Linguistics Assignment Sample on Cognitive Approaches to Discourse Analysis

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Linguistics Assignment Question

Analyze The New York Times Article ‘Slowly, Cancer Genes Tender Their Secrets’ using the theory of Conceptual Blending.

(Find this New York Times Article here)

Linguistics Assignment Solution on Cognitive Approaches to Discourse Analysis


Humans, unlike other living species, have an unprecedented capability to create multi-layered, complex and meaningful representations of events. An analysis of these representations, which are intrinsically structured and connected through language in context, gives us a detailed perspective of the social constructs. To quote (Evans 2007), cognitive semantics is concerned with investigating the relationship between experience, the conceptual system and the semantic structure encoded by the language.

Perception, memory, reasoning and attention are some of the aspects that go into analyzing the language via the psychological approach. Centered on this perspective are two more approaches viz, conceptual concerns and systematic conceptual structuring (Neely 1991). The conceptual concerns include association of concepts, semantic memory, contextual information, categorical structures, generation of inference, etc. And systematic conceptual structuring includes the global integrated system of organized structures that helps language to fit into various patterns (Leonard 2007)

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About Conceptual Blending Theory

Argued to be a fundamental cognitive operation, Conceptual blending is central to general properties of human thought and imagination (Evans 2006)(Fauconnier 2000), through this theory, show how different elements and relations are constructed by combining two frames that have a common abstract structure. The concepts central to Conceptual Blending Theory (CBT) are mental spaces, frames and mappings. Mental spaces are the fragmentary associations formed while thinking or talking, for the purpose of local understanding and action. Structured by frames and cognitive models, they are connected to long-term schematic knowledge (Fauconnier 1985). Frames are the hierarchically structured attributes that can either be integrated with perceptual information or be used to activate generic knowledge about people and objects assumed by default (Coulson 2005). Finally, mappings are the abstract association links between various units/elements and relations. (Fauconnier 1997) classifies mapping into three types: a) projection mappings, where the relation is between structure of different domains, that is, a source and a target, b) pragmatic function mappings, which links the two units that have a shared frame experience and c) schema mappings, where frames are projected onto specific utterances. Mapping relations are always context-bound. In conceptual blending theory, input mental spaces are the cognitive constructs, instead of source and target domains. A blended mental space arises from mappings between entities in the two spaces, and the blended space can (and often does) include entities and relationships from one or both spaces. Conceptual Blending theory, thus, models the dynamic meaning-construction by drawing upon the Mental Space Theory.

Central to the theory of Conceptual Blending is the idea of ‘vital relations’ or the relationship between input spaces. Time, space, cause-effect, identity, representation, etc. are few such parameters. A famous example from (Fauconnier 2002) is that of cold ashes in a fireplace. CBT allows us to interpret cold ashes as the residuum of a past fire. Here, by employing vital relations, we are able to link the two input spaces of cold ashes and a past fire. Both fire and ash are present in the same space, but are divided across time domain. Ashes also imply that there were logs burning and it’s the fire, which caused the transformation. Hence, by using the parameters of time, space, change and cause-effect, (Fauconnier 2002) effectively demonstrate how two different spaces are connected through vital relations.

A four- space model is used in Blending Theory model. These spaces include two ‘input’ spaces (which, in a metaphorical case, are associated with the source and target of CMT), plus a ‘generic’ space, representing the conceptual structure that is shared by both inputs, and the ‘blend’ space, where material from the inputs combines and interacts (Joseph 1999)

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Analysis of the given text

In the given article “Slowly, Cancer Genes Tender Their Secrets”, from New York Times, following words and phrases are apt for discourse analysis because of their semantic values. The words/phrases are:
• Molecular razor treatment as a first fruit of a new understanding
• Cancer as an element of bad luck
• Superpower, cells acquire it because of genetics
• Mutations in the cancer equivalent to a bomb drop
• Cancer as a total black box
All the words listed above carry a unique meaning, but still can be mapped to the idea central to the article. CBT allows us to access these two separate frames and see how they interact together to give metaphorical meaning to the target thoughts.

To begin with the analysis, let’s start with the first metaphor:

(1) Molecular razor treatment as a first fruit of a new understanding

Here, the metaphor is intended as a positive reference to the molecular razor treatment for cancer. We have two domains, treatment and fruit, with direct projection from source to target. These two domains are further mapped into several different relations: ‘fruit’ maps into ‘molecular treatment’; ‘tree’ maps into ‘other attempted treatments’; ‘roots’ maps into ‘research on cancer’, and so on. What’s crucial to this mapping is the idea that ‘molecular razor treatment’ is the first step forward in the direction of research that has been done to cure cancer. The molecular treatment is the ‘first fruit’. Usually considered the first agricultural product of the harvest, ‘first fruits’ bring with it the ‘hope’ of an optimistic future: that things from now on will go well. This sentiment is holistically captured through the model of Conceptual Blend…

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(2) Cancer as an element of bad luck

The above metaphor gives us a vibe that cancer is the bad luck. Bad luck is that purposeless, unpredictable and uncontrollable force that shapes future events. It is beyond our control. It can be a mere unlucky coincidence. All these concepts blend well with the idea of cancer in medical worlds. Considered one of the deadliest diseases, it is the most feared illness a human can get. And the majority of the time, it’s beyond our control. One of the main causes of cancer is considered to be the genetics of a person. And as human beings, we do not have any control over our genetic makeup. It is predisposed since our birth. We cannot do much to trigger its onset. All these ideas are synonymous with bad luck. By using CBT again, these can be represented in a clear fashion…

