Zoltan Kövecses
Language, Mind and Culture
A Practical Introduction
Oxford University Press 2006

Kövecses 207
Image Schemas:
The first step in acquiring a category is forming a structural description of an entity. Structural descriptions consist of the most elementary properties of entities. As we saw, these elementary properties include lines, surfaces, weight, vertical or horizontal extension, roughness or softness, sweetness or bitterness, and so on. When these experiences occur repeatedly, certain schematic structures begin to emerge and get represented in the mind/brain. The structures that emerge this way are what we call image schemas.

An image schema is a recurring, dynamic pattern of our perceptual interactions and motor programmes that gives coherence to experience. Image schemas have several important properties. First, they are imagistic in nature – and not propositional. Second, they are highly schematic, or abstract. This means that they lack detailed images – either visual or kinesthetic.

Common image schemas:
container
balance
path
link
scale
part - whole
full – empty
process
object
collection
iteration

Image schemas, then, provide an important part of our understanding of the world. Without accessible image schemas at our disposal, it is difficult to make sense of experience. This role of image schemas serves as the solution to one of the major problems in connection with linguistic expressions and symbols in general. It is called the “symbol grounding” problem.

The general issue is this: how do symbols acquire their meaning? The corresponding specific issue is this: how do linguistic expressions become meaningful for us?

The standard answer to this question in objectivist semantics is that meaningfulness is achieved through reference; that is, a linguistic expression referring to an entity in the world. It is reference that makes expressions meaningful. Expressions can refer to entities because the semantic properties that constitute an expression’s sense are true of a set of entities in the world.

According to the cognitive linguist’s view, expressions refer by virtue of the fact that there is a conventionally fixed relationship between the expression and a set of entities; that is, certain things were simply baptized by some experts in certain ways. Image schemas offer a radically new alternative solution to the problem of how symbols and expressions get their meaning.

211: The structure of mind
The presence of image schemas in our conceptual system has a major consequence of the folk theory of the structure of the mind. Lakoff suggests that image schemas structure our conceptual system. We have an embodied understanding of the structure (form) of our conceptual system.

The structure of categories, frames, hierarchical structures of concepts, relational structures, radial categories, and foreground background structure in frames – these aspects of the conceptual system make up a large portion of the mind. As it turns out, all of these aspects are characterized by some of the image schemas.

A large portion of the conceptual system is structured by image schemas that structure physical space and that we acquire through our most mundane kinds of functioning in the physical world. To put it simply, the structure of much of our conceptual apparatus is provided by the structure of embodied spatial experience. It seems as if what we would take as a metaphor – conceptual space is physical space – is not really a metaphor after all; it is indeed the case that our embodied spacial experience gives structure to our conceptual system. This can happen because spatial-image-schematic structure is mapped onto conceptual structure. In this sense, we can claim that much of the structure of the mind is based on the structure of embodied spatial experience.

If these suggestions about the structure of our conceptual systems are valid, they point to the conclusion that we cannot really talk about the body and the mind as distinct entities. Instead, what emerges is that the mind is embodied in a clear straightforward sense: embodied image schematic experience provides much of the structure of what we call the mind.

However, it is one thing to make the suggestion and another to prove it in the actual stuff of the brain. The problem is neatly captured by an eminent cognitive scientist Gerald Edelman: “without an understanding of how the mind is based in matter, we will be left with a vast chasm between scientific knowledge and knowledge of ourselves.” But, in an encouraging tone, Edelman continues: “This chasm is not unbridgeable. But biology and psychology teaches that the bridge is made of many parts. The solution to the problem of how we know, feel, and are aware is not contained in a philosophical sentence, however profound. It must emerge from an understanding of how biological systems and relationships involved in the physical world.”
(Singer, Roth)

224 Image schemas can be described in terms of the kinds of bodily experience that lead to their emergence, their structural elements, their basic logic, and the conceptual metaphors that they underlie. This means that we have an embodied understanding of the structure (form) of conceptual system. If correct, this conclusion points to the mind as being embodied, or as Mark Johnson put it, “the body is in the mind.”
ite the force acting on it.

Kövecses
Cognitive linguistics

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