Contextual observations: Complex mental contexts serving an integrative system
So far I have presented arguments for the illustration of the core assumption of this study according to which contexts as ontological entities are intricately related to contexts as epistemic constructs. The relationship is reciprocal and the nature of the connection is that of a consecutive interplay. The object-level ontology of a situation yields a mental representation as a meta-level epistemic construct constituted by the linguistic context itself. It acquires a meta-level ontology as a text. A text incorporates conceptual knowledge and prompts the construction of mental contexts so that plausible and acceptable interpretations could be facilitated under the notion of contextual appropriateness. Such complex mental contexts are meta-meta-level epistemic constructs which will be decisive in actualized meaning construction where contextual observations are relevantly applied. Actualized mental contexts acquire a meta-metalevel ontology as they are the ultimate entities determining instantiated virtual reality serving as the one-time, on-line basis for situated language use. The continual interpretation of situated language is secured by a continual production of ephemeral mental contexts that are balanced between meta-level epistemological features and meta-level ontological commitments to maintain sustainable meta-stability.
Situated language use is a combined and integrated system that exerts identifiable ontological commitments and dynamic epistemological states. It is a dynamic information processing system that can handle incompleteness and uncertainty by delicately mastering meta-stability. The construction of ephemeral but decisive mental contexts exploited as the ultimate stage in any interpretation process is the warrant for plausible interpretations of the ever-changing information flow. With the construction of complex mental contexts speech participants can avoid the direct impact of unpredictable contextual features. Looking at the interpretation of everyday discourse practices, we ought to acknowledge that situated language use is a result of a contextual mastery of language that depends on a great variety of linguistic and social, cognitive and affective skills of the interlocutors functioning as interacting agents.
Experimentation is not limited to mental space building, however. A fascinating feature of language use is the high degree of liberty in creating meanings, either in the lexicon or otherwise amidst linguistic contexts. There is a close relationship between creating contexts and producing meaning extensions. Most of our linguistic expressions can be used in figurative contexts with non-literal uses of the linguistic expressions involved. Meaning extension can easily be traced and identified in idioms and idiomatic phrases, collocations, compounds, formulaic language, constructions, but it can also be carried out by abstraction, metaphorization, conceptual integration and mental space blending (Gibbs 1994, Goldberg 1995, Fauconnier 1998, Fauconnier and Turner 2002, Coulson 2001, Wray 2002, Komlosi 2006, 2009, Komlosi and Schnell 2008). Despite the fact that these techniques represent different mechanisms of meaning creation, they share a common feature: selected sets or subsets of meaning properties are used as inputs for mental computation in order to rearrange their meaning structures for obtaining novel outputs.
Extending meanings in the mental lexicon by different types of mental operations is a fascinating human faculty that efficiently unites creation by language and creation by thought. Meaning extension has many faces and many techniques. I am claiming that the phenomenon of context building I have been describing so far is a cognitive prerequisite for meaning extension. The creation of mental contexts is in itself an invitation and a challenge to the mental lexicon: lexical entries are under constant revision and modification as far as their possible extended meanings are concerned, due to the requirement of matching and fitting the permanently and dynamically changing mental contexts created under the imperative to minimize cognitive dissonance and maximize cognitive coherence.