Causal categories in discourse and cognition

Causal categories in discourse and cognition. Ed. by Ted Sanders and Eve Sweetser. (Cognitive linguistics research 44.) Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2009. Pp. x, 249. ISBN 9783110224412. $150 (Hb).

Reviewed by Natalia Levshina, University of Leuven

Languages have vast inventories of constructions that highlight different aspects of causal relationships. This volume focuses on causal connectives and causative auxiliaries in English, Dutch, and Polish. In addition to detailed linguistic descriptions, it also offers fundamental theoretical insights (e.g. how one can integrate mental spaces and subjectivity) and raises a number of vital methodological issues, such as converging evidence and linguistic hypothesis testing.

The volume contains an introduction from the editors and six articles. In the introduction, the editors present the basic concepts that account for variation found in most of the subsequent case studies, such as subjectivity, perspective, domains of use, and mental spaces.

The chapter, ‘Causality, cognition and communication: A mental space analysis of subjectivity in causal connectives’, by Ted Sanders, José Sanders, and Eve Sweetser, introduces the theoretical concept of the basic communicative spaces network, which integrates the mental space theory by Gilles Fauconnier with the contemporary models of subjectivity and discourse perspective. This framework is employed by the authors to explain the contrasts between several causal connectives in Dutch.

In the chapter, ‘Causal connectives in Dutch Biblical translations’, José Sanders explores the diachronic dimension of causality. Using a parallel corpus of five Old Testament narratives translated into English and Dutch in the seventeenth century and recently, the author finds that the level of the speaker’s subjectivity is higher in the contemporary translations, where the narrator has ‘entrance to the character’s consciousness’ (77).

Barbara Dancygier’s contribution, ‘Causes and consequences: Evidence from Polish, English, and Dutch’, investigates the Polish connectives to and bo (markers of the construed result and cause, respectively). The study explores the role of subjectivity and intersubjectivity in the semantics of the connectives, which help the speaker ‘manage argumentation and inferencing across different subjectivities’ (96).

The chapter, ‘Categories of subjectivity in Dutch causal connectives: A usage-based analysis’, by Ninke Stukker, Ted Sanders, and Arie Verhagen, studies the interplay of conceptual and usage factors in the use of the Dutch causal connectives daardoor, daarom, and dus ‘so, therefore’. The authors also test the hypotheses about the prototypical and non-prototypical usages of the connectives.

The chapter by Dirk Speelman and Dirk Geeraerts, ‘Causes for causatives: The case of Dutch doen and laten’, focuses on the Dutch causative auxiliaries doen ‘do’ and laten ‘let’. Applying advanced multivariate statistical techniques, the authors show that lectal and collocational variables co-determine the speaker’s choice between the auxiliaries together with semantic factors. They also argue for a rigorous quantitative approach to linguistic hypothesis testing.

The final article in the volume is ‘Causal categories in discourse—Converging evidence from language use’ by Ted Sanders and Wilbert Spooren. The authors present a number of case studies, which provide different ‘windows’ into the conceptualization of causal relationships in language—from elicited judgments in categorization tasks and eye tracking to language acquisition data.

To summarize, the volume will give readers an idea of the complex interplay of conceptual, processing, cultural, and other factors in the use of causal constructions in different languages. This complexity requires diverse and sophisticated methodological tools. A valuable contribution to the existing research on linguistic expression of causality, the volume should be of interest to anyone concerned with the conceptual and experiential foundations of language.