METAPHORS AND INTERCOMPREHENSION
Université Paul Verlaine Metz & CELTED
Our interest in cognitive linguistics focuses here on the following points of view: (i)
sociocognitive, as a descriptive, interpretative discipline for mo
des of linguistically grasping a
reality (intersubjective representations, shared by a sociocultural community); and
metacognitive, as a tool in a reflexive learning situation for comprehending, producing, and
appropriating previous linguistic
If the articulation between linguistics and applied linguistics is of interest to us here, it is
nonetheless true that the development of cognitive linguistics has not (yet) borne all its fruits in
terms of linguistic appropriation
(namely, in lang
uage acquisition and language learning
and it is pertinent to wonder whether and how the tr
ansfer will continue to operate. P
functional theories and methodologies ha
subjected the notion to the
function and the word to the
act, which has not meant great progress for the cause of meaning
between the repetition of structural batteries and the simulation of scenarios not to say
Nevertheless, we are witnessing a cognitive and textual renewal and it
seems that the transfers
have taken place in the direction of a resemantization of linguistic appropriations.
Thus, on the
basis particularly of the works of Benveniste and Weinrich, we have seen the appearance of
contents and practices concerning the inte
rpretation and/or use of declarative marks (personal,
deictic, or linked to the aspectual, modal, temporal values).
Things have gone the same way for
(skills), thanks to the work deriving from
(Beaugrande & Dressler 1981). Here again, results have been achieved:
organisation of text, coherence
cohesion, anaphora, thematisation, text typology, etc. Narratology
(Genette) and discourse analyses (Bakhtine) have helped here (see the notions
dialogism, polyphony, etc. applied to narrative texts and to reported speech). But, as Benveniste
says, in every case, we are, and we remain more confronted with manifestations of the
, be they conventional, than wi
th collective representations: doubtless, it is more
difficult to grasp the points of view of a community on the world…
Nevertheless, as far as referential and lexical semantics is concerned (this is one of the favourite
areas of cognitive linguistics and
where the results should be the most significant), it seems we
have difficulty going beyond the stage of applications. This lag is no doubt not only due to the
relative rarity of research results in this field, or rather in this conception of linguistics,
upstream, to the very complexity of this research: "It is a commonplace to say that every
language embodies in its very structure a certain world
view, a certain philosophy. To prove it in
a rigorous and verifiable way, however, is quite a differ
ent matter" (Wierzbicka 1988: 169).
Now, if one follows this author's premises, one is obliged to note that the difficulties take on
greater importance with the lexicon:
Since the syntactic constructions of a language embody and codify certain language
and ways of thinking, the syntax of a language must determine to a considerable extent this language's
It is true that lexical items also embody language specific ways of thinking.
semantic analysis of an entire le
xicon is a gigantic task…
And one would suppose the same holds true for its acquisition. Nevertheless we shall attempt to
see what contents and activities for the acquisition of lexis can be envisaged in cognitive terms,
using the following concret
e examples, or the precise domain, in theoretical and applied
linguistics: the nominal designations, between anaphora and metaphors: knowing that the former
often allow for inaccurate or deformed references to the referential and the latter for us to "gras
and catch" it under improper or borrowed features, it is finally for an "indirect" but dynamic
appropriation of vocabulary that we are pleading, hoping also that this practice will attain the
intercultural and collective dimension mentioned.
: cognitive linguistics, from theory to applications
We began from the observation that cognitive linguistics has not borne all its fruits in terms of
applications. After presenting the principles of cognitive linguistics from the theoretical and
oints of view, we shall see to what difficulties, in our opinion, the establishment of a
grammar of representations
has been and is still exposed. We shall define at the right moment
what we mean by
, while still making the effort to articul
cognitive linguistics and
grammar of representations
1.1 Theoretical or sociocognitive point of view
We shall first envisage cognitive linguistics as a descriptive and interpretative discipline of the
modes of lingui
stically grasping reality.
This brings up the question of the reality of an external
world, which is not always accepted or postulated as such in semantic research today (Kleiber
1997). But we shall not enter this ontological debate, as, for what concerns
us, we mean by
"world" a world of experience, which is thus related to individuals sharing, apart from a
language, modes of being in the world, or in this world.
