Publication details [#3931]

De Knop, Sabine. 2006. Sociocultural conceptualizations: Schemas, paraphrasing, and metaphorical transfer as metalinguistic learning strategies for French learners of German 16 pp.


Whereas traditional foreign language teaching mainly concentrated on language as an object, that is, on the transmission of grammatical rules and lists of foreign vocabulary items, today's modern language teaching rather concentrates on the language as a communication tool and aims for genuine and fluent communication in semi-authentic situations. Real-life situations are rooted in and follow from culture's experiences in past and present life. This is the dimension in FLT that cognitive linguistics is relevant for. By its usage-based orientation and its being rooted in gestalt psychology and phenomenology, it offers a possibility of perceiving and describing the layer of sociocultural experience in a scientifically motivated way. On this cognitive view, extralinguistic reality is not an unstructured mass, but it is experientially structured as the result of coherent conceptualizations in diverse categories, each firmly based in larger domains of experience. Reality, that is the experience of reality, is organized by speakers of different languages in different categories: "We communicate the world as our language structures the phenomena of the world and categorises them as entities, processes, actions, space, time, etc. Consequently our general cognitive ability, as far as categorisation functions are concerned, interacts with our linguistic ability." (Dirven, 1989, p. 57) If we postulate a relationship between language and the categorization, which is a result of our conceptualization, then we can conclude that differences between languages reflect differences in the conceptualization (also see Taylor, 1993, p. 213). Categorization is not only or solely universal, but also and to a very large extent culturally specific, which means that more often than not it differs from one language to the other. This is particularly clear when we compare historically strongly related conceptualizations in the Romance languages with those in the Germanic languages. We will try to show this for three different domains, one in the verbal sphere, one in the nominal sphere, and one in case morphology: 1) Motion and the manner of motion as conceptualized in verb-oriented vs. satellite-oriented languages: As Talmy (1985), Slobin (1996) and many other researchers have shown, Romance languages are verb-oriented languages which tend to use more general verbs of motion and do not tend to specify the manner of motion nor the path of motion, whereas Germanic languages incorporate manner specifications much more into the verb and specify the path of motion in adverbial satellites. Thus, whereas French uses the verb 'aller' in a more schematic or abstract way for any kind of movement or change of location, German obligatorily uses several linguistic signs and must differentiate between the way the movement is taking place: 'gehen' (only on foot), 'fahren' (by car, train or boat), 'fliegen' (by air). But the path of motion requires satellites in German: 'Er rannte aus der Kueche durch das Wohnzimmer zur Strasse'/'Il sortit de la cuisine et traversa la salle de séjour pour aller à la rue'. For the French learner of German this not only means that s/he has to acquire many more specific verbs, but also and especially that s/he has to learn to experience and see events in different ways, much more focusing on both the manner as the core of the motion to be conceptualized obligatorily in each utterance and on the various possible satellites not left as an optional choice, but forming part of the experiential habitus. 2) Spatial conceptualization as static vs. dynamic location enforced by morphosyntax: Teachers of German know all too well that spatial relations as conceptualized in German and syntactically realized in the system of verbs, prepositions and case marking in sentences constitute a major problem for French speakers: These verbs must be used either with a dative for static location or with an accusative for dynamic location object. This differentiated use has been described in great detail in CL research, e.g. by Di Meola (1998), Meex (2002), Smith (1993), Serra Borneto (1997), and others. This static/dynamic differentiation relates to the difference Germans experience and see between verbs which express an already existing location (stehen, sitzen, liegen) (+ wo-complement) and verbs which express physical motion towards a landmark: something or someone stellen, setzen, legen (+ wohin complement). To facilitate the experiential learning and gradual acquisition of this difference one can describe German spatial verbs in visualised schemas with their different syntactic realizations. The crux is that this spatial distinction within spatial relations is also transposed to more abstract domains of thought as linguistically laid down in German. Some abstract German verbal expressions such as auf ein Problem eingehen, sich an die Hoffnung klammern, in eine andere Sprache übersetzen make the French speaker face a similar dilemma: is this an instance of a static or a dynamic abstract location? Here the concept of metaphor or metaphorical transfer can help us explain the different syntactic realizations. FLT vaguely advised the foreign-language learner "to learn to think in the foreign language". This can only happen with a cognitively and experientially rooted approach to language understanding and description, we now are in a position to begin to appreciate what this slogan involves. (Sabine De Knop)