Complex Systems Theory

Individual cognition is a key component of communication. For this reason, the processes of language production in the mind remains one of the most fruitful areas of research, showing how people use language as they interact with the world—whether this involves hearing the words of others, reading particular texts, or verbalizing a response. At the same time, these interactions depend on a complex interaction between the mind and the world. Theories of language and cognition, and particularly metaphor, show why humans understand, for example, up is good and down is bad through personal embodied experiences of the world as well as through experiences that have been passed down for many generations by others who have experienced the world in similar ways with similar bodies.

Easily overlooked in folk models of communication, the importance of the physical world in individual cognition is difficult to overstate. Human minds are within bodies which are part of the world. People live within social structures that often dictate how they experience and think about the world. Believers in organized religions do not depend entirely on their own experience of the world to inform their beliefs, but also rely on those around them. A group of Charismatic Christians praying together interact with one another in their prayers, taking turns, supporting one another through back-channeling (e.g., saying “amen” or “yes, Lord!”) or second-person completion of others’prayers. In these cases, interaction among a group of people functions more like a group conversation. Focusing solely on what any individual is doing, thinking, or saying will therefore only provide a limited view of the interaction.

Social cognition and its relevance for other key theoretical constructs within Cognitive Linguistics, particularly categorization, have been of central interest to many researchers working on interaction in the field of conversation analysis.

Sacks’ (1992) foundational work on membership categorization analysis and its subsequent “reconsidered” model (Housley & Fitzgerald, 2002,2009) have shown how categories are not necessarily fixed in the mind, but rather depend on the context in which the categories are employed. Empirical analysis of interaction shows how rules for category membership develop through interaction. Categorization has also been tied to moral reasoning in the work ofjayyusi (1984). In short, the individual’s own perception of the world cannot be simply separated out from the world. Humans are both a part of the world and the product of the world.

Coming to linguistic analysis through biolog)', complex systems theory has had a far-reaching impact on both the cognitive sciences (Gibbs, 2006; Spivey, 2007) and applied linguistics (Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008). Applications of this theory through the seminal works of, for example, Cameron (2003, 2007, 2011), Gibbs and Cameron (2008), and Gibbs and Santa Cruz (2012) have challenged some key aspects of the traditional cognitive linguistic approach to analyzing metaphor in interactions. This chapter focuses on one subsequent model of discourse analysis that was developed from the ground up around the insights from this theory: the discourse-dynamics approach (Cameron, 2015).

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