This established, it is no longer the point to study the world as such (this task is for the p
sciences), but in fact intersubjective representations, those shared by a sociocultural community.
The affirmation of the existence of these representations is based on the fact that individuals
share, linguistically and otherwise.
Thus they are in
a relationship of intercomprehension.
clear that here we are touching, and very closely, on preoccupations of an intercultural nature…
We can find the essential of these pre
supposed theories in one of the founding works of
discourse analysis (Brown
& Yule 1998: 206
): "Analytic distinction can be made between what
is in the world and what we might describe as the representation in a person's mind of what is in
These authors add that intercomprehension is based on "a similar general exper
ience of the
world, sociocultural conventions" and that it is rare that "a hearer's identification of an individual
entity in his representation will be an exact replica of what exists in the speaker's representation".
These quotations lead us to one last
specification: we shall mean by
effect of a common experience of the world
what one can call
idealised cognitive model
following Lakoff (1987)
and the expression of all this.
or metacognitive point of view
We shall now envisage cognitive linguistics as a tool, for the appropriation, the comprehension,
the production of the linguistic modes of representation previously described. Thus there are two
metacognitive levels: the
level of appropriation and that of the modes of representations;
but here we shall envisage their relationship. There remains the question of knowing how
recourse to cognition is justified, and at both of the levels presented.
1.2.1 Reflexive appr
opriation and cognition
We shall certainly not assimilate both; rather we shall place them in a contiguous, or better still a
Reflexive appropriation (in language acquisition and language learning)
had its defenders and illustrato
rs at the close of the behaviourist
structuralist period (in brief, the
method which, twenty years ago, was based on repetitive appropriation mechanisms), and in
The following principles are set out or recalled i
n relation to operations of identification (§ 6.2.1 "Reference
and discourse representations"); a precision of great importance in the perspective which we have given ourselves:
the applications of referential and lexical semantics.
France they were found in the works inspired by
(Benveniste, Culioli: cf.
Reflexive appropriation is not therefore new.
But the first confirmed contiguity and continuity between enunciation theories and cognitive
linguistics is in the field of fundamental research: see, in particular, Culioli, Fauconnier and
ff in the proceedings directed by Fuchs & Robert (1997). As Fuchs shows in her
introductory article, this contiguity
continuity results from a shared interest both in the diversity
of languages and, thereby, in modes of representations, thus of intercultur
al variations. In both
cases, one can draw the effect, on the appropriation level, that language and culture articulate:
[The diversity of languages leads to the] problem of the diversity of significant representations
constructed by languages. Languages l
inguistics urgently [needs to be] opened up to cognitive
perspectives and vice versa. [We must therefore research] the links between linguistic
conceptualisation, culture and thought [in an] ethno
(Fuchs, art. quoted, 4
continuity is not
to our knowledge
confirmed in the ap
of linguistic appr
opriations, at least not in France. We shall see (section 1.3) the difficulties that
still separate us from it.
1.2.2 Learning representations
Now we n
eed to see how useful and necessary it is to make the links postulated here by Fuchs
and elsewhere by Duranty (2000: 212): "Link grammar to culture".
Duranty thus shows, based
iation markers (op. cit.: 209, i
ndexes, shifters and deictic terms), t
hat the speech acts
such as for example recounting stories, describing the properties of objects, or attracting
someone's attention have another dimension, less obvious but just as effective:
By listening to someone giving directions, for instance, we mig
ht be able to gather information on
where that person comes from, his/her social class, his/her familiarity with the surroundings […] may
be his/her political views…
The act, be it informative or referential, is thus accompanied by an "indexical" and a "so
In both cases, speaking is then "a continuity process of contextualisation" (op. cit.:
This conception remains nevertheless more centred on the singular individual than on the
collective subject; one can still find this option in the l
ine of work on the
recently, with Culioli (1997: 56, conclusion): "Without a subject, in its relations with other
Cf. Mel'cuk (1997).
subjects, we cannot take account of the empirical observations which are the trace of our
cognitive activity, as it appears,
in a specific way, through the language."
, the influence of the work of Benveniste and Weinrich on the semantic
renewal of contents and practices in language acquisition and langage learning has been
But it has also be
en said that the manifestations of the subject in the language are
not collective representations, these latter being no doubt more difficult to grasp.
