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Author & Title: Giorgio Marchetti, A criticism of Leonard Talmy's Cognitive Semantics (Giorgio Marchetti Copyright 2006).



Leonard Talmy’s cognitive semantics (Talmy 2000a, 2000b) is analyzed here in the light of the recent findings of attentional semantics (Marchetti, 2003, 2005). Talmy’s cognitive semantics is founded on the main assumption that language is a major cognitive system in its own right, distinct from the other major ones (perception, reasoning, affect, attention, memory, cultural structure, and motor control). As such, language has some structural properties that are uniquely its own and some others that are in common with the other cognitive systems. This assumption conditions and determines in a major way Talmy’s approach to the study of meaning. In fact, he is led to analyze language mainly by relating it to the other major cognitive systems, with the consequence of describing it in terms of the procedures and patterns of the particular cognitive system to which the language system is each time related. The unavoidable outcome of this way of approaching language is that Talmy puts forward as many kinds of linguistic analyses as there are major cognitive systems related to the language system. These various kinds of linguistic analyses are so different and distinct from each other that they cannot be related to each other: the negative impression is thus engendered that Talmy’s work suffers, despite his intentions, from a lack of uniformity and generality, his ways of analyzing meaning being not equally and widely applicable to all linguistic instances. The alternative view of attentional semantics is presented. For attentional semantics the meanings of words are condensed, de-contextualized and “frozen” instructions on the attentional (and related non-attentional) operations one has to perform in order to consciously experience what the words refer to. Attention becomes then the unifying principle capable of relating the various and different experiential and cognitive fields, in terms of which the meanings of all the words can be analyzed.

 Keywords: cognitive semantics, language, meaning, conceptual content, visual perception, attention, force dynamics, modal verbs, causative construction, attentional semantics, consciousness


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