Out of the Box Conference on Innovative Ways to Improve the Culture of Living Maribor, Slovenia 15-17 May, 2012 University Main Building, Slomškov trg. 15, Velika DvoranaThe Lure of the Medium in Creating Social Reality: Discourse as Social Cognition LÁSZLÓ IMRE KOMLÓSI University of Pécs, Hungary Constantine the Philosopher University, Nitra, Slovakia
Medium as the verbal fabric of thoughts, narratives or discourseNOT the media as printed or televized sources of public information
Cognition is a new term for an old phenomenon: trying to understand the worldand adaptively contribute to the survival of humankind.Understanding the world involves understanding both inner and outer worlds.Cognition is a learning process through experience and education.Cognition involves perception + observation + conception + conceptualization+ individual conceptualization (stored in the mental lexicon of each speaker)+ collective conceptualization (stored in cultural parameters, norms, culturalnarratives)
The thesis of my talk is fairly straightforward:there is a growing tension betweenpossessing language as an abstract system of signs as a biologicalendowment in the form of a mental organ, the workings of which isprovided for the use of each individual member of a speech community,and use of language, i.e.verbal interaction in the form of discourse and narrative as a socialpractice based on intentionality, intended understanding, communicativeconsensus, etc.
I am claiming that the causes for the obvious changes in our attitudesto the verbal mediumare to be sought in the changing nature of social reality.More precisely,there are changing frames of reference for interpersonal meaningcreation which have epistemic and ontological explanations in the statusof context as a benchmark in mental creation.
Let us take a brief look at what we can do with language(i.e. with the help of language) andwhat we can do to language(i.e. to twist language, to exploit language, to manipulate language, etc,)I am claiming here that 20th century was obsessed by looking at humanlanguage as a potential instrument to encode information.Since the cognitive turn we have been looking at language as themanifestation of the way we think as a result of complex mentalprocesses used for cognition with general-purpose cognitive skills andspecial-purpose cognitive skills, language being one of the special-purpose faculties.
„20th century was conceived in sin (Sinn)”Gottlob Frege „Über Sinn und Bedeutung” (1882)What and how do linguistic expressions denote?Sense and Reference – intension and extensionBertrand Russell „On Denoting” (1905)Wittgenstein, Husserl, Carnap, Strawson, Austin, Montague, Kripke,Davidson, Dennett, Grice, Searle, etc., etc.analytic language philosophyordinary language philosophyphenomenologygestalt psychology
Paradigm shifts:A. exploring the boundaries of language as an instrumentB. exploring the conditions under which linguistic expressions uttered inverbal interaction will obtain their intended meanings sentence meaning – utterance meaning – speaker meaningC. exploring the changing epistemic and ontological status of contextsand the parameters of context-creation with the help of linguisticexpressions as prompts for constructed meanings „Contexts are mental” (Sperber and Wilson 1986)
What do we do with the help of language?Mental process in syntactic parsing and utterance interpretation Everyone in this room speaks two languages.non-trivial ambiguitiesstructure processingquantification: scope ambiguitymatching conceptual structures – relevant context creation
What do we do with the help of language?Possible worlds – counterfactual worlds If I had known that my grandchildren would be so much fun, I would have had them first. If I were dead, I would be the last to know. (Mark Twain)possible and impossible worldsblended mental spaces – temporary mental contexts
Underlying – universal – conceptual metaphorsLife is a bumpy roadLove is a journey (cf. Lakoff, Kövecses, Turner)Reflectivity of the human mindPhilosophy provides reflections on human knowledge,everyday practice provides (relevant) responses to changing contexts.Therefore, human beings are sensitive to contexts.culture: conventional conceptual structures are „inherited”culture: restrictive - socialization!
Education: formal and informalSocialization: primary and secondary socializationNatural languageLanguage is a formal system of signs with aLexicon + Rules of ConstructionLinguistic contexts: language-specific featuresLexicon= language-specific features + extra-linguistic features(mental images, cognitive models, entrenched conceptual structures)
The question should be raised:Are linguistically transmitted meanings fixed and pre-determined orare they prompts for further elaboration by context-building guided byrelevance?
Einstein:We cannot hope to solve the problems we ourselves identifyand formulate in the same mind-set in which those problemswere conceived. (paraphrase L.I. K.)M. C. Escher: Hands (source: m.c.escher google pictures)
Language and language useThe orchestra filled the concert hall with sunshine.Very quick and automatic (unconscious) processingWhat do the component expressions denote?What meanings do they have? (inherent lexical or constucted contextual)literal vs. non-literalmental imagemetaphoricalmetonymical
Ambiguity - disambiguationI like Indians without reservations.I treat other people’s money as if it were my own. (Margaret Thatcher as a banker)Conceptual – mental tools:mental domains: banking or informalassumptions, presumptions for conceptual structure of private property
Sentence meaning vs. Utterance meaning(sentence meaning – propositional meaning – utterance meaning - speaker meaning)A: Are you joining us for the study tour to Sweden in July?B: I’m looking for a summer job. I haven’t paid for my tuition fee for the next semester yet.What does the sentence say?What is its propositional content?What is the purpose of the utterance?What are the speaker intentions?We process all of these compound parameters simultaneously!We have to activate world knowledge, social knowledge, personal knowledge,and rely on presumptions, assumptions, hypotheses, inferences, etc.