1.3 Difficulties of application
We shall try to expose the patterns, under various headings.
dology (I): the theoretical collection and exploitation of data
The lag observed is no doubt due, upstream, to the very complexity of this type of research; again
we quote Wierzbicka (1988: 169):
Scholars tend to treat the Humboldtian (or Whorfian) thesis
that every language embodies in its very
structure a certain world
view, a certain philosophy
with suspicion and embarrassment.
that this is precisely because while being obviously true it is at the same time notoriously difficult to
On the other hand, in cultural or ethnolinguistic terms, Fuchs remarks (1997: 5) that "the problem
of the diversity of significant representations constructed by languages" in fact raises a big
methodological or epistemic problem: that of the very observat
ion of, or noticing, the relevant
facts in constrastivity; Fuchs then quotes Hockett (1954, 116; our italics): "The differences
between languages lie less in
what it is possible to specify
what it is relatively easy or
difficult to specify
Methodology (II): relevance of the applications?
Besides the fact that, while significant, the results of research in this branch of linguistics are still
rare, it seems "simpler" to propose (to students of linguistics) a reasoned description of a corpus
r a state of language than to transpose these same data into language learning contents.
seem therefore necessary to calculate the cost of work of conceptualisation (Fuchs) that this form
of reflexive learning would represent. And we may suspect,
always in terms of relevance and
treatment, that the cost would be disproportionate to the benefit of what is finally acquired.
But there is, if one may say so, something more serious: one finds with cognitivists themselves a
radical position, which goes "
against the tide" of a methodology founded on the development of
linguistic competences. This is particularly true of Thomas & Turner (1996) who, at the
beginning of their manual of written expression for American students, state:
The teaching of writing
in America is almost entirely controlled by the view that teaching writing is
teaching verbal skills
from the placing of commas to the ordering of paragraphs […] Our answer is
that writing is an intellectual activity, not a bundle of skills.
eeds from thinking. To
achieve good prose styles, writers must work through intellectual issues, not merely acquire
mechanical techniques. Although it is true that an ordinary intellectual activity like writing must lead
to skills, and that skills visibly
mark the performance, the activity does not come from the skills, nor
does it consist of using them […] Writing is defined conceptually and leads to skills. Intellectual
activity generate skills, but skills do not generate intellectual activity
onship is not
symmetric. (op. cit.: 3
After the rather somber observations we have just made, we would nevertheless like to suggest
avenues which allow us to envisage a methodology in the framework of cognitive linguistics.
Let us say first, along with
Brassart (1990: 79), that meaning, in the text as in verbal interaction,
springs both "from knowledge of the referential (referential or informative dimension)", and
"more general knowledge of social relationships or conventions", and finally "the knowledg
structures, of prototypical textual schemes"; we shall refer finally to three of Halliday's (1985)
linguistic dimensions or functions: ideational, interpersonal, organizational.
We shall take up in detail the first function in the framework of a metho
dology "oriented towards
cognitive processes, mental operations more than towards products" (Brassart, op. cit.: 76
Meaning does not function without informational or thematic content. From this point of view,
cognitive linguistics applied to texts an
d speech (what we call
interested in the referents before seeing what the textual representations of them are (we are
entering the domain of referential and lexical semantics), and what the thematic organisations
are which make these referents topics or subjects of speech.
Reflexivity or metacognition here covers designations and their possible evolution (by
pronominal, demonstrative reformulations…).
Besides, nominal designation and particularly
reformulation is t
he favoured place for expressing a point of view.
This reflexive methodology is
wide open to vocabulary and the appropriation of it, on condition however, in our opinion, that
we quit a conception of lexis in terms of distinctive traits (we shall develop t
his further in part
From designative choices there may result, according to the systematicity, a vision of the world,
which opens up the possibility of textual study in the light of the social sciences, and particularly
of the history of ideas (Ach
Bayle: 1999). But may we
say from our modest experience
this extension is difficult to establish from the indications proposed?