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(3) superpower, cells acquire it because of genetics

Here, the metaphor implies that the cells get a superpower because of genetics. Superpower means the ability of extraordinary. It can range from minimal exaggeration to maximum. Though superpower is a term that’s used with a positive inference, in the present context, it is not the case. When cells get a superpower, they reproduce excessively and mutate. And this doesn’t have a positive consequence as it results in cancer and gradually, death. Then the question arises, how do we capture and correspond something that has generally a positive meaning to something, which smells of anything but hope and optimism? Conceptual Blending again wins here…

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(4) mutations in the cancer equivalent to a bomb drop

Ina normal/healthy body, cells grow and reproduce. This reproduction happens in a controlled and orderly manner. But sometimes, the genes in the cells cause a disturbance to the process. They result in mutation, which means that the gene is now getting copied twice the number it was supposed to. This results in chaos. The cell doesn’t know how to cope up with this. With conceptual blending, we can equate the same idea to dropping off a bomb. When a bomb is dropped, there’s no escape. It leads to disturbance in the natural system, just like what mutation does to cells. We can represent both in different spaces and blend them together in a new third frame. With CBT, we are using the parameter of vital relation to combine two things which are happening in different frames but have the same implication…

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Strengths and Weakness of the Conceptual Blending theory when applied

Conceptual Blending Theory gives us a lot of freedom when doing a cognitive analysis. Unlike other theories like Conceptual Metaphor Theory or Force dynamics, it enables us to capture the dynamism of each individual case and evaluate it on its own merits. Instead of source-target domains, cognitive constructs are the input mental spaces in the theory of Conceptual Blending. The blended frame arises from the correspondence between entities in the two spaces and the blended space often includes attributes and relationships from one or both the frames. Unlike Concept Metaphor theory, another very popular approach in Cognitive Linguistics, which largely deals with structurally stable and those that correspond to a long time domain, Blending theory, enables to locally map between various constructs and these mappings do not need to extend to the entire conceptual domain. They can be short lived. Hence, as given in this text, as we do not have metaphors that form a part of our everyday lexicon and which need a sweeping generalization, Conceptual Blending model allows a greater flexibility and perspective to our current interest.

(Fauconnier 2002), in their work on Conceptual Blending Theory observe major characteristics of vital relations (mental spaces) and put forward various forces involving the vital relations that are responsible for blends. These vital relations are the constitutive and governing principles. These proposed various researchers have adopted characteristics and principles. For example, (Bache 2005); (Hougaard 2005), drew on these proposed lines. This also provides new tools and practices for creating novel descriptions of cognitive processes, which opens an avenue for useful insights.

The theory of Conceptual Blending is derived from the Mental Space theory, again proposed by (Fauconnier 1997), which considers the metaphor as an exclusive case of indirect reference. As illustrated in my analysis above, metaphoric conceptualizations draw on selective projection from one or two or more input spaces. These inputs are then represented in a blended space. This is done through establishing mapping across spaces, using the processes of composition, completion and elaboration and subsequent projection from the structure of blended spaces to the inputs.

With the treatment of association as inherently identical at specific levels, we can equate the transfer of attributes in metaphoric structure to that of a non-metaphoric one. The non-metaphoric kinds that can be treated in the same blending framework as that of metaphor are conditionals and counterfactuals. (Fauconnier 1997) and (Turner 1996), among other researchers working on the theory of Conceptual Blending framework have attempted to address the consequences of the reasoning behind the events that could occur but somehow did not.

Various tools in Blending theory like similarity, analogy links, cline between identities has been very, very useful for illustrating the various complex concept combinations resulted by modifying noun phrases. Take for example, (Fauconnier 1998), 1998’s case of ‘red pencil’, where they use the theory of Conceptual Blending to explore issues of concept combination. More cases include “land yacht” and “dolphin-safe tuna” by (Fauconnier 1998) again. (Coulson 1999), also provide us with similar constructions like “alleged affair” and “fake gun”, etc…

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Conceptual Blending Theory is avant-garde in the framework of Cognitive Analysis. It allows us to take a unified view of phenomena that would have otherwise been considered quite disparate and frames the relations between conceptual and material structures in ways that make it possible to answer some of the questions posed above (Joseph 1999). The idea behind the Conceptual Blending theory is that the different elements in a metaphor or other semantic constructions are combined and illustrated to form a coherent blend with a new emergent meaning. It employs the concept of vital relations and other governing principles to review the integration of various inputs into the network. This is because only certain blends that fulfill the criteria according to these principles are acceptable.
Vital relations restrict the number of available slots in the frames and allow for only those that are eligible for an efficient compression (Dzanic 2007)

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In this paper, I have attempted an analysis of some of the metaphors listed in a research article on Cancer. The source of the text is a newspaper research article published by New York Times. CBT allowed me to analyze this using three basic processes- a) ‘composition’ that allowed me to project traits of each input into a new blended space, b) ‘completion’, which dealt with filling out a pattern in the blend by introducing the individual features demanded by the semantics and c) ‘elaboration’ that is the simulated mental performance of the event in the blend, which we may continue indefinitely.


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