Cognitive grammar beyond the sentence: English and Czech discourse connectives in conceptual contrast


Investigating the text as a whole remains one of the few areas of language that has been under-researched by cognitive grammar. There is not a single mention of ‘anaphora’ let alone ‘cohesion’ in Taylor’s (2002) 600-page introduction to Cognitive Grammar (an omission shared with many current introductions to linguistics). Langacker (1999, 2001) and van Hoek (1997) have shown how cognitive grammar can be used to analyze extended text but this line of inquiry is rarely pursued by researchers in this field. Other linguists working within the confines of cognitive linguistics and/or construction grammar have also done little to encourage this approach. Werth’s (1997) text worlds and Sander’s at al. work on connectives are the exception to the rule.
This paper will demonstrate that as a usage-based model, cognitive grammar is ideally suited to provide a detailed analysis of textual relations. It will take issue with Taylor’s (and others’) assumption that “the clause is a fundamental unit in language” as going against the spirit of cognitive grammar. The idea of a “constructional schema” is central to this account. These schemas structure what Langacker calls “current discourse space” to enable processes similar to those described by the blending theory. Text cohesion can only be fully accounted for if the constructional schemas take into account a cognitively rich structuring of current discourse.
This thesis is illustrated by contrasting connectives in Czech and English (so, therefore, but, however) based on a parallel corpus study. Whereas in English, connectives are used predominantly to express logical relationships between propositions, Czech connectives set up a broader context of contrast including modalities and perspectives. This is represented partly in the significantly higher frequency and register neutrality of connectives such as tak or totiž when compared with the English so and therefore but primarily by the nature of the mental spaces set up by the Czech lexemes. In the instance of totiž, the mental space extends across several sentences and implies that the entire space is a prerequisite for the subsequent statement. Therefore, on the other hand, frequently profiles a specific causal antecedent and as such can often be omitted. As a result, English texts produced by native speakers of Czech are overpopulated with connectives, where a native speaker would leave the relationship between statements stand implicit. Although similar trends apply to other connectives, the roles can be reversed in cases such as the non-spatial use of the relative where as in This is where we differ, which elicits a spatial conceptualization not available to the Czech equivalent kde.
Traditional accounts have confined these differences to the realm of style or simply ignored them. An approach based on cognitive grammar allows us to both see them as an integral part of the conceptual inventory of language or what we refer to as the grammatical system. At the same time, it becomes clear that cognitive grammar must develop a set of tools for dealing with issues outside the scope of the clause or the sentence if it wants to truly account for language in use.