A Cognitive Semantics Approach to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution

1. Theoretical Background: Cognitive Semantics 3 out: “embodiment as broadly experiential” and “embodiment as the bodily substrate” (Rohrer 2007: 31).2 The experiential sense of embodiment is chronologically the earliest and was brought to linguists’ attention by Lakoff and Johnson (1980). While Lakoff and Johnson’s main focus was on conceptual metaphors and their ubiquity in language and thought, they also noticed an intriguing directionality in metaphorical projections, a consistent tendency “to structure the less concrete and inherently vaguer concepts (like those for emotions) in terms of more concrete concepts, which are more clearly delineated in our experience” (Lakoff & Johnson 1980: 112). Johnson (1987) pursued the idea further by putting the hypothesis of embodiment in opposition to, what he called, the Objectivist view of meaning and rationality. He also collected converging evidence from various sources in support of embodiment: the role that the human body plays in categorization; the dependence of conceptual networks that provide reference for most human concepts on cultural experience, making them neither universal nor objective; the significance of metaphor in human understanding; the importance of metaphor and metonymy, grounded in human experience, in polysemic extensions and historical semantic change; the existence of non-Western conceptual systems manifested in non-Western languages; the contextual dependence of knowledge and rationality. He concluded that “any adequate account of meaning and rationality must give a central place to embodied and imaginative structures of understanding by which we grasp our world” (Johnson 1987: xi–xiii). The idea of challenging the traditional, Objectivist, conception of thought and reason as the manipulation of symbols that correspond to an objective reality independent of the reasoning organism was further explored by Lakoff (1987). Widening the scope of the embodiment hypothesis, he proposed experientialism or experiential realism, as a philosophical and methodological perspective on thought and reason: On the experientialist view, reason is made possible by the body – that includes abstract and creative reason, as well as reasoning about concrete things. Human reason is not an instantiation of transcendental reason; it grows out of the nature of the organism and all that contributes to its individual and collective experience: its genetic inheritance, the nature of the environment it lives in, the way it functions in that environment, the nature of its social functioning, and the like. (Lakoff 1987: xv) 2 For an extended list of senses of the term“embodiment” and their discussion see Rohrer (2007).