalent

Table 1. Example of a body part metaphor present in Farsi but absent in English

English

Linguistic analysis: in English, no metaphorical expression related to forehead are used; however, in Persian, since the forehead is at the top of the face, it is used to show different concepts such as luck and recognition.

pijani-œj sefid-e. forehead-his/her white 'He/she has a white forehead'. Source domain: Forehead Target domain: To show someone being very famous and easily recognized

ùJih ^ I ^JLJJJJ.

pijani-œj bolœnd-e. forehead-his/her long. 'She/he has a long forehead'. Source domain: Forehead

Table 2. Example of a body part metaphor absent in Farsi but present in English

English Farsi

I let my hair down. ?

Source domain: Hair Target domain: Behave informally/Relax Linguistic analysis: There is no Persian equivalent for this

phrase._

4.2. Category 2: Similarity

A linguistic expression is used in both languages. However, the linguistic apparatus varies in terms of their syntax or lexical items (different lexical items used/semantic equivalent).

Table 3. Example of similar body part metaphors in Farsi and English

English

i'AJL -LL ¡^JJ iJJJZ-

tJe d3uri ruJ Jod ke bege?

how face have to say

'How did he have the face to say it'.

Source domain: Face

Target domain: The ability to speak freely without thinking about the consequences.

How did he have the face to say it?

Source domain: Face

Target domain: The ability to speak freely without thinking about the consequences. Linguistic analysis: The source domain in both languages are identical

4.3. Category 3: Identicality

A linguistic expression is used in both languages and serves an almost semantically and syntactically equivalent purpose. For example, the use of the phrase 'face to face' is the same in both languages.

Table 4. Example of an identical body part metaphor in Farsi and English

English

We need to discuss the matter face to face.

Source domain: Face/face Target domain: To speak in person Linguistic analysis: The source domain in both languages is identical

m-j '' ■ ^ J iJji AJ g^/y fjb L J^J J^J AJIJ La

ma bay^d ru d^r ru ba h^m sohb^t konim.

we have to face to face together about this problem speak-us

'We have to talk about this problem face to face'.

Source domain: Face/face

5. Conclusion

The main focus of this study was to illustrate how the relationship between human physique and human cognition is manifested through the vehicle of metaphorical expressions. Furthermore, it aimed to show how human cognition and the use of various body parts are modified by cultural factors. Although the paper is based on a quantitative research conducted on the relevant Farsi and English corpora, it presently serves the purpose of reporting the preliminary results. In such capacity, it attempts to approach finding a solution for the linguistic Gordian knot, according to Langacker: reconciling linguistic universalism and language variation and diversity; hence, the relationship among culture, cognition and language - using body parts as the apparatus.

Results indicated that (i) bodily experience is re-experienced via constrained semiotic superimposition known as metaphorising; (ii) cognitively, metaphors of the body parts are linguistically pervasive and shared, one way or another, by languages, so there is a basically universal cognitive framework for humanising the external world through semiosis; and, (iii) the cognitive pool may be sliced/externalised differently by different languages

References

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Heine, B. (1997). Cognitive foundations of grammar. New York: Oxford University Press. Kovesces, Z. (2002). Metaphor: A practical introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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