19 September 2010

Mixing not just words but concepts

At the “Cognitive Approaches to Literature Session” of the Modern Language Association Convention in New York in 2002, Martine Fernandes presented a paper entitled "Hybridity in Postcolonial Francophone Novels: A Cognitive Approach."

The abstract of the paper promises a theoretical approach to multilingual literature:

“I argue that cognitive linguistics, which is concerned with the conceptual apparatus that shapes our language, is useful to account for the literary representation of hybrid identities in postcolonial Francophone novels.  My contention is that textual hybridity lies in emergent conceptual structures and not so much in the lexicon, i.e. in the mixing of codes, as most linguistic studies of hybridity in Francophone novels claim. Drawing upon George Lakoff's contemporary theory of metaphor, and Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner's theory of conceptual integration, I propose a definition of cultural hybridity as ‘conceptual blending’ that enables me to describe textual hybridity in its multiple forms (including but not limited to code mixing). … This cognitive approach not only addresses the need for a formal methodology to study Francophone literary texts but also contributes to the recognition of Francophone novels as ideologically and aesthetically complex literary productions.”

Indeed, not only Francophone novels, but all novels, even those presumably written by monolingual writers in their own languages, are “ideologically and aesthetically complex literary productions.”  Part of the aesthetic complexity is the effect of the unacknowledged multilingualism of monolingual writers.  Also part of that complexity is the interplay, not only of words borrowed from other languages, but of concepts and ideas growing out of the other languages.

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