Types of language-related and discourse-related knowledgeDifferent knowledge-types need to underlie or surround language and cognitiveprocesses in order to be activated in communicatively appropriate contexts:knowledge of languagelexical knowledgeencyclopedic knowledgeworld knowledgesocial knowledgekinesthetic knowledgeprocedural knowledgedeictic knowledgebackground knowledgepersonal knowledgetacit knowledgeintuitive knowledgeknowledge of frames, domains, scenes, scenarios, mental maps, cognitivemodels, mental spaces, etc.discourse knowledge
Inferences and implicaturesA: Did you sleep in this morning?B: Somewhat, yes.A: When did you get to work then?B: Sometime after 9.Default inference or implicature: around 9.10 - 9.15Invalid inference: 9.50
Generalized conversational implicature (GCI – default)Partricularized conversational implicature (PCI – local knowledge) (cf. Levinson 2000)Situation / Context 1 (normal course of events)Maggie: Coffee?James: It would keep me awake all night.Default reading: No, thanks. I would like to sleep at night.Situation / Context 2 (exam period)Maggie: Coffee?James: It would keep me awake all night.Particularized reading: Yes, please. I want to keep going with my studying allnight.
Implication can vary drastically under changing contexts: (cf. Grice 1975) You make great coffee.1. A: Do I make good coffee? B: You make great coffee.2. A: Do you think I´m a good cook? B: You make great coffee.3. B: It´s your turn to make the coffee. B: You make great coffee.
Identified speaker intention and Speech Acts (cf. Searle 1969) I’ve got a flat tire.1. Pulling up in your car to a garage. (request)2. Being addressed by a policeman while you are sitting in your car in anemergency bay on the highway. (explanation)3. Being asked if you would give somebody a ride. (refusal)
The complexities and sophistication of social cognitionDiscourse –1. text types (erudition, style, registers)2. cultural narratives (norms, clichés, memes)3. language and speech (conversation) as a medium for negotiating meanings (skills for social interaction)4. social cognition for meaning construction: individual and collective mental processes (intentionality)
The unique featuers of natural language.1. There exists an autonomous, formal (syntactic) system generating well-formed linguistic expressions2. We have a Language Acquisition Device (LAD) as part of the Language Faculty3. The Lexicon is not a storage of listed lexical items, but a rich associative system of „potentially meaningful” elements in the Mental Lexicon4. Our knowledge of language is embedded in a wide-range of cognitive skills, some of which are general purposes skills (reasoning, inferencing) and some are specific (vision, hearing, etc.)5. Context creation is a most ubiquitous and most efficient mental construction to which we match articulated meanings and intentions. A context is a frame of reference for meaning creation which functions as a shared mental domain for the purposes of social cognition.
A new look at context and contextualizationSettings shaping epistemic states and ontological com-mit-ments forcontexts:1. Situations and faithful mappings of situations2. Contextualized situations (selective mental representations of situations)3. The linguistic context (texts and discourse depicting contextualized situa-tions)4. The pragmatic contexts (constructed contexts based on users’ perspectives)5. The context of social interaction and culture (social reality, knowledge of others)6. The context of the self (figuring in individual and social cognitive situations)7. Instantiated mental contexts (situated language use)8. The context of the web-experience (cognition in virtual reality)
ConclusionsMy analyses and arguments above have aimed at pointing to theincreasing importance of secondary socialization:workplace, social environment, intercultural encounters, mobility tofacilitate life-long-learning, the world-wide-web, etc.Our new era of diverse knowledge sources and communicationtechniques is a great – maybe unprecedented challenge – to all of us inhuman communities.Reflective human cognition, enhanced with empathy (intentionality inthe Husserlian sense), solidarity, social responsibility and adaptabilitywill pave the way to appropriate responses a radically new contexts oflearning and socialization.
ConclusionsHowever, the greatest challenge seems to be the changing epistemicand ontological status of mental contexts we create for mutualunderstanding.Conventional values for authority and authentication of informationsources are not decisive any more: instead of the Habermaseancommunicative consensus (cf. social effort) individual validation choiceswill determine context building. Instead of conventional grounding,temporary consensus in the virtual worlds can create social reality.The perception of social reality is build on different ontologies: arelativization of contexts will be a guiding principle in the creation ofsocial meanings (cf. on-line and off-line states of individuals!)Social cognition has to be built on new sensitivity as the ontologicalstatus of contexts are becoming more and more elusive.