This chapter will:

  • • provide an overview of the book;
  • • discuss cognitive linguistics and cognitive poetics as key disciplines underpinning our coverage of topics;
  • • outline the content of the remaining chapters.

Focus of the book

This book is aimed at teachers and researchers interested in the teaching of literature and in examining the ways books get studied and talked about, both in and out of educational settings. Throughout the book, we draw on different kinds of research and analytical methods but largely draw on an approach to the study of fiction that has its roots in stylistics and cognitive linguistics.

Stylistics is ‘simply defined as the (linguistic) study of style [which is] the way in which language is used’ (Leech and Short 2007:1). Stylisticians believe that all language, whether found in a literary work, from Shakespeare to Walliams, or in a newspaper, an advert, a tweet or even this book, is made up of conscious and unconscious choices about which various words, phrases and larger structures to use. Stylisticians argue that using our most recent knowledge of linguistics to unpick and understand these choices, and the styles that result from them, is the best way to approach any text, of any genre, mode or period.

In this book, we adopt the principles of stylistics both in some of the analyses of texts that we undertake, and in the way that we broaden out some of its parameters to explore studying fiction in education more generally. In this latter respect, we draw on recent developments across cognitive linguistics to inform a cognitive stylistic or cognitive poetic approach. In each of the chapters, we discuss key topics related to reading through a cognitive poetic lens, and suggest ways that the discipline offers insights that may be useful to the teacher in order to make decisions in terms of how they conceptualise, plan for, and deliver activities that involve reading fiction.

In the remainder of this chapter, we introduce some basic cognitive linguistic principles, and then provide an overview of cognitive poetics, a field which has focused on the role of the mind in literary reading but which we now extend out to examine reading in education contexts. Following this, we outline the structure of the book by summarising each of the focuses of the remaining chapters. The chapter ends, as with all the chapters in the book, with some recommendations for further reading.

Cognitive linguistics

Cognitive linguistics is an umbrella term for a broad discipline that covers a number of approaches concerned with the relationship between language and the mind. Broadly speaking, cognitive approaches to language emphasise that:

  • 1. Our thought results from our interaction with the physical material world, including our sense of space and being around other people. The ways in which we conceptualise ideas and events are heavily influenced by this principle of embodiment, for example in how we use metaphors to explain abstract ideas through more familiar concrete ones.
  • 2. We store knowledge in domains or schemas which are flexible and dynamic, and shift and develop as a result of our experience in the world. When we read, schemas are activated by words in the text which help us to understand the contents and interpret meanings. In other ways, the text itself may help to build up a schema, for example if we are reading something on a topic with which we are unfamiliar. So, our schema of London in the nineteenth century might be developed through reading some of Dickens’ novels.
  • 3. Language therefore provides a point of access to stores of knowledge that we have built up over time. When we come across a particular word, some aspects of the schema are always activated while other types of knowledge are only activated in more specific contexts. For example, ‘train’ activates general knowledge about a mode of transport, but when reading Dickens’ Dombey and Son, ‘train’ might instead call up only very specific knowledge about trains in the Victorian period (or at least an understanding that trains in the nineteenth century were different to those now). We also use these schemas to help us imagine other states of being, future events or things that we simply want to happen. These ideas are central to the ways that we engage with books.
  • 4. There are continuities between language and other cognitive processes: for example, we use the same arrangement strategies in language to foreground some things and background others as we do when we look at a scene. The choice of one grammatical form over another can therefore always be considered as motivated and meaningful - as a kind of packaging-up of events for a particular purpose.
  • 5. Language is a social phenomenon and involves people guiding each other’s attention. In the case of reading, the participants are author and reader, and in the classroom there are also teachers, and students. Interactions, and understanding them, are therefore really important.

Our approach in this book is an applied linguistic one in so far as we argue that teachers can use concepts and theories from linguistics as a way not of teaching content (although this may happen too) but rather as a theoretical backdrop to their own practice; what Carter discusses as the difference between ‘teaching linguistics’ and ‘having linguistics as a foundation for classroom language teaching’ (1982: 8).

Halliday (2002) conceptualises this important point in his distinction between ‘grammar’ and ‘grammatics’. Whereas ‘grammar’ is the phenomenon studied, Halliday defines ‘grammatics’ as a pedagogical framework that teachers can use ‘to think with’ (2002: 416). Like Carter’s

‘foundation’, Halliday’s ‘think with’ highlights the ways that linguistic approaches can underpin ways of conceptualising learning and teaching in the classroom. In previous publications, we have argued for a ‘cognitive grammatics’ (Giovanelli 2014,2016; Giovanelli and Mason 2015) as an applied cognitive linguistics for the teacher to use as a means of examining various aspects connected to studying fiction in education. This book represents an extended application of that idea, here specifically in the service of thinking about studying fiction in the classroom.

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