What does it mean when texts 'really' mean something: Types of evidence for conceptual patterns in discourse


The central argument of this paper is that discourse analysis must be conceptual before it can be critical. The construction of discourse is above all the construction of a conceptual discourse space (cf. Fauconnier, Werth). This space is patterned (I use this term in favor of ‘structured’ to avoid confusion with structuralist approaches) by conceptual devices such as cognitive models (or frames), folk models, metaphors, metonymies, etc. described in the tradition of cognitive linguistics (Lakoff, Johnson, i. a.). While the recently popular blending theory provides a very alluring hypothesis for the kind of cognitive operations functioning on the conceptual patterns in discourse, a practicing discourse analyst is still mostly left to rely on her intuition limiting her to very small parts of the discourse under investigation rather than having a reliable method of identifying the underlying conceptual patterns. So far, relatively little work has been done in this direction. There have been attempts to outline the types of textual representation or triggers for metaphor (Goatly) but we have to go to the ethnomethodology-inspired frame analysis for a more detailed account (Tannen).
This paper first outlines the kinds of conceptual devices and patterns that might be available for a critical treatment. These patterns are then linked to their potential textual representations. It is argued that a successful critical analysis of discourse needs this manner of textual evidence to be able to determine the conceptual patterns underlying the texts it subjects to scrutiny. Only then can we start exposing ‘hidden’ meanings to the possibility of contestation.
Fauconnier, Gilles. 1997. Mappings in thought and language. Cambridge, U.K.; New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press.
Goatly, Andrew. 1997. The language of metaphors. London; New York: Routledge.
Lakoff, George. 1996. Moral politics: what conservatives know that liberals don't. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Tannen, Deborah. 1993. What's in a frame? Surface evidence for underlying expectations. In Framing in discourse, ed. Tannen, Deborah, 14-56. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Werth, Paul. 1999. Text worlds: representing conceptual space in discourse: Textual explorations. Harlow: Longman.