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Carita Lundmark

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20082020

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Research

I am a cognitive linguist and my main interest lies within semantics, particularly metaphor, and as a teacher of English and English Linguistics, my interest naturally also extends to how cognitive linguistics can be applied to second language learning and teaching. In my work as a lecturer I'm very much involved in academic writing, which is also one of my research interests. 

Within the framework of cognitive linguistics, there is a significant focus on meaning in language and meaning is understood to play a part in all aspects of language, including grammatical structures. No sharp boundary is assumed to exist between semantics and pragmatics, in that meaning is always understood as meaning in use or meaning in context. Language on the whole is understood to be a reflection of conceptual structures and processes (what goes on in our mind), and these structures and processes are created through our basic bodily experience, our experience of the world, society and culture that we live in, and our experience of how we interact with it. Many of these experiences are shared between people, but there are of course also significant cultural differences. In this way, language is not an isolated component or module in our mind, but very much connected to everything that makes us human, and studying language really becomes a way of studying how we think, understand and perceive things. 

When it comes to metaphor, this is first and foremost understood to be a conceptual process that can be reflected both in language and in other media of expression. In other words, we think metaphorically, that is, we have the cognitive ability to understand or see one thing in terms of something else, and this can then be reflected either in language, where achieving a goal or completing a task can be expressed in terms of delivering something (without anything actually being delivered), or in art, where a sculpture can portray a person in the form of an animal. 

My current research focuses on the meaning of verbs that in different ways express vertical motion, especially downward motion, and it is centred around conventional metaphorical expressions and their creative elaborations. A conventional metaphorical expression is an expression that is established within the language and which most people wouldn't think of as metaphorical. For example, we say that we fall in love, where fall is used metaphorically since we don't actually trip over and land on our face. These can then be elaborated on, making them more creative and more obviously metaphorical, for example if we were to say I fell in love with her in 1987 and I'm still falling. 

In what is intended as a pilot study in preparation for a more extensive project, I am using a limited newspaper corpus in order to study metaphorical and non-metaphorical expressions that include the verbs fall, drop, sink, descend, plummet and plunge (it started to sink in, the dollar continues to plunge, bad times suddenly descend etc.) Media language is an interesting starting point, because in addition to non-metaphorical language and conventional metaphorical language, we here often find examples of creative language use. This provides additional data that sometimes makes the underlying conceptual processes much clearer in that it highlights the connection between the metaphorical and the non-metaphorical use and helps us better understand how meaning works in language. 

Many of these conventional metaphorical expressions would traditionally be called idioms or idiomatic expressions and they also involve phrasal verbs and prepositions, all of which are known as difficult areas for second language learners. Insights into how these expressions work and are motivated (conceptually, socially, and culturally) can therefore in turn also be applied to second language teaching and learning. Traditionally, these types of expressions have been treated as isolated lexical items, where the meaning doesn't correspond to the literal meaning, and where the meaning simply has to be learnt for each individual expression. However, understanding what verbs are used in what types of expressions, why they are used, why more than one verb sometimes can be used in the same type of expression, and why the meaning sometimes differs slightly depending on the choice of verb could provide us with useful patterns that can help facilitate the learning process. How this can be done more specifically is something that I hope to explore in my future project. 

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