Abstract Prof.dr. Arie Verhagen

Arie Verhagen is professor in Dutch Linguistics at the University of Leiden. His abstract for the SAD 2011 conference can be found here.

Construal and stylistics – within a language, across discourse types, and across languages

I will explore and illustrate some general consequences of (cognitive) linguistic approach to style, one which underlies the fact that the final product of the Leiden Stylistics project will be in Dutch, rather than in the present day scientific lingua franca. The starting assumption is the insight that the meaning of linguistic items usually and crucially involves a particular construal of some conceptual content. The second step is that the same conceptual content allows multiple construals and thus multiple non-equivalent descriptions, so that actual discourse always involves choices from the conceivable construals; it is these linguistically triggered construals that constitute the basis of style and stylistic differences, at the level of words and sentences but also at higher levels of discourse, and in any type of discourse. The final step is that linguistic signs – words and constructions conventionally associated with some function, including that of signifying a particular construal – are not inherently universal, but usually language specific (even if there may be some linguistic construals with a universal character, e.g. negation). The consequence is that kinds of construal and style(s) are language specific as well.

I will demonstrate and elaborate these points with a number of phenomena, using both narrative and argumentative discourse, and mostly comparing Dutch and English. Then I will shift the discussion, in a more programmatic way, to the prospects of systematically investigating stylistic similarities and differences across languages, as an extension of an idea formulated by Slobin in a number of publications, viz. that different languages typically exhibit particular ‘rhetorical styles’, characterized as combinations of conventional practices at both at the linguistic and the cultural level.

Last Modified: 09-05-2011