Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fauconnier: "Generalized integration networks" (2009)

I have quickly skimmed Gilles Fauconniers contribution to New Directions in Cognitive Linguistics (2009).

I still think he is right in pointing out that constructs like My surgeon is a butcher cannot be explained in terms of one-way mappings. I also still think that his theory doesn't have as much to offer as he himself seems to think.

Fairytale Science: Against a "Fallacy"
Somewhere in Fauconnier's mind, there must be a tiny shred of fear that his theory might be closer to psychoanalysis that to cognitive science.

This can be seen in that he explicitly takes on the following "fallacy":
A wide-ranging cognitive operation purports to explain "everything"
Corollary: Such an operation explains "too much" and is unconstrained (p. 149)
Of course, calling something a fallacy doesn't make it so. And indeed, he doesn't have any real argument that can alleviate this worry.

The closest we get is an allusion to "twelve years" of "convergent evidence" which is not followed by any reference (p. 149).

Fairytale Science: "Precise" But Not "Rigorous"
He later reiterates that conceptual integration "is a precise meaning construction operation" (p. 158), but he also admits that the analyses have to be done on a case-by-case basis:
precise analysis of the generalized networks needs to be done for any observed data, just as chemical analysis needs to be done for any unknown chemical, without adding new elements of new principles to chemistry. (p. 158)
Thus, only the skilled analyst can uncover what cognitive operations a reader must perform in order to understand a given piece of surface language.

The consequence is, he adds in a footnote, that
[...] notions like metaphor, metonymy, analogy, and counterfactual, applied to surface products, elude rigorous definition. (p. 158)
On his account, these notions are thus theory terms, embedded in his own theory.

Fairytale Science: "We Have Indeed"
Even more ridiculously, he quotes (p. 150) a single remark Feldman makes in the conclusion of his book (p. 338), calling Fauconnier and Turner's project "a bold attempt to explain much of mental life."

While "bold attempt" does not usually translate into "unqualified success," Fauconnier does not seem to have a problem reinterpreting the remark as a full-fledged endorsement of his theory:
The proper way to understand this comment is that we (Turner and Fauconnier) have indeed shown that conceptual integration plays a necessary role in human mental life as evidenced by the surface products of particular interest to humans. (p. 150)
I'm not kidding -- he actually writes this.

Showcase Semantics: A New Example
In order to demonstrate his theory, Fauconnier considers the a sentence from a news story about a new California law prohibiting smoking in certain bars. The news piece playfully combines the actual cigarette smoke with the cartoon cliché of a "smoking angry" person:
[...] hard-core smokers [...] were so angry that if they had been allowed to light up, the smoke would have been coming out of their ears. (p. 150)
This example contains two of Fauconnier's favorite phenomena: A counterfactual statements and a two-way interaction between the literal and the metaphorical level.

Showcase Semantics: Putting Pieces Together
His analysis is summarized in the figures on pp. 155 and 157. The gist is this:
  1. The conventional ANGER image (or "network") is combined with a stereotypical SMOKER situation to combine an ANGRY SMOKER image which include a double (literal/metaphorical) role for the smoke.
  2. The NO SMOKING and the SMOKING ALLOWED situations are combined to form a counterfactual smoking situation qualitatively different from the simple SMOKING ALLOWED situation. He calls this counterfactual the SMOKER'S ZOLOFT SPACE.
  3. The ANGRY SMOKER and the SMOKER'S ZOLOFT SPACE are combined to produce the hypothetical smoke coming out of the smokers' ears.
After the Smoke Clears: Fauconnier on Fauconnier
He concludes his analysis with, if I may use my own blend, "a Rumsfeld":
Is the newspaper statement contradictory or unintelligible? Clearly, no. [...] Is the piece of data a "blend"? Clearly, yes, and indeed a visible one. (p. 157)
Shortly after that, he also assures us of the psychological reality of his speculative account (by means of a speculative argument):
Is attested data of this kind cognitively significant? Of course. (p. 158)
His argument seems to be that  because we can understand the sentence, and because he can tell a semantic story about this sentence, his story must be true (p. 158).

No comments :

Post a Comment