Besides, cognitive linguistics teaches us that there is not really an "exact" word
If one follows
the present theorie
s of the prototype (cf. Kleiber 1990), one tends rather towards a categorization
of nouns according to their family resemblance, which enables us to integrate in one proto
stereotypical category, thus to record under the same species name: a lime like
a lemon, a sheep
with four as with five legs, a white or black swan, a tiger with or without stripes and so on…
1.4. Summary & openings
The potential of an LAL favouring meaning and cultural representations requires going beyond
(i) only communicative or p
ragmatic approaches as well as (ii) local or formal analyses (micro
syntax, lexical semantics in language, lexis
grammar link) left to us by structural or generative
transformational grammar (cf. Langacker 1999
But we have said that, if results have
been acquired in textual semantics (text organisation,
cohesion, anaphora, thematisation, text typology, etc.), we were always confronted
more by manifestations of the subject in the language than by collective representations; and
seeing it's m
ore difficult, it has also been said, to grasp the points of view of a community on the
world, it seems we are still far from a grammar of representations.
We want nevertheless to defend this perspective, as it is already based on proposals and
. Talking of experiences, we wondered if this type of reflexive method could only
come at advanced levels of acquisition
Bayle: 2001), as it seems to demand of
first that he/she be capable of distancing or modelling, a
nd second that
he/she share "naturally" and reflexively the codes, values and points of view of one or better of
several linguistic and cultural communities (Eckkrammer et al.: 1999); which presupposes
therefore not only advanced competence (skills) in lan
guage and methodology, but also an
interpersonal attitude half
way between complicity and curiosity (Pentcheva & Shopov: 1999).
But the propositions of these various researchers will help us to show the opposite.
One can say in a word that contrastive text
ology allows for a theoretical description
allow one to appropriate
textual or enunciation processes, by comparison and distancing.
allows one in theory
so should allow one in practice also
outside of corpuses and plain
ng recipes, small ads, packaging and instructions on medicines, net
talk, etc.) to
pick out constants, and, consequently, cultural variations. Thus we can get round the problem of
just literary text capable of or liable to signify representations. In as mu
ch as recipes can come
For a criticism of lexical analyses in
ch. 9: What is in a noun?).
from works which present a high interest value for the historical development of mentalities (e.g.
in this context the English, French or Catalan Middle Ages).
Concerning Pentcheva & Shopov (the title of their book is significant), t
heir propositions give
prominence to cognition, as the primary principle of appropriation.
In concrete terms, these
researchers show that speaking, knowing, learning one language, and another, are conceptual
activities, which means exactly: possessing or i
nvesting a specific "conceptual domain" (op. cit.:
9), i.e. a mental space of representations determined by a shared social and sociocultural
experience of the world.
Here we find the familiar vocabulary of a Fauconnier or a Turner
. It is
therefore no coi
ncidence that the illustrations that the writers of Whole Language, Whole Person
propose concern firstly metaphors (in the tradition of Lakoff & Johnson 1987 and 1999).
We shall therefore conclude here on these suggestions. The theory of conceptual spaces,
and integration (Fauconnier 1997, Turner 2000), or the theory of the
allow for a renewal of lexical appropriation from metaphors. Now not only will the latter no
longer be conceived as literary ornaments, but rather as
modes of conceptualisation anchored in
daily life, but they will also enable appropriation to be no longer partitioned and strictly
denotative, but dynamic and transversal through conceptual domains, for the reason that they
exhibit a likeness.
tions in the semantics of designations
We would like to present here some practical propositions for the appropriation (acquisition and
learning) of vocabulary.
2.1 How to "derive" in lexical semantics?
First of all, it seems that the dominant principles a
nd practices are inspired by traditional
semantics which usually presents vocabulary in the form of lists, i.e. according to orders which
are supposed to reflect the organisation of lexemes in the language, more than according to their
usage in speech or c
ontext. From this point of view, lexemes are, in the structural tradition,
arranged in relation, if such is the case, of groupings by thematic "interest" (cf. Spaeth 1964, or
Thiry et al. 1999), or even "notional
functional", or of lists of synonyms or ant
Pentcheva & Shopov nevertheless remind us that this idea of language as a conceptual domain to inhabit or
invest comes from the Humboldt's philosophy of
language (which is proved by Nerlich & Clarke 1999).
