Liane Ströbel

Sensorimotor-based Concepts and the Discourse World

Language is a genetically given human ability to combine mental units in a way no other being is able to do. With the help of the linguistic code it is not only possible to speak about something visible in the discourse situation, but also to talk about actions that have either taken place in the past or will happen in the future, or even about abstract entities such as emotions. In the following, I show that it is rather basic vocabulary that takes its source in the human body that is used in order to make an “invisible” action or concept linguistically “visible” in the concrete discourse situation. It is illustrated at the end of this chapter that this strategy ultimately leads to the rise of new grammatical categories.

Grammatical change never occurs out of context, it rather happens in real discourse situations (Kuteva 2001:3, 113, 180). A rather high tolerance scale in a face-to-face communication is favoring linguistic variation. The impact whether a linguistic innovation will lead to a change in language relies, however, upon the transparency of a pattern or universal strategy behind it.

Linguistic utterances (at least in the mother tongue) are produced automatically. In general, the speaker is convinced that the hearer will understand the new form/structure because he/she is aware that the hearer is constantly interpreting during their conversation. The coding of the cognitive pattern that the speaker is using is most of the time easily decoded by the hearer, given the fact that there are certain factors or communication rules at work that influence the expectations of the hearer. In general, the hearer is aware that the submitted content is far more complex than the transmitted linguistic material. The fact that information has to be added to the content is therefore a basic communication tool (Hopper and Traugott 2003: 79).

In order to decode the message successfully, the hearer has to be able to understand – consciously or intuitively – the reason why the speaker has chosen a certain structure or form to code the message. In other words: the motivation behind the choice must be obvious, at least partially. Still, the “problem is that ‘one swallow doth not a summer make’, and one change in the grammar of an individual does not constitute what we think of as a change in ‘a language’” (Hopper and Traugott 2003: 47; Croft 1995: 53). In other words: three factors must be fulfilled in order that one utterance will lead to linguistic change: First, the pattern or the strategy employed by the producer of the utterance should not be specific but of universal nature. Second, the utterance must not only be transparent but at the same time should not lead to more than one interpretation. Third, the new form should be flexible enough to be used in a many different situations.

The motivation behind the rise of periphrastic constructions might originally have been the wish for “une expression intense” (Meillet 1926: 140f.) or expressivity ( Thielmann 1885: 519–521). By using a metaphor or metaphorical expression the producer does not only avoid using a simpler form but also adds semantic in- formation to the utterance (e.g. I have a foot in the door). Metaphorical processes take place on the paradigmatic level, while metonymic processes take place on the syntagmatic level (e.g. I have doubts). e main difference between metaphor- and metonymy-based constructions lies in their flexibility:

I have a *hand, *arm, *leg, etc. in the door. vs.

I have doubts, concerns, ideas, a dream, faith etc.

Metonymy-based constructions are more flexible than metaphor-based ones, because in this case a new expressive form is not simply chosen, but the relation between the core (doubts) and the subject of the utterance is strengthened by using a sensorimotor-based verb (have).