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Abstract Schulze

Radical Experientialism: Transitivity in Language and Cognition

Basic syntactic patterns, governed and structured by grammatical relations (or: relational primitives), constitute a universal property of human language. Hence the question arises to which extent these patterns can be uniformly reduced to general cognitive patters. This question can be extended to the problem whether and again to which extent cognitive processes can be ontologically reduced to those properties of cognition that link it functionally to the outer world and that shape (by recursion) cognition itself. The framework applied (Radical Experientialism) claims that any cognitive process is ultimately shaped by procedures of perception and experience. Accordingly, linguistic structures and constructions are said to mirror perceptual procedures, contorted by secondary cognitive processes (formation of experience, paradigmatization, conceptualization, metaphorization (in its broader sense), and symbolization (coupling of motoric and conceptual events), as well as by language tradition and language use (habitualization).

I want to illustrate the framework of Radical Experientialism (RadEx, turned into a Cognitive Typology from a linguistic perspective) with the help of a discussion of transitivity in language and cognition. The goal to elaborate some of the aspects mentioned above, dwelling specifically upon the question whether the typological universe of transitive and intransitive constructions can be reduced to a common cognitive procedure that reflects mechanisms of perception (gestalt/pattern recognition etc.).

First, I will summarize some basic assumptions of Radical Experientialism and Cognitive Typology. Then, I will make use of a selection of typologically relevant data to illustrate the linguistics of (in)transitivity and suggest a reduction of the different constructional types to a common linguistic pattern (based on the S,A,O typology). Subsequently, I will show that intransitive patterns are related to a paradigm common with transitive constructions, leaving the transitive/intransitive split as a secondary procedure to communicate experience in a habitualized way. I will then elaborate those cognitive parameters (stemming from the perception domain) that conditions the transitive nature of cognitive ‘scenes’, among them Figure Ground discrimination, the coupling of actual knowledge and memory (foreground/background information), linearization of perception, and referential vs. relational conceptualization. Finally, I will discuss the way cognitive transitivity is mirrored in linguistic constructions and the features that condition its contortion (among them: Ground generalization, conceptual integration, generic referentiality / referential masking) etc.

As a result, I will show that at least one major aspect of the architecture of language, namely the relational organization of utterances is (among others) conditioned by those cognitive domains that process the perceptive layer of cognition. This layer can again be related to the neural architecture of the perceptive segment of cognition itself (e.g. vision), just as language itself is immediately conditioned by the coupling of motoric and perceptive sectors of cognition (supplemented by the factor ‘memory’).

The paper wants to contribute to the discussion to which extent Analytic Cognitive Linguistics (ACL, in terms of Radical Experientialism) can help to better understand the brain<>cognition interface. It offers a series of arguments (stemming from ACL) that may furnish the functional exploration of the brain with testable hypotheses embedded into a more or less holistic model of language in cognition.