Here we find Cruse's two great "hierarchical configurations" put into practice (1997: 136 and
157): hyponymic taxinomies and meronymies, which can be represented by the following
These presentations and representations of course have their usefulness, but one must also say
that from these tree diagrams, linguis
tic "grasping" thus the appropriation of lexemes will
essentially take place in the form of utterances out of context or "allways
true" of the same type
as those which Cruse quotes after his diagrams:
(1) A spaniel is a kind of dog. (2) A rose is a type of
flower. (3) A hand has fingers. (4) A finger is
a part of hand.
(Cruse op. cit.: 137 and 161)
However it seems that if one spends time on utterances which present "incompatible hyponymic"
relations, one can better practise the language in action (notably
A waiter is a kind of man.
What kind of animals did you see at the zoo?
Big ones, little ones…
(ii) Lions, tigers, monkeys, zebras…
1) A hand has fingers.
1) A wife has a husband.
finger is a part of a hand.
A husband is a part of a wife.
One may even suppose that the more the native and foreign languages present variations or
differences on these questio
ns of organisation or hierarchy
, the more lexical reflexive
on for L2 (and by the same token L1) will be motivating, because it will be exotic.
It was also noticeable, in the mini
dialogue quoted (6
1 to 6
3), that the lexical "errors" can also
be "errors" of communication. In this case, reflexive LAL is not only l
inked to the act, but is also
based on the fact that if language is
inherent in the social
(Akhtar & Tomasello 2000: 116
then learning a language can or must be done "in and for conversations", therefore including
when these conversations are for edu
cative or didactic purposes:
The key social
cognitive ability […] is the capacity to view other humans as intentional agents […] In
using a given word, a speaker means to call attention to some entity for which the word is a
conventional symbol. Therefore
, in order to understand a new word, the child must enter into a state of
joint focus with the speaker […]
In some situations; an adult can aid the child by commenting on
something that is already at the child's focus of attention…
(Akhtar & Tomasello art.
2.2 Metaphors for a different kind of lexical appropriation
We have just seen what benefits one could draw from the taxonomic "trial and error" of a child,
or a learner.
We shall try to pursue here the same "unsignposted" paths, but for the o
side of lexis, reference and nominal designations.
One can, in the best of cases, expect to learn a
few lessons no longer on a point of view but on mentalities, which would allow us to reach the
level of collective representations that we wis
h for, which links (more) systematically language
Metaphor should, among other domains of reflection and linguistic activity, allow us to reach the
We must first bear in mind that metaphor like any nominal description can
pear in the referential or in the attributive position.
Only in the former case does it designate,
and thus acquire an autonomous referential status which confers on it an ontological foundation
and thus a superior argumentative force; to put it briefly, i
t's better to say: That vermin… that
Gregor, that vermin… to transmit to or impose on others one's point of view in any case, than,
Gregor is vermin… Besides, metaphor with referential status can be included in the list of
inaccurate anaphora and its refle
priation be thus included in the series of phenomena
and procedures of grasping and of "oblique" representations.
But there is more. Metaphor is at the very heart of cognition
thus of lexis; which is evidenced
by appendix 1: the family is, stra
ight off, presented as a circle.
Now one can collect such
metaphors to see not only how they run through and structure lexis (as in such vocabulary lists
drawn up by themes or interests), but also an entire sociocultural representation (such as is, in its
way, the chapter of the manual which we are studying here).
Thus if one takes this document as an example, a first scanning reveals, rapidly, that, if the
metaphor of the circle only really appears in the title, except perhaps in the illustration which
lows, this illustration on the other hand supplies another "sizeable" metaphorical clue: the tree
which overhangs and protects the family circle.
Now, the tree also takes root, and we know that it
represents genealogy in numerous cultures. Then we see (at
the foot of page 1 in appendix 1) that
the first utterance, supposed to put lexis in context or into practice, includes the verb
aus…, come from
…, which comes from
, whose original meaning is
. The tree image
thus becomes a metaphor and t
akes on various meanings.
Now, if you continue reading or
studying the chapter, you find the tree (at least) twice, as a species name and in the referential
function (appendix 2):
wir Kinder sangen und tanzten dazu um den grossen
as an el
) of comparison (appendix 3):
Aber unbeweglich und wie aus
sind die von Arbeit und Schiksal harten Gesichter
Thus it seems we really have here a
"thread", a point of view of representations which is applied to several domains of
man and his diverse environments, family, village, countryside, region, profession, religion, etc.,
sets them in relation, blends them.
