Textual choices in discourse: A view from cognitive linguistics

Textual choices in discourse: A view from cognitive linguistics. Ed. by Barbara Dancygier, José Sanders, and Lieven Vandelanotte. (Benjamins current topics 40.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2012. Pp. v, 198. ISBN 9789027202598. $128 (Hb).

Reviewed by Zhen-qiang Fan, Zhejiang Gongshang University

The book contains papers which were originally published in the journal English text construction 3:2 (2010). In this collection, various models from cognitive linguistics (CL) are drawn upon to explain the cognitive mechanism of the stylistic choices in a variety of genres such as literature, journalistic prose, lectures, and radio interviews. The aim is to demonstrate ‘how recent research in CL has started expanding the range of facts to be explained and reaching beyond the traditionally conceived boundaries of linguistic inquiry’ (1).

The book includes an introduction, eight articles, acknowledgements, and an index. The editors’ introductory remarks introduce the background and the organization of the whole book. On the basis of frame semantics, fictive motion, and conceptual blending, Mike Borkent proposes a new framework to show how embodied knowledge is utilized for understanding visual poems and other multimodal texts. Barbara Dancygier discusses the use of alternativity and stance in dramatic and poetic discourse, revealing mechanisms such as frame-evocating, counterfactuality, causation, and blending. The concept of joint attention is introduced by Vera Tobin to appreciate the texts of literary modernism. José Sanders, using the mental space model, aims to explain how the intertwining of voices is represented by linguistic form in journalistic texts.

Elena Semino’s chapter illustrates the power of blending theory in accounting for the rhetorical use of ‘unrealistic’ scenarios in expository and argumentative texts involving metaphorical creativity. Also relying on blending theory, Elżbieta Górska scrutinizes novel multimodal metaphors used in BBC lectures, and the use of ‘verbo-musical’ metaphors in particular. Carol Lynn Moder, by integrating blending theory and a usage-based approach to grammatical constructions, investigates metaphorical expressions in their discourse context (i.e. American radio news magazines). The book ends with the editors’ conclusion, which evaluates all of the contributions in the book and suggests possibilities for future research.

This collection succeeds in achieving its goal of offering ‘a better understanding of genre differences’ and ‘a clearer appreciation of the applicability of the cognitive framework now in use’ (185). On the one hand, it opens a new window to discourse genres from the perspective of CL, either by proposing a unified model (e.g. Mike Borkent’s article), or by borrowing notions that are considered to belong to a broadly conceived CL (e.g. joint attention). On the other hand, it contributes to CL by ‘expanding the range of facts to be explained’ and making CL reach ‘beyond the traditionally conceived boundaries of linguistic inquiry’ (1). Moreover, some researchers pose new challenges for CL. For instance, Dancygier argues that poetic discourse challenges some claims of constructional grammar (40), and Semino warns that blending theory needs to pay greater attention to interpretative variability and genre differences (112).

Overall, this book shows the cross-fertilization between CL and discourse analysis, and is a great resource for anyone interested in these areas.