Friday, March 2, 2012

Gibbs: The Poetics of Mind (1994), comments on ch. 3

In the discussion of metaphors in the context of his chapter 3, Gibbs tries, somewhat confusedly, to situate himself within the psycholinguistic field that he surveys.

Handy References
One of the more interesting texts he mentions (p. 104) is an article by Dawn Blasko and Cynthia Connine (1993) which shows that familiarity decreases reading times for idioms. He also mentions (p. 103) a study by Richard J. Gerring and Alice F. Healy (1983) which shows that topic-vehicle ordering can affects reading times for at least some idioms.

Both of these findings are consistent with a keyword theory of idiom comprehension proposed by Cristina Cacciari and Patrizia Tabossi (1988). They are also consistent with accounts based gradual fossilization of conventional metaphors.

The Gibbsean Dichotomy
In the section entitled "Are literal and figurative language processing identical?", Gibbs attempts to introduce a distinction between a Gricean model and his own conceptual model. However, in the process, he ends up drawing a pretty crude caricature of the Gricean view while at the same time virtually turning his own theory into a notational variant of Gricean pragmatism.

The pragmatic theory that Gibbs places at the opposing end of the theoretical spectrum is one that postulates the following list of steps during comprehension, or something like it (p. 111):
Recover literal meaning
Recover metaphorical meaning
Recover idiomatic meaning
Recover ironic meaning
Recover indirect meaning
In contrast with this (ridiculous) theory, he places his own short list (p. 112):
Understand with respect to conceptual knowledge
Understand with respect to "common ground"
This might seem a little odd, especially because of his invocation of "common knowledge." It seems more than usually difficult to construct a theory having "common ground" as one of its legs without ending up in a copy of Gricean pragmatics.

Gibbs is Grice
This suspicion is confirmed when he later gives examples of how the two legs of his theory merge to form a particular act of comprehension:
Suppose Mary and David have an agreement in which Mary walks the dog on sunny days. By uttering The sky is blue, Mary would be communicating "It's your turn to walk the dog."
Suppose David is a kite flyer but has a great fear of being struck by lightning in the process. By uttering The sky is blue, Mary would be implicating "It's safe to fly your kite."
Suppose that David and Mary have in common the knowledge that their friend Betty plays golf on every sunny day. Mary's answer The sky is blue to David's question Where do you suppose Betty is? would imply "Betty is at the golf course."
In all three examples, utterance of The sky is blue prompts the listener to infer a further message that is recoverable only with reference to common ground. (p. 114)
So after all, the theory still just boils down to a reference to implicature, recovery, and common ground. There is no discussion of how Gibbs expects his new formulation of this old proposal to avoid the problems he have just gone through pages and pages to point out.

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