It remains to be seen how we can interpret them (inter)
On this point, whose aim is to relate m
etaphor and mentalities, we propose to start a second route
which will leave, but also take the reader out of, the manual.
It will then be necessary to consider
the manual as a document which reflects, more or less directly, a point of view, or a set (to b
determined) of points of view, attested, contested, by other documents.
It thus appears quite
clearly that the metaphors which we have picked out refer to a certain number of images, and
therefore bring back a certain number of "romantic", or conventiona
l images of German or
Germanic culture and society: the
is here the most "conspicuous", but one could add
the evocation of the (Swabian) forest, traditional costumes, even wood carving, etc.
It wouldn't be
difficult to find in other documents co
nvergent and divergent representations.
We shall not go any further, because it seems to us that if we want to progress in this direction of
intercultural interpretation, in which we need an interdisciplinary investigatory procedure to
exploit, in the sense of a grammar of representations, or mentalities, such documents, and the
images and points of view they purvey.
add that the undertaking will be a
chance to show (including to learners) firstly how far representati
on of self (e.g. texts of writers
in appendices 2 and 3) and representation of others overlap (these texts were chosen by the author
of the manual himself); secondly how far diverse representations
, which here
again results both from the
texts quoted and from the very choice of these texts.
We have tried to plead in favour of cognitive linguistics and reflexive appropriation.
aim we have trodden a path which leads from lexis to the language
culation is the key to research into cognitive linguistics, it should be also for language
acquisition and learning which is no longer limited to formal frameworks (morpho
structurally inspired lexis , "pragmatics" of communicative diagrams or sce
narios), but opens out
to the world and to the modes of representation of the world which is why full benefit will in our
opinion be drawn from designative lexis, and from certain procedures of (re) categorisations such
as inaccurate anaphora and metaphors
to question and to cause a diverse emergence of the
relations of words to the world.
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The Semantics of Grammar
Appendix 1: Extract from Spaeth (1964: 1)
Appendix 2: Extract from Spaeth (1964: 6)
Ein Grossvater zu haben, ist wunderschön…
Mit allen Sorgen und Fragen konnte man zu ihm kommen: er wusste für alles einen Rat und hatte immer ein liebes
Wort für uns.
Und was für schöne Dinge er machen konnte! Die herrlichen Drachen, dir so hoch wie der Kirchturm
steigen konnten… Und Ziehharmonika konnte er auch spielen, und wir Kinder sangen und tanzten dazu um den
grossen Lindenbaum herum…
(Dauthendey, no ref.)
ve a grandfather is marvellous…
We could go and find him with all sorts of worries and questions: he always had good advice to give us, a kind word
to say to us. And the beautiful things he could do! Those superb kites, which could rise up as high as the c
bell… And he could also play the accordion, and we children never missed the opportunity to sing and dance around
the lime tree…
Appendix 3: Extract from Spaeth (1964: 7)
Eine Hochzeit im Schwarzwald
Die Glocken laüten, und von ihren Häusern herab zu
r Kirche ins Tal steigen die Alten und die Jungen im festlichen
Kleid. Aber unbeweglich und wie aus Holz geschnitzt sind die von Arbeit und Schiksal harten Gesichter…
Die Reise ins Schwabenland
, Fleischhauer & Spohn Verlag, Stuttgart, 1949)
arriage in Swabia
The bells ring, and from the house come young and old, going down to the church, in the valley, in festival costume.
But the faces, wrinkled by work and fate, are impassive, and as if carved in wood… (A. Lämmle,
Within the frame of the cognitive and textual renewal we are witnessing in linguistics, we
study the articulations and transfers (effective or desirable) between theories and applications, in
order to progress in the direction of a resemantiza
tion of linguistic appropriations (namely
language acquisition and learning).
On the one hand, the (re) emergence of the intercultural
problematics in communication and discourse studies, on the other, the abundance of works on
(conceptual) metaphors al
to put forward propositions in the lexical domain. Thus, we
want to exceed the limits of a lexical semantic theory
based on the
description of distinctive features, in favour of the family likeness, where metaphors play an
in terms of meaning, reference (oblique) categorizations and (inaccurate)
various case studies, namely by examples of