Interdisziplinäres Zentrum für Kognitive Sprachforschung

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Abstract Dobrovol'skij

Cognitive approaches to idiom analysis

Idiom analysis with the help of cognitive methods is a relatively new domain of linguistic research. Strictly speaking, cognitive idiom analysis is not a single whole. Here we are rather dealing with various heuristics used in various fields of analysis in order to achieve results which are not achievable in the scope of traditional phraseology. In general, two principal directions in using cognitive methods within the field of phraseology can be distinguished. Let us label them psychological perspective, and linguistic perspective. Cognitively based research from a psychological perspective is a predominantly empirical approach. Its main aim is to verify certain hypotheses about idiom processing in real time including special factors influencing idiom understanding (for example, the degree of familiarity of a given idiom), as well as hypotheses about mental images underlying idiom processing. This research direction is grounded in cognitive psychology rather than in cognitive linguistics. Its focus lies not on discovering linguistically important features of idioms as special units of the lexicon and not on describing their discursive behaviour, but on various problems of their mental processing. My talk exclusively concentrates on the second perspective. This linguistic perspective is regarded as an application of both cognitive and purely linguistic methods (such as semantic analysis, corpus queries, substitution tests) on phraseological data whereby the cognitive heuristics are meant to extend the explanatory potential of traditional methods. Certain specific semantic and pragmatic features of idioms as well as certain peculiarities of their syntactic behaviour remain unexplained in terms of traditional analysis and have to be taken for usage-based irregularities. But addressing the category of knowledge allows us in many of such cases to find explanations for the given linguistic properties on another level, i.e. on the level of relevant conceptual structures. The main postulate of cognitive linguistics, from which all its methods and heuristics can be derived, is the idea that there are conceptual structures standing behind the linguistic structures and that, therefore, investigation into linguistic structures has to involve addressing relevant conceptual structures. This basic assumption is what distinguishes the cognitive approach from other directions of linguistic research. Let us briefly enumerate some current tasks of cognitively oriented idiom research. Clarification of the cognitive basis of motivation phenomena; Clarification of the function of underlying mental images for idiom usage conditions; Exploration of culture-specific phenomena in idiom semantics, in particular their relations to general cognitive mechanisms and their contribution to idiom semantic motivation; Elaboration of a metalanguage which would capture linguistically relevant conceptual structures (first of all, traces of the mental imagery that influence the meaning and usage of idioms); Investigation into particular semantic categories (among them near-synonymy and polysemy) against a background of cognitive heuristics; Clarification of the interconnections between particular properties of idiom syntactic behaviour and their conceptual and semantic qualities.These problems will be discussed in some detail.