Studies in Variation, Contacts and Change in English
Volume 3

Approaches to Language and Cognition

Edited by Heli Tissari
Research Unit for Variation, Contacts and Change in English (VARIENG), University of Helsinki

Publication date: 2009


Brattico, Pauli
On the semantic interpretation of complex causatives in Finnish: An experimental morphology approach

It is well documented that in some languages, such as in Finnish, it is possible to stack derivational morphemes iteratively to word stems. However, such complex words are seldom used in real communication, and it is unclear whether they are interpreted compositionally in tandem with their morphological structure. Here I studied the matter by eliciting semantic interpretations from ten native speakers of Finnish for words whose complexity and morphemic content were systematically varied. The results show that although the frequency of semantic interpretation decreases linearly as a function of the number of morphemes in a word (contrary to the case of ungrammatical words where the semantic interpretation is lacking), when the participants provided semantic analyses of complex words, these analyses were compositional or nearly compositional. Even three iteratively stacked causative morphemes were analyzed as a true triple causative, i.e., 'when some person makes another person to get a third person to eliminate that person'. I conclude that while speakers possess accurate linguistic knowledge of the semantic properties of iteratively formed words, some linguistic or extra-linguistic factors make the extraction of such meanings difficult. Some possible reasons for the existence of such limitations are discussed. Furthermore, I discuss the relevance of these findings to the theory of word formation and suggest that in addition to strict rules, word formation is subject to graded, soft constraints.

Keywords: causatives; double causatives; triple causatives; Finnish; word formation; complexity; linguistic complexity; complexity effect; indirect causation; morphology

Campbell, Tom
Modularity and localisation of the neural systems of speech, gesture and cognition

By way of introduction to this section of the volume, to understand Fodorian modularity, the brain, by analogy, can be compared to a stack-up hi-fi system, within which each modular component serves a different function. In this volume, Petri Ylikoski comments upon how mental processes may be decomposable into such functionally separate modules, though also argues such modules are not necessarily localisable.

Evidence from auditory investigations of non-human and human primate brains is supportive of neurally distinct processing of 1) where an auditory onset comes from and 2) what that sound is. However, an auxiliary assumption appears unavoidable: a diffuse process, which cannot be localised, subsequently integrates what and where information within the brain. In this volume, Natalya Sukhova extends these concepts of what and where streams in a manner which can be related to the processing of both speech and gesture within the brain.

Further, neuroimaging evidence also indicates that during the perception of speech sound, a functionally distinct anatomically localisable system is activated, which determines how sound is processed. Whilst the what system is arguably activated by all sounds, this how system is activated only when the brain has learned to perceive that sound as speech. This how stream implicates the left posterior superior temporal sulcus and projects to frontal areas classically involved in language production, in a manner that can be related to a speech module. In the hi-fi analogy, for a record on the what system to play as speech rather than non-speech, the amplifier of the how system needs to be on.

Esenova, Orazgozel
Anger metaphors in the English language

This paper is written within the framework of cognitive semantics and examines a group of anger metaphors which have largely been ignored by cognitive linguists. These metaphors map the source domains of animal, container, plant and child onto the target domain of anger. The metaphorical expressions analyzed in this study have been taken from various dictionaries, the BNC and the Internet. The data elicited from dictionaries and the BNC have been collected by using the source-domain-oriented approach. Initially, a group of lexical items related to the above source domains are selected. The dictionary and corpus entries for these items are then investigated. Next, metaphorical anger expressions containing the search items are retrieved and clustered under their conceptual metaphors.

The source-domain-oriented method works well when applied to corpus and dictionary data. However, it works less well when applied to linguistic data on the Internet. When the Internet is searched for a particular source domain word or expression, the search engine may give many irrelevant hits. Usually, the problem is remedied by adding more keywords to the existing query. However, to do this it is necessary to know which words and expressions are more likely to co-occur with the lexical item under examination. An analogy-based method of predicting possible collocational patterns of the source domain vocabulary has been developed and applied so as to circumvent this problem. The Internet was searched for the predicted collocations and the metaphorical anger expressions associated with them were retrieved and analyzed under their conceptual metaphors. The study shows that the word collocations elicited by this method allow relevant linguistic metaphors to be found on the Internet without difficulty.

Kay, Christian
The Historical Thesaurus of English: Past, present and future

This paper will celebrate the fact that the Historical Thesaurus of English has at last been completed after over 40 years of hard lexicographical labour. It will begin by briefly describing the principles, methodology and aspirations of the project, with particular reference to developments in theoretical semantics, especially the cognitive paradigm, and to the use of technology. At the micro-level, links between sections of a lexical thesaurus can reveal cognitive pathways in the development of recurrent metaphors. At the macro-level, a thesaurus structure reveals a collective world-view, modified by factors such as time, dialect, and the idiolect of its compilers. The paper will then mention the kinds of research already done by people from many parts of the world using sections of data as they were completed. It will conclude by attempting to evaluate the potential of the project for future work, including plans to link it to the database of the electronic Oxford English Dictionary and to text corpora, identifying variable spelling as a key problem that variationist linguistics has yet to resolve.

Leinonen, Alina & Christina M. Krause
Words in brains

In this paper we review central methods in psycholinguistic research and discuss recent neurocognitive research in which language processing using Finnish has been studied. We further introduce different psycholinguistic research methods. Thereafter we discuss cortical correlates of language processing by introducing some main research results on event-related potentials. The use of neuroimaging methods with a high temporal resolution (such as EEG) with various experimental paradigms and analysis methods has proven useful in understanding the processing of language. Yet we still do not understand completely the nature of language related effects and what underlying neural mechanisms they manifest.

Sukhova, Natalya V.
Cognitive interaction of verbal and nonverbal signs (prosodio-kinetic complexes)

This article investigates verbal / nonverbal interaction from a cognitive point of view. There is a certain zone of that interaction that can be considered within a cognitive framework. The cognitive approach deals with the process of the production and perception of verbal and nonverbal signs. The process starts from general intention, proceeds to the meaning of a future utterance, and then employs forms of mental representation (verbal and nonverbal) that emerge as concrete means of expression (words and gestural movements) within a communicative act. Thus, the physiological, psychological and cognitive mechanisms of speech production and perception are analyzed with a special emphasis on the gestural aspect. These mechanisms operate on four large functional planes (orientation, utterance forming, realisation, control). Thus, the verbal / nonverbal interrelation starts when the aim of a future utterance is being established, when one meaningful cognitive entity is formed. The programming stage then follows: meaning is embodied into a gesture-speech utterance; moreover, sometimes a gestural phrase surpasses the verbal one already in the zone of symbolic representation. The motor programming stage is characterised by the formation of a common meaning, packing it into verbal and gestural formats, that emerge as speech signals and gestural movements. Then the realised utterance is corrected in accordance with the initial model if necessary. This article presents a detailed and parallel investigation of all cognitive processes going on at the production / perception stage, with both gestural and phonetic elements of prosodio-kinetic complexes.

Tissari, Heli
Soul-searching in Shakespeare

This article is based on the idea that the concept of soul concerns several key issues in human life: the source of life, cognition and emotion, personality characteristics, social relationships, and human destiny. It suggests that blending theory is a good tool for pointing out relationships between the concept of soul and other clusters of related concepts. The article begins by sketching some of the ideas that Shakespeare’s concept of soul has in common with another text, just to emphasise how fascinating a concept soul is, and how much potential it has for cognitive linguistic research. Shakespeare’s Works provide an interesting window to the human soul, whether one believes in its literal existence or not. The article then proceeds to briefly discuss blending theory and to look at the senses of the noun soul in three dictionaries, the Oxford English Dictionary, the Middle English Dictionary, and Onions’s A Shakespeare Glossary. Having introduced the main ingredients of the meaning of the noun soul, this article discusses the concept of soul with selected examples from Shakespeare’s Works, excluding much of Shakespeare’s contemporary theology in order to focus on some of the most abstract and potentially most universal characteristics of the concept. The following section on Shakespeare’s contemporary psychology nevertheless anchors Shakespeare’s usage of the noun soul to some features of Early Modern European thought. Finally, the article closes with a discussion of the relevance of this study to cognitive linguistics and the study of the concept of mind.

Tuominen, Miira
Problems with 'consciousness'

English technical terms in science and philosophy often are of classical origin - 'science' and 'philosophy' are examples of such terms themselves. This means that a translator typically has an English equivalent for Greek and Latin technical terms easily available. However, such translations become problematic when terms remain but meanings change. This applies to the term 'consciousness'.

One central reason why 'consciousness' as a translation of any classical Greek term is potentially misleading is that it is a loaded term in today's philosophy of mind. A central problem in this context is the so-called 'hard problem of consciousness'. The core of the problem is that human consciousness has an inner quality that cannot be explained away by objective descriptions of brain processes. If 'consciousness' is used as a translation of Greek sunaisthêsis or suneidêsis, this implies a connection with modern discussions such as the one concerning the hard problem of consciousness. However, it is a difficult question whether the hard problem of consciousness was or even could have been formulated in the ancient philosophical context. These questions cannot be settled on the level of terminology; context and arguments where the terms appear must be considered as well.

Vogel, Anna
A cognitive approach to opposites: The case of Swedish levande 'alive' and död 'dead'

In the present paper, opposites are examined and discussed, and a way of describing them from a cognitive perspective is suggested. Related research disagrees upon whether opposites are symmetrical, and whether concepts should be integrated in the relation of opposites. The Swedish opposites levande 'alive' and död 'dead' have been studied thoroughly in order to provide empirical data. Arguments are presented in favour of an analysis in which opposites show semantic symmetry to some extent. When it comes to distribution and domains, however, opposites do not show symmetry. Further, it is argued that concepts should be included in the relation of opposites. The asymmetries found are related to markedness, information value, Aktionsart and the prototype of the word connected to referent of the subject/NP that one of the opposites describes.

Wildgen, Wolfgang
The "dynamic turn" in cognitive linguistics

The introductory sections of this paper ask the following basic questions about the proper goals of linguistic theory: Why did linguistic structuralism fail as an explanatory endeavour? Why is the understanding of the dynamics of language a primordial goal of linguistic theory? In order to give an explanation of the notion "dynamics" basic notions of dynamic systems theory are introduced informally. Following these questions the paper considers major proposals by Talmy, Lakoff and Langacker and asks how they account for the dynamic aspects of causing/enabling (Talmy's force dynamics), for iterated metaphorical mapping (Lakoff) and for syntactic composition ("construal" in Langacker's terminology). The ad-hoc pictorial models proposed by these authors are compared to mathematically controlled models in dynamic semantics (based on catastrophe, bifurcation and chaos theory). Shortcomings and advantages of the informal and pictorial versus the mathematical description are discussed. The dynamics of phrasal and sentential composition is currently one of the central topics of neurodynamic models based on ERP and fMRI brain scanning. This perspective must be further developed in order to specify the possibilities of future dynamic semantics of natural languages.

Ylikoski, Petri
The heuristic of decomposition and localization

Localization has an important, but often misunderstood, role in brain research. Based on an account given by William Bechtel and Robert Richardson, this paper presents how localization and decomposition serve as research heuristics in biological research. The aim is to give a mechanical explanation for the behavior of a biological system in terms of the functions performed by its parts and their interaction. The research can proceed either in a bottom-up or top-down direction, but in either case it assumes that the system under study is nearly decomposable: the causal interactions within subsystems are more important in determining component properties than the causal interaction between subsystems. Decomposition allows subdivision of the explanatory task so that it becomes manageable and the system intelligible. As in all heuristic assumptions, this assumption can also be wrong. However, it has an integral role in the research strategy that has served biological research well until now. Furthermore, this research strategy involves much more than just making hypotheses about the localization of brain functions. In fact, the often ridiculed direct localizations - à la phrenology - are not representative of this research strategy: a failure of direct localization is more informative than its success from the point of view of mechanistic explanation.


BNC = The British National Corpus, version 3 (BNC XML Edition). 2007. Distributed by Oxford University Computing Services on behalf of the BNC Consortium.

Historical Thesaurus of English homepage,

Historical Thesaurus of English web version,


Bechtel, William & Robert C. Richardson. 1993. Discovering Complexity. Decomposition and Localization as Strategies in Scientific Research. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Middle English Dictionary, the. 2001. Michigan: Department of English, University of Michigan. (accessed 11 July 2009)

Onions, C.T. 1986 (1911). A Shakespeare Glossary. (Enlarged and revised by Robert D. Eagleson.) Oxford: Clarendon.

The Oxford English Dictionary. 1884-1933, ed. by Sir James A.H. Murray, Henry Bradley, Sir William A. Craigie & Charles T. Onions; Supplement, 1972-1986, ed. by Robert W. Burchfield; 2nd edn, 1989, ed. by John A. Simpson & Edmund S.C. Weiner; Additions Series, 1993-1997, ed. by John A. Simpson, Edmund S.C. Weiner & Michael Proffitt; 3rd edn (in progress) OED Online, March 2000-, ed. by John A. Simpson. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wells, Stanley & Gary Taylor, eds. 1989. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Electronic edition for the IBM PC. Oxford: Oxford University Press.