Friday, April 14, 2006

What I'm Thinking About Today: Conceptual Integration Networks

From the introduction to an expanded web version of Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner's "Conceptual Integration Networks," Cognitive Science 22.2 (1998): 133-187.
Much of the excitement about recent work on language, thought, and action stems from the discovery that the same structural cognitive principles are operating in areas that were once viewed as sharply distinct and technically incommensurable. Under the old view, there were word meanings, syntactic structures, sentence meanings (typically truth-conditional), discourse and pragmatic principles, and then, at a higher level, figures of speech like metaphor and metonymy, scripts and scenarios, rhetoric, forms of inductive and deductive reasoning, argumentation, narrative structure, etc. A recurrent finding in recent work has been that key notions, principles, and instruments of analysis cut across all these divisions and in fact operate in non-linguistic situations as well. Here are some of them:

Frames structure our conceptual and social life. As shown in the work of Fillmore, Langacker, Goldberg, and others, they are also, in their most generic, and schematic forms, a basis for grammatical constructions. Words are themselves viewed as constructions, and lexical meaning is an intricate web of connected frames. Furthermore, although cognitive framing is reflected and guided by language, it is not inherently linguistic. People manipulate many more frames than they have words and constructions for.

Analogical mapping, traditionally studied in connection with reasoning, shows up at all levels of grammar and meaning construction, such as the interpretation of counterfactuals and hypotheticals, category formation , and of course metaphor, whether creative or conventional.

Reference points, focus, viewpoints, and dominions are key notions not only at higher levels of narrative structure, but also at the seemingly micro-level of ordinary grammar, as shown convincingly by Langacker 1993, Zribi-Hertz 1989, Van Hoek 1997, Cutrer 1994, among others.

Connected mental spaces account for reference and inference phenomena across wide stretches of discourse, but also for sentence-internal multiple readings and tense/mood distributions. Mappings at all levels operate between such spaces, and like frames they are not specifically linguistic. (Fauconnier 1997, Dinsmore 1991, Cutrer 1994, Fauconnier and Sweetser, 1996).

Connectors and conceptual connections also operate at all levels, linking mental spaces and other domains for coreference, for metonymy (Nunberg 1978), and for analogy and metaphor (Turner 1991, Sweetser 1990).

There are other notions that apply uniformly at seemingly different levels, such as figure/ground organization (Talmy 1978), profiling, or pragmatic scales.Running through this research is the central cognitive scientific idea of projection between structures. Projection connects frames to specific situations, to related frames, and to conventional scenes. Projection connects related linguistic constructions. It connects one viewpoint to another and sets up new viewpoints partly on the basis of old. It connects counterfactual conceptions to non-counterfactual conceptions on which they are based. Projection is the backbone of analogy, categorization, and grammar.

In the present study, we show that projection typically involves conceptual integration. There is extensive previous research on varieties of projection, but not on conceptual integration. Empirical evidence suggests that an adequate characterization of mental projection requires a theory of conceptual integration. We propose the basis for such a theory and argue that conceptual integration—like framing or categorization—is a basic cognitive operation that operates uniformly at different levels of abstraction and under superficially divergent contextual circumstances. It also operates along a number of interacting gradients. Conceptual integration plays a significant role in many areas of cognition. It has uniform, systematic properties of structure and dynamics. [Read more.]

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