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


Kövecses 249
Mental spaces

Mappings operate not only within a single domain (metonymy) and between two domains (metaphor) but also between what are called the mental spacespartial conceptual structures (frames or models) in the mind. With the help of mappings between mental spaces we can account for another crucial important aspect of meaning, namely, the way meaning is constructed in discourse.

The idea that “meaning is constructed” should be understood in a special way. Meaning construction as opposed to the view of meaning as somehow given or prepackaged in linguistic expressions. Meaning does not seem to be prepackaged in words waiting to be taken out by people participating in discourse. On the contrary, we are active participants in constructing meaning online in specific contexts. The expressions we use acquire their meaning as a product of how we build mental spaces and said that mappings between them in specific situations.

Boe: There are no denotations - only connotations. Words do not have "content" - Wortinhalt.

Meaning construction has several important features. First, it is happening at lightening speed. Second, it is part of our backstage cognition, which we are not consciously aware of. And third, human beings perform it with amazing ease. Most of the time, we do not find it at all difficult to produce and understand language when we communicate with others.

But similar to many of the other cognitive processes we have seen earlier in this book, the setting up of mental spaces and the conceptual connections between them are not limited to the understanding of language. We use mental spaces quickly, unconsciously, and with ease to think and to act in general. The masterful manipulation of mental spaces on our part pervades all of our efforts to find meaning in our experience. We owe the idea of mental spaces to Gilles Fauconnier, and the account of the role of mental spaces in meaning construction is based primarily on his work.

Previous theories of meaning have also treated the kind of phenomenon that is handled by mental spaces. In formal theories of meaning the notion of “possible worlds” is used to account for roughly the same kind of phenomenon that mental spaces are used to account for. One major difference between possible worlds and mental spaces is that possible worlds are taken to be complete alternative universes, where does mental spaces are thought of as partial cognitive models of some situation. Since possible worlds contained too many facts about the world, they cannot be represented in the mind. For this reason, possible worlds do not seem to have any cognitive reality. We simply do not know where they are supposed to be. This is a major metaphysical problem with possible worlds. By contrast, because of their partial nature and smaller size as cognitive representations of the world, mental spaces can be claimed to be cognitively real. We can think of them are small activated areas of the brain/mind.

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