cognitive rhetoric








Research by Todd Oakley, Ph.D.

My areas of interest include English linguistics, rhetoric, and cognitive science.

My work can be characterized as linguistic when it focuses on the ordered properties that comprise typical modes of expression in speaking and writing. My work can be characterized as rhetorical when it focuses on strategic communication in specific situations and contexts. My work can be characterized as cognitive science when it treats expression and strategic communication as part of a general suite of capacities for representing aspects of physical, mental, and social reality. These representations are displaced in time and space. Human beings are unique in their capacity to use symbol systems to alter reality.

The brand name for this kind of research is Cognitive Rhetoric.

Ongoing Research Projects in Cognitive Rhetoric

From Attention to Meaning

I am developing a model of human attention as the cognitive basis of consciousness, discourse, and grammar. This model of human attention consists of three systems: the signal system, the selection system, and the intersubjective system. Eight elements are distributed throughout these systems.

The elements of the signal system include altering and orienting of attention.

The elements of the selection system include selecting, sustaining, and oscillating of attention.

The elements of the intersubjective system include sharing, harmonizing, and controlling of attention.

Click on Elements of Attention to download draft chapters from this book length study.

The Rhetorical Mind

What does it mean to say that Homo sapiens are "rhetorical beings"? This project seeks to address this basic question by answering five related questions:

What is cognitive about rhetoric?

What is rhetorical about cognition?

What elements of cognition permit human beings to create a social ontology?

What can the cognitive sciences tell us about our specie's symbolic systems, it's most powerful tool?

How can the humanities guide the cognitive sciences in really understanding human thought and action?

The provocative claim that I ask both cognitive scientists and rhetoricians to entertain is that Culture itself is a result of a specific phylogenic and ontogenetic story. The story told is one of biological and social processes converging to create a new species, Homo Rhetoricus. This claim is based on the additional claim that cultures are products of cognition and, more controversially, that hominin cultures cause language to emerge rather than language causing cultures to emerge. Symbols and "webs of symbols" by themselves are not what turned Homo sapiens into H. rhetoricus. What turned and turns us into rhetorical agents are conscious experiences in perception and action, joint attention, episodic memory, mental imagery, metacognition, pretense, and empathy--all processes facilitated by greater executive control over body movement and expression, leading to greater interest in other minds. Our capacity for mimesis (see Donald)--for representing experiences and states-of-affairs in iconic and indexical formats under strict bodily control--molds later symbolic thought and action. Under this view, Culture is not the initial product of language, language is the product of a particular manifestation of Mimetic Culture that eventually gives rise to Rhetorical Culture, or cultures defined by symbolic action and social ontology.

This project begins with two radical premises. First, the most interesting things about cognition happen outside our heads and between "minds." Second, the most interesting things about rhetorical practices are shaped by facets of reality outside discourse. In short, this project is neither cognitivist (i.e., it's all inside the head) nor social constructionist (i.e., it's all discourse). Neither classical cognitivism nor radical social constructionism offer compelling accounts of the unique capacities human beings as, in the words of Kenneth Burke, "symbol-making, symbol-using, and symbol-misusing animal[s]."

Experience By Design: How Writers Make Distributed and Discrete Rhetorical Choices

With David Kaufer, Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University, I am starting a project whose purpose is to addresses two methodological challenges facing researchers in text linguistics and genre theory (composition studies).

The first challenge relates to selection bias, as text linguists' sampling methods tend to be subject to the whims and caprices of their own interests instead of focusing on samples that are representative of a specific genre.The second challenge relates to granularity of analysis. It is not always clear what facet of meaning construction text linguists and genre theorists are trying to model at any given time. As a result, analyses tend to slip without warning from genre concerns to lexical and grammatical ones.

Our approach is to combine qualitative (mental spaces and blending theory) and quantitative (factor analysis) methods and approaches to text interpretation as a fruitful way of addressing these two challenges. Using the text parsing program, DocuScope, we are able to build statistical profiles of whole collections of texts. This process allows us to pick out from the corpus those exemplar texts that score highest for a particular factor (a set of variables of specific "language action types" that are either highly active or highly inactive relative to the rest of the corpus) and use them to identify text samples representative of the genre type. Once we settle on appropriate sampling, we then can proceed to conduct deep interpretation of individual texts at three distinct layers of analysis: the genre layer; the artifact layer; and the grammar layer. The result will constitute a new model of rhetorical analysis that allows text linguists and genre theorists to see in detail how individual grammatical choices operate within their discursive environments.

Mental Spaces and Blending Theory

A common thread running through these ongoing research projects concerns the implications of mental spaces and conceptual blending theory as it relates to the production, use, and effects of written texts. In blending theory, the production and comprehension of signs occur as individuals construct many simple, partial, and idealized mental models. The cognitive processes of selective attention and working memory operate conjointly to form what has come to be known as mental spaces. Meaning making occurs as we cobble together many of these simple, partial, idealized models into networks of mental spaces through a process known as cognitive mappings. Such mappings arise as we establish relations of identity, similarity, metonymy, and analogy among elements in separate mental spaces distributed throughout networks of related mental spaces. The establishment of these networks often gives rise to what have come to be known as blended mental spaces, mental spaces that combine perceptual and conceptual structure to create new inferences not available in the other spaces.

Recent Publications in Mental Spaces Theory

Special Issue of Cognitive Linguistics 10.3/4 (2000)

on Coneptual Blending

Edited by Seana Coulson & Todd Oakley

Special Issue of Journal of Pragmatics 37.10 (October 2005)

on Coneptual Blending

Edited by Seana Coulson & Todd Oakley

Forthcoming in 2007 from John Benjamins Publishing

Pragmatics and Beyond Series

Mental Spaces in Discourse and Interaction

Edited by Todd Oakley & Anders Hougaard

Description: The cognitive theory of mental spaces and conceptual integration (MSCI) is a twenty-year-old, cross-disciplinary enterprise that presently unfolds in academic circles on many levels of reflection and research. One important area of inquiry where MSCI can be of immediate use is in the pragmatics of written and spoken discourse and interaction. At the same time, empirical insights from the fields of interaction and discourse provide a necessary fundament for the development of the cognitive theories of discourse. This collection of seven chapters and three commentaries aims at evaluating and developing MSCI as a theory of meaning construction in discourse and interaction. MSCI will benefit greatly not only from empirical support but also from clearer refinement of its methodology and philosophical foundations. This volume presents the latest work on discourse and interaction from a mental spaces perspective, surely to be of interest to a broad range of researchers in discourse analysis.

Contributors: Line Brandt; Seana Coulson; Barbara Dancygier; Anders Hougaard; David S. Kaufer; Todd Oakley; and Robert F. Williams

Commentary: Paul Chilton; Gilles Fauconnier; and Gitte Rasmussen Hougaard

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When I established the thesis of Rhetorical Aspect (Choukri ,1999)I provided an introduction to a new general modular rhetoric which interpret the figures in an aspectual model . so, we can widen the grammatical aspect (Comrie B., 1976 - Cohen, D.1989) into a generic sense. analysing the perfective aspect or the iterative (or habitual) aspect, we may notice that some features like « iteration » and « continuity » have their mirror manifestations in rhetorical figures such as metaphor and alliteration. The basic principle of this thesis is that time is a cognitive component in the linguistic and visual discourses: Poetry, Novel, publicity, and educational discourse... Moreover, time is a procceeding concept, which serves to explain and interpret many discourses. We can therefore ask this question: What is a rhetorical aspectual model? choukri_2007

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