Alcuni aspetti critici

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Primo studio. I cambiamenti nei processi di costruzione del’identità professionale

5.3 Alcuni aspetti critici

In the previous chapters the focus has been on adjective and noun meanings and how intricate their interaction is in the creation of meaning. In this chapter, the focus is on the interconnectedness of meanings. Concepts can be associated either due to some form of similarity, or because they are relevant in the same context (one or more).

Concepts that are grouped together either way belong to the same domain. Often concepts are part of a number of domains. A RECEIPT, for example, is part of both the domain of financial transactions and the domain of shopping. The notion of domains has been explored by a number of Cognitive Linguistic researchers. Frännhag (2010, p.

19) accessibly describes domains ‘as coherent areas of human experience that provide the necessary contextual- and background knowledge for understanding of other, more specific concepts.’ Confusingly, different researchers have used different words for more or less the same concept. For example, Langacker also uses the term base, the term frame stems from Fillmore, and Lakoff coined the term ICM (Idealized Cognitive Model).

6.1 Langacker’s approach to domains

In Foundations of Cognitive Grammar (1987a) Langacker expounds his theory of domains. To make sense of word meanings/concepts, they need to be viewed in a specific context. This context is made up of all the background knowledge we have about the concept and how it relates to the world. This background knowledge consists of our encyclopaedic knowledge, and in order to make this knowledge easily accessible, it is organized in structures that he calls domains. In other words, domains provide the encyclopaedic knowledge that is necessary for the understanding of a lexical concept.

Langacker discusses the notion of domains in terms of three aspects:

 the reducibility of domains to more fundamental cognitive structures

 the intrinsic organization of a domain

 the distinction between locational and configurational domains.

As regards the first aspect, Langacker makes a distinction between basic domains and abstract domains. Whereas basic domains are not definable relative to other even more basic concepts, abstract domains can simultaneously serve as both sub-domains and superordinate domains for different concepts. The SCHOOL domain, for example, is a sub-domain within the EDUCATION domain, but at the same time, it contains the sub-domains of SCHOOLTEACHERS, SCHOOLBOOKS, SCHEDULES, etc. The term abstract, in this context, does not refer to intangible entities. On the contrary, concepts in what Langacker calls abstract domains are often concrete entities that exist in time and space.

In contrast to abstract domains, basic domains can only be superordinate, since the concepts that form basic domains are basic in the sense that they are not derived from any underlying concept that is even more fundamental. Lakoff and Johnson argue that even the most abstract concepts are grounded in embodied experience and therefore constitute basic domains (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980; Johnson, 1987). In other words, basic domains are called basic domains because they are directly anchored in human bodily experience. Often cited examples of basic domains are TIME, SPACE, EMOTION,


Secondly, while Langacker finds it important to make an inventory of which basic domains there are, in order to more readily understand human conceptualization, he also thinks it is crucial to gain some understanding of the intrinsic structures of domains. He proposes that domains, both basic and abstract, are structured in terms of one or more dimensions. The basic domains of TIME, PITCH, and TEMPERATURE are examples of domains that are structured in a one-dimensional way, whereas for example the COLOUR domain is organized with respect to three different dimensions, namely, hue, brightness, and saturation. But not every domain is structured in such a neat and straightforward way, Langacker’s view of the domain of EMOTION, for example, is considerably more complex. He suggests a number of structuring parameters that might be useful for the concepts of EMOTION, such as the classification into positive and negative emotions, degree of arousal, etc. In addition to the organization of concepts along different dimensions, Langacker also points out that, with respect to a given dimension, domains are either bounded or unbounded. Abstract domains may be either bounded or unbounded at one or both ends, where the ALPHABET is an example that is bounded at both ends and ETERNITY an example which is unbounded at both ends.

The third aspect that Langacker discusses with regard to domains is the distinction between locational and configurational domains. A location is defined by a single point on a dimension, whereas a configuration consists of several points construed as one Gestalt. Following this definition, the domain of TEMPERATURE, for example, is locational, since a temperature is defined by a specific point on one dimension, while a

TRIANGLE is configurational, since it is defined by several points on three different

dimensions. He also provides the example of finger as a domain for knuckle, and hand as a domain for finger. According to Langacker, a configuration is independent of its position and orientation in space, a triangle is a triangle whichever way you turn it, while changing the position of the point in the temperature domain will result in a different temperature. Gärdenfors and Löhndorf (2013) consider that the examples of domains given by Langacker make up two different categories, namely, a dimensional and a meronymic category. While they agree that the domains of TEMPERATURE and

COLOUR, for instance, are dimensional, Langacker’s examples of finger as a domain for knuckle, and hand as a domain for finger, constitute meronymic structures rather than domains. An illustrative difference between them is that parts of meronymic structures are exchangeable, they can be replaced by a corresponding part and still form the same concept. If a book loses some pages and they are replaced with other pages, it is still a book. It is not possible, however, to exchange one colour for another in the colour domain without evoking change. Orange, for example, cannot be replaced by another colour (e.g., pink) without changing the content of the domain (Gärdenfors &

Löhndorf, 2013).

6.1.1 Domain matrices

Most concepts are defined in relation to several domains simultaneously; TELEPHONE, for example, is part of at least two domains: the domain for ELECTRONIC DEVICES and the domain for COMMUNICATION. Together, all the domains that a certain concept is linked to form the domain matrix of the concept. The domains in a domain matrix are not all equally central; some domains may generally be evoked when speaking about something, while knowledge in other domains might only be evoked in certain contexts. When speaking of a telephone, for example, one does not necessarily think of the fact that it was invented by Alexander Graham Bell in the 1870’s. Langacker defines the centrality of domains by conventionality (i.e., how conventional the meaning is in the speech community), genericity (how general the knowledge is), characteristicity (in the sense of being unique in comparison to other members of the class) and intrinsicality (in the sense that reference to external entities is not needed). However, when the model is applied to actual language use, it is the context in which a word is used that governs which concepts and domains in the domain matrix are highlighted, i.e., which domain is profiled in this instantiation of language use.

6.2 Types of domains revisited

While the basic idea of domains seems reasonable and useful for the categorization of meanings in all kinds of language use, the notion is still somewhat fuzzy. One aspect in the literature on domains that easily leads to confusion is that the discussion of domain as a theoretical construct and model on the one hand, and language instantiation on the other hand, is confounded. There are a number of articles (e.g., Clausner & Croft, 1999; Croft, 2002; Croft & Cruse, 2004; Gärdenfors & Löhndorf, 2013) that discuss the term domain, all of which, more or less, fall back on chapter 4 of Langacker (1987a).

Croft and Clausner (1999) question Langacker’s division between locational and configurational domains and argue that locationality and configurationality are properties of concepts rather than of domains. They show that the domains that Langacker calls configurational can support both locational and configurational concepts. SPACE, for example, supports locational here and configurational triangle and

TIME supports locational NOW and configurational WEEK.

As mentioned above, Gärdenfors and Löhndorf (2013) find that Langacker’s (1987a) distinction between configurational and locational domains is misleading. There are two reasons. First, not only locational domains are based on dimensions, but when taking a closer look, the configurational domains too can be deconstructed into a dimensional analysis (Croft & Clausner, 1999; Gärdenfors & Löhndorf, 2013). To illustrate this, Fiorini, Gärdenfors, and Abel (2014) use the domain of APPLE. APPLE

constitutes a complex configuration, as its properties are anchored in a diverse number of quality domains, such as the COLOUR, TASTE, SHAPE, TEXTURE, SMELL, and

NUTRITION domains. These domains are dimensional domains (e.g., COLOUR), or themselves anchored within a dimensional domain (e.g., SHAPE is configured out of

SPACE). The rationale is that if one recognizes that all domains ultimately are based in higher level dimensional domains, even complex configurations can be analysed in terms of dimensions when they are deconstructed.

Furthermore, Gärdenfors and Löhndorf (2013) suggest that meronymic relationships should not be defined as domains. They argue that domains can be defined as a set of integral dimensions which are separable from all other dimensions. For example, the three dimensions of colour, hue, chromaticness and brightness are integral dimensions that are separable from other quality dimensions, e.g., the weight of an object. An essential reason for separating a cognitive structure into domains is that it allows for different properties of a concept to be recognized independently.

6.3 Summary

The purpose of this chapter has been to present the notion of domains and some relevant theoretical considerations. In the tradition of Langacker (1987a), the view in this thesis is that concepts get their meaning in the particular context in which they are used. The context consists of all the background knowledge we have about the concept.

This encyclopaedic knowledge is organized as domains. In contrast to Langacker, however, the view is that both locational and configurational structures can be deconstructed into a dimensional analysis, with dimensions being anchored in one or more domains. Meronymic structures, however, are considered to be part-whole relationships rather than domains. In this thesis, the modified version of Langacker’s notion of domains, as defined by Gärdenfors and Löhndorf (2013), is applied to analyse both adjective and noun domains.

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