Workshop: How do we chunk up speech in real time – and how consistent are our perceptions?

Anna Mauranen, University of Helsinki

An intriguing question in human language processing is how we manage to make sense of the continuous, rapid flow of speech that we hear in real time, despite the limitations of working memory (Christiansen & Chater 2016). It is reasonably well established that many kinds of complex stimuli are processed by segmenting them into smaller chunks, which are integrated in an emerging representation of a larger whole. This has been found for example with complex static objects (e.g., Biederman 1987, Kimchi 2015), visual events (Zacks & Tversky 2001; Radvansky & Zacks, 2014), and music (Sridharan et al., 2007). Chunking continuous stimuli can thus be conceived as a domain-general phenomenon (e.g., Blumenthal-Dramé et al., 2017), but research into it is largely missing for language. There is, of course, a considerable body of experimental research on the segmentation of relatively low-level phenomena (phonology, morphology, syntax, lexical semantics) based on contrived examples. On the other hand, there is rich corpus-based evidence of repeated multi-word expressions (aka formulaic expressions, constructions, fixed expressions, among others), which many scholars (e.g. Bybee 2003) assume, but have not shown, to be also units of processing. These traditions do not meet, and very little research is found on the segmentation of continuous naturally-occurring speech.  In this theme session, we address the issue of chunking as it is performed intuitively by linguistically naïve listeners on extracts of continuous, spontaneous speech. We hypothesise, in line with Sinclair & Mauranen (2006), that fluent speakers of a language chunk up the language they hear in largely convergent ways.

The session is based on two research projects at the University of Helsinki, which investigate chunking in naturally-occurring continuous speech. The experimental methods include a behavioural (Vetchinnikova et al., 2017; Vetchinnikova et al., under revision) and a brain scan component (Anurova et al., under revision). Findings support the hypothesis that listeners’ intuitive marking of chunk boundaries is highly convergent. The question arises about what linguistic cues affect their perception of boundaries. Our presentations look at chunk perception from various interrelated angles: different languages, native and non-native speakers, and chunking under different experimental conditions. Analytical methods include quantitative and qualitative approaches. The focal issue throughout is which linguistic cues might best explain the placement of chunk boundaries: prosodic, syntactic, meaning, discourse structure, or combinations of these.


Estimating chunking ability of L2 listeners

Svetlana Vetchinnikova, University of Helsinki

Linguists and cognitive scientists believe that humans understand speech by chunking it up into smaller units (Sinclair & Mauranen, 2006; Christiansen & Chater, 2016; Henke & Meyer, 2021). Author et al. (under review) proposed a distinction between such perceptual chunking and usage-based chunking which has received much more attention in the literature (Bybee, 2010; Ellis, 2017; McCauley & Christiansen, 2019). Perceptual chunking provides a temporal window for further processing, while usage-based chunking gives rise to multi-word units and more complex structure in language. This paper probes the hypothesis that perceptual chunking is related to comprehension.

Fifty participants of an English as a lingua franca background listened to 97 extracts of natural speech and simultaneously marked chunk boundaries in the transcripts using a purpose-build web-based application ChunkitApp (Author et al. 2017). After listening to each of the extracts, they answered either a true-false comprehension question or a self-evaluation question asking: “Do you understand what the speaker was saying?” with three possible answers yes/roughly/no. The participants’ language proficiency was tested with the elicited imitation task. Earlier research showed that extracts varied in how easy or difficult it was to chunk them (Author et al. under review). This paper will use Rasch analysis to estimate the chunking ability of the participants. It will then relate chunking ability to their comprehension of the extracts and to their language proficiency. It is expected that listeners who found the extracts more difficult to understand were also worse in chunking them. It is also possible that chunking ability can predict language proficiency.



Bybee, J. L. (2010). Language, usage and cognition. Cambridge University Press.

Christiansen, M. H., & Chater, N. (2016). The Now-or-Never Bottleneck: A Fundamental Constraint on Language. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, FirstView, 1–52.

Ellis, N. C. (2017). Chunking in Language Usage, Learning and Change: I Don’t Know. In M. Hundt, S. Mollin, & S. E. Pfenninger (Eds.), The Changing English Language (pp. 113–147). Cambridge University Press.

Henke, L., & Meyer, L. (2021). Endogenous Oscillations Time-Constrain Linguistic Segmentation: Cycling the Garden Path. Cerebral Cortex, 31(9), 4289–4299.

McCauley, S. M., & Christiansen, M. H. (2019). Language learning as language use: A cross-linguistic model of child language development. Psychological Review, 126(1), 1–51.

Sinclair, J., & Mauranen, A. (2006). Linear unit grammar. John Benjamins.


Chunking-in-noise: high-level segmentation of spontaneous speech in different listening conditions

Alena Konina, University of Helsinki

Speech perception requires segmentation of the input to make sense of what is being said. Multiple linguistic cues contribute to the perception of a boundary. Mattys et al. (2005) suggest that speech segmentation happens under the influence of both sentential, lexical and sublexical cues, with the former taking precedence. All cues interact during speech segmentation, with lower-level tiers (acoustic and prosodic) becoming more relevant when higher-order information (syntactic and semantic) is not available (e.g., when the signal is degraded).

The present study seeks to understand whether the cue hierarchy introduced by Mattys and his colleagues is applicable to speech segmentation extending beyond syllables and words into multi-word units, or chunks.

We conducted an experiment using shortish spontaneous speech extracts as stimuli across two listening conditions: ‘in quiet’ (without interference) and ‘in noise’ (with the signal degraded by a babble noise mask). The extracts were randomly selected from the ELFA corpus (Mauranen, 2008) and MICASE (Simpson et al., 2002) and voiced over to improve the sound quality. All the extracts were scaled to average root-mean-square (RMS) for sound normalisation purposes.

Two groups of native English speakers (N=29, 17 females, mean age = 35.4 and N=27, 15 females, mean age =32) without history of hearing disorders were recruited online. The experiment was conducted through a custom tablet application, ChunkitApp (Vetchinnikova et al., 2017), which plays each extract through participants’ headphones, simultaneously displaying their transcript on the screen. In both conditions, participants were instructed to follow their intuition and tap the screen when they felt like one chunk ended and another began.

The extracts were annotated for boundaries in syntax (manually) and prosody (continuous wavelet transform, Suni et al., 2017). We fit a logistic mixed-effects model with chunk boundaries marked by participants as the response variable, with listening conditions, syntactic and prosodic boundaries and their interactions as fixed effects, and random intercepts for participant and extract. Our analysis shows that in both listening conditions, cue interaction increases the chance of segmentation and prosodic cues carry more weight than syntactic ones. If the signal is degraded, however, only the presence of both guarantees segmentation. Our results thus lend support to the cue hierarchy proposed by Mattys and colleagues. It appears that in high-level segmentation, prosodic cues are more robust than syntactic cues in this particular speech-in-noise setup. Other noise gradations are needed to tease out more profound differences.


Making sense of natural speech: prosodic and syntactic cues in L2 speech segmentation

Aleksandra Dobrego, University of Helsinki

Language arranges itself along a continuous line, either in time (speech) or in space (text). As working memory is presumably limited to four units (Cowan 2001), it goes largely uncontested that language processing must proceed in chunks (Christiansen and Chater 2016). We report two experiments of segmentation in natural, spontaneous speech. We investigate how language experience affects natural speech segmentation and how these segmentation patterns may be reflected in the brain.

In the first experiment, we tested intuitive chunking in L1 and L2 speakers of English, assuming that L1 speakers have more extensive experience of English than L2 speakers. We asked participants to listen to extracts, follow the transcript on an iPad, mark boundaries by tapping the screen and answer a comprehension question after each extract (adopted from Vetchinnikova et al. 2017). The perceived boundaries resulted in ’chunks’. We assessed the participants’ agreement and segmentation strategies and found that prosody is what both groups rely on most, with L1 users using it slightly more. Moreover, both groups performed alike in the degree to which they converged on boundaries and successfully answered comprehension questions, suggesting that language experience has a slight effect on cue utilization but does not affect the ultimate outcome of natural speech segmentation.

In the second experiment, we went on to investigate the roles of prosody and syntax in L2 speech segmentation using MEEG recordings in healthy adults. The objective was to test how chunk boundaries and segmentation cues might be reflected in brain activity. Participants listened to extracts of natural speech from the same database as in Experiment 1, again followed by comprehension questions. We inserted 2-second gaps into each extract, some at chunk boundaries obtained from Experiment 1, others within chunks, and recorded brain activity during these two contrasting types of pauses. Pauses at chunk boundaries elicited a CPS in sources over bilateral auditory cortices. By contrast, pauses within a chunk elicited a biphasic emitted potential with sources in the bilateral primary and non-primary auditory areas with right-hemispheric dominance and were perceived as interruptions. Chunk boundaries and non-boundaries thus elicit distinct evoked activity in the brain. Moreover, chunk boundaries were influenced by both prosody and syntactic structure, whereas chunk interruptions by prosody only, suggesting that the integrity of the intonation contour may be considered an essential property of the perceived chunk.


What causes the perception of boundaries in Finnish – prosodic and syntactic-semantic features examined

Tiia Winther-Jensen, University of Helsinki

The starting point for speech segmentation has mostly been the needs of a linguist working on speech analysis. Little attention has been given to how untrained or “ordinary” language-users process linguistic input (Barnwell 2013). With the data collected in a listening experiment from linguistically untrained native Finnish speakers I investigated the possible causes of the perception of chunk boundaries.

This paper deals with the prosodic-phonetic and syntactic-semantic characteristics of chunk boundaries Finnish speakers perceive in spontaneous speech. Firstly, I will show how perceived boundaries match prosodic boundaries: those detected automatically using a Continuous Wavelet Transform technique as well as manually analyzed using Praat. I demonstrate which acoustic features predict the perception of a boundary in Finnish spontaneous speech. With the analysis of the data at hand, I question the role of pauses as “punctuation marks of the spoken language”. More reliable acoustic features in boundary places are changes in fundamental frequency and speech tempo.

Secondly, syntactic analysis of the data shows that certain conjunctions almost always cause the perception of a boundary. In this presentation, I will look into the semantics of these conjunctions as well as the semantic features in other boundary places.

Finally, I suggest it might be worth considering a way of looking at segment boundaries not as a strict dividing line in between orthographic words, an end and a beginning, but as a feature of the words themselves, possibly even clusters of words. This view emphasizes the role of beginnings in defining chunk boundaries. In this it resembles the cesura approach by Barth-Weingarten (2016).



Barth-Weingarten, D. 2016. Intonation Units Revisited: Cesuras in talk-in-interaction. John Benjamins Publishing.

Barnwell, B. 2013. Perception of prosodic boundaries by untrained listeners. In Szczepek, R. B., & Raymond, G. (Eds.). Units of talk – units of action. John Benjamins Publishing Company.


What happens if a chunk is interrupted?

Anna Mauranen, University of Helsinki

There is reason to assume that language is processed like many other complex stimuli, for example visual events (e.g. Radvansky & Zacks, 2014), by segmenting it into smaller chunks that get integrated into larger representations of meaningful wholes. The chunking lets listeners out of the impasse of the ‘now-or-never bottleneck’ (Christiansen & Chater 2016) generated by the constant inflow of input under the limitations of working memory, and enables them to make sense of it.

When listeners chunk up ongoing speech, they tend to do it convergently, as posited by Sinclair & Mauranen (2006). We found support for this in a behavioural study which invited linguistically naïve participants to chunk up continuous extracts of authentic speech (Vetchinnikova et al., under revision). We then went on to use the same extracts with similar participants but with silent 2-sec. pauses inserted as triggers in an MEEG experiment. The trigger insertion criteria were based on timing, not linguistic properties. Responses to triggers at chunk boundaries with high levels of convergence were significantly different from responses to triggers at non-boundaries leading to interruptions of speech (Anurova et al., under revision).

Apparently, perceived interruptions obstruct predictions already formed and preactivations of meanings. These may be based on preceding syntactic, prosodic, semantic, or discourse cues, of which the last two are hard to capture without close qualitative analysis. This paper imposes a qualitative analysis of 50 of the 10-45 sec. extracts up to the triggers to assess the severity and explore potential reasons for their disruptiveness for constructing a meaningful representation of the extract. The perspective is, admittedly, the analyst’s post hoc view, but close reading can bring to light what escapes quantitative analyses.

The analysis suggests that different levels of language, discourse (beyond sentence) and syntax (sentence, clause) are differently relevant in their overall effect and at different points in the speech flow. At times discourse level cues seem to exert strong prediction and preactivation of upcoming meanings, at other points the very local level, i.e. clause or phrase, assumes priority. Moreover, there would seem to be, overall, more and less intense episodes with regard to meaning, that is, some passages in the speech flow provide more ingredients for constructing semantic representations and preactivations than others. The less intense stretches relate to organizing language, with dysfluencies and restarts getting absorbed into more meaning-constructing stretches, which together make up perceived chunks.

Workshop: New perspectives on metaphor and metonymy

Thomas Wiben Jensen, University of Southern Denmark

Marlene Johansson Falck, Department of Language Studies, Umeå University

The classical view on the nature of metaphor vs. metonymy often refers back to Jakobson’s distinction between metaphor as based on similarity and metonymy as structured in terms of contiguity or closeness (Jakobson 2002). However, within Cognitive Linguistics and related fields, research has emphasized the complex and intertwined relationship between metaphor and metonymy in pointing to the many ways in which metaphor and metonymy interact (Barcelona 2000, Croft 2002, Panther 2006, Littlemore 2015, Ruiz de Mendoza Ibáñez 2017).

Traditionally, metaphors are analyzed and understood in terms of cross-domain mapping between different domains, whereas metonymic expressions are better understood in terms of domain highlighting in which one well-understood or easily perceived aspect of something is used to represent or stand for something else within the same domain. In this way, the cognitive motivation for metonymy is not to “understand and experience one thing in terms of another” (as in metaphor), but rather to provide mental access to another part of the same domain. However, much research has shown that the two notions are often not that easily distinguishable. Thus, the term “metaphtonymy” (Grossens 1990) has been used to describe the interaction between metaphor and metonymy in a variety of ways, including metaphor within metonymy and metonymy within metaphor. Likewise, it has been shown that primary metaphors often have a metonymic basis which is projected onto abstract domains (Kövecses 2013). This aspect has also been investigated by gesture studies investigating the metonymic bases of gestural manifestations of primary metaphors (Mittelberg & Waugh 2009). Furthermore, recent studies have investigated the role of multimodal metonymy and multimodal metonymic chains in visual advertising (Sobrino 2018), the role of environmental and social features in the creation of embodied metonymy in different genres, including fiction (Littlemore 2017), as well as the indexical affordances of metonymy in relation to metaphors of morality (Jensen in press). More recently, it has been suggested that conventional metaphors within CMT can be better explained by metonymically driven categorization processes than by cross-domain mapping principles (Gibbs 2017, Gibbs in press).

In this theme session, we invite papers with new perspectives on the intertwined nature between metaphor and metonymy in areas such as written or spoken discourse, multimodal communication, or gesture.


Hypallage is a rare bird. Not.

Klaus-Uwe Panther, University of Hamburg

Linda L. Thornburg, University of Hamburg

We take a Cognitive Pragmatic approach to hypallage to show that this “marginal trope” can be elucidated in terms of conceptual metaphor, conceptual metonymy, and pragmatic inferencing. Hypallage is defined as ‘a combination of seemingly incompatible features’ and has been exploited artistically and creatively since antiquity in poetic and narrative discourse. A classic example of hypallage is the 2,000-year-old phrase “angry crowns of kings” (Odes of Horace). The hypallactic incompatibility in “angry crowns” arises from the position of angry as a prenominal modifier of crowns; but anger is an emotional attribute of humans, in this case kings. This incompatibility motivates an imaginative transposition of the adjective angry to kings, which resolves the semantic anomaly. Likewise, the hypallactic expression rare bird in the title of our talk denotes a literal or (more often) figurative bird or entity that is rarely encountered by people. The “bird” does not per se have the property of being rare. As the “Not.” in the title of our talk indicates, we deny that hypallage itself is a rare phenomenon restricted to belles-lettres; rather hypallage is a highly entrenched figure in ordinary language, as illustrated by such examples as healthy diet, unhappy marriage, Merry Christmas, Happy Birthday, foreign correspondent, drunken brawl and many others.

Hypallactic expressions constitute a violation of the Iconic Proximity Principle (Givón 2001). In hypallage, iconic motivation competes with figurative motivation and, significantly, the latter prevails. Interestingly, structural parallelisms exist between hypallactic transpositions and, for example, the shift of not in ‘negtransportation’, and the figurative transposition of ‘Not.’ in our talk title, a discourse construction we term ‘focal negation’. In conclusion, we surmise that such anti-iconic constructions are not isolated lexicogrammatical phenomena and that the prioritizing of figurative motivation at the expense of iconicity is a more general cognitive mechanism ripe for further research.



Givón, T. (2001). Syntax: An introduction. Vol. 2. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: Benjamins. 


“We have such a stain on us”: The metonymic affordances of the stain metaphor

Thomas Wiben Jensen, University of Southern