FiCLA - Suomen kognitiivisen kielentutkimuksen yhdistys




--> The Channels and Interfaces of Cognitive Linguistics in Finland

Summary of a panel discussion held at the Helsinki University of Technology on April the 23th 2004 during a seminar arranged by the Finnish Cognitive Linguistics Association FiCLA. The partisipants of the panel were Timo Honkela, Tuomas Huumo, Oili Karihalme, Reetta-Leena Kenttä, Urho Määttä, Jussi Niemi, Tiina Onikki-Rantajääskö, and Urpo Nikanne.

1.        When did the cognitive linguistics start in Finland?

Finland touched the second wave of the international cognitive linguistics in real time at the end of the 80´s and the beginning of the 90´s, when Leino, Nikanne, Onikki, and Östman published a series of orientative texts. There had been predecessors in the Finnish linguistics, such as Lagercrantz, Erkki Itkonen, Terho Itkonen, and Anttila (remark of Määttä). Jussi Niemi, Esa Itkonen, and a couple of child language researchers used as well as criticized cognitive methods at an early stage.

The panel members sensed a certain tension between the established linguistic theories - above others the langackerian and construction grammar - and the recent developments of the intensifying research made by neurologists in the 90´s, named the Decade of the Brain. We have many good reasons to evaluate the importance of "the cognitive commitment" again. The information technology research increasingly targets the central phenomena of learning, understanding, and producing natural language. In the HUT,  Timo Honkela, Krista Lagus, and Riitta Salmelin have reached extremely interesting results in their experiments and utilization of technological models.

2.        What makes linguistics cognitive?

The interest: The interest of knowing about the relations between the representation stages in mind and language is strong. There have been a few of hard thinking and hard working individual persons especially among the teachers of Finnish language and general linguistics.

The perspective: The essential role of meaning and semantics was explicated in the panel; most of the cognitivists of the elder generation are former semanticists. At present time, it is possible to start the university studies as a precisely planning cognitive linguist because of the new combinations of study lines and the institutions and nets founded at the universities.

The theory: While the paradigms of cognitive linguistics are becoming more compact the dynamics of the scientific progress and change is working well. The young generation avoids fixed truths and a lively criticism of traditional concepts of the theories is rising.

The system of cognitive concepts: Cognitive linguistics like the whole bunch of cognitive sciences has enormous conceptual problems - even if this state of vagueness is advantageous too. The panel asked if we still live on the conditions of the turingian computer metaphor of mind. What does "computation" mean to us linguists of today? Is it only a fuzzy synonym for thinking (see Fodor 1998). Or is it a powerful reality-revealing metaphor?

The methods: There is a range of basic methodological problems which continuerly demand  our consideration: first of all, we have to ponder how well the experimental methods of researching for instance syntax and semantics suit to our cognitive questions and materials. One of the eternal subjects of discussion is the value and usefulness of  introspection. Introspection as a cognitive method has gained a bad reputation but has never vanished from the philosophical disputation; now the method seems to be returning to the phenomenological research and the study of consciousness.

The material.  What kind of linguistic material is suitable to be treated by the cognitive methods? -Probably every kind, but the frames of time and situation can cause severe methodological trouble: is it justified to apply synchronic models of interpretation on old material and  the evaluation of diachronic hypotheses? The use of computers enables the covering of large corpuses. Due to this the prospects of successful generalizations are good, in contrast to the possibilities of the analysis of subjective phenomena.

3.        How  are the linguists placed in the cognitive community of science?

Most of the linguists want to be co-operative. The ideal way of working would be in a group in which the knowledge of all the cognitive sciences could condense. Certain problems still arise from the conventional attitudes of the cognitive scientists. Their attention is mainly directed to other areas than language.

Unfortunately, the reality of the Finnish universities does not favor multidisciplinary groups. Only one of the counterparts can take advantage from the collaboration in form of  "points" and get the fiscal benefits  followed  by them. This is a source of frustration because the Academy of Finland for its part encourages  networks with  multidisciplinary aims. The unfavorable situation has an obvious slowing impact on the publicating of the most progressive texts.

4.        What does the Finnish cognitive linguist expect from the future?

Firstly, and most importantly, the cognitive linguist hopes for the continuity of communication between the various subparadigms of cognitivism. The small size of the Finnish scientific community is not entirely a disadvantage. It can be seen as a benefit despite of all the obstacles. If the researchers are able to create a friendly culture and seek each other actively, the collaboration is relatively easy to achieve. This tendency need to be strengthened with a keen consistency of purpose.

The panel also expressed the wish that the new ways of collaboration would emerge very soon. The traditional soloism can be applied on some certain few tasks in the field only. The new working athmosphere  will be a challenge - and a great possibility to the tightening flock of new doctors in linguistics who wish to continue their carrier as researchers.

The summarising statement of the panel was that the paradigm does not  flourish by the power of wishful speaking. There is a real need for concrete research plans which could, for instance, be multidisciplinary explorations of  basic cognitive entities, such as the notion of symbol (Määttä).

Oili Karihalme
Chairwoman of FiCLA