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Matlock et al

The contribution by Matlock et al. invokes the notion of embodiment. Embodiment is the suggestion in cognitive science and philosophy that our bodily experience shapes aspects of the mind. Embodiment thus poses a challenge to traditional Cartesian dualism. In the context of the Modularity Hypothesis made by generative grammar, it is unsurprising that embodiment has not been accorded a place in the theory, while it has been naturally incorporated into cognitive linguistics. One example of this is the cognitive linguistic account of metaphors based on bodily experience, such as Good is Up and Bad is Down (see e.g. Johnson 1987, Lakoff 1987, Lakoff & Johnson 1999). Matlock et al. relate embodiment to the language and gestures produced in a task where subjects watched a video of a car accident and were then asked to describe "what happened" vs. "what was happening". The authors show that the imperfective question yielded more details being provided, i.e. more motion verbs and expressions related to reckless driving being used, and more iconic gestures being produced.

Much of Matlock's previous work (e.g. 2004, Gibbs & Matlock 2008) is centred on the notion of mental simulation, i.e. the mental reactivation of patterns associated with past bodily experiences. Here, Matlock et al. argue that the imperfective aspect invites a different kind of mental simulation of the events witnessed, along the lines suggested by the classic typological literature on aspect (e.g. Comrie 1976, Dahl 1985).

With regard to the questions that this thematic volume is built around, Matlock et al. show how, in relation to the language and gestures evoked by different aspectual framing, a cognitive linguistic viewpoint may represent an advantage over a modular theory such as generative grammar. Yet at the same time it reveals that there is considerable scope left for cognitive linguists to do research on how language structure might guide interpretation in real world situations. The present study very clearly raises the issue of leading questions in for example a courtroom setting an issue that cognitive linguistics may at least begin to address. The closely related issue of language and power has been addressed in a very different tradition, i.e. that of Critical Discourse Analysis (e.g. Fairclough 2001, van Dijk 2008). Yet the present study (and see also Fausey & Matlock 2011 for a study of aspect in discourse about politics) is considerably more convincing in terms of a detailed study of empirical, psycholinguistic evidence than work in CDA tends to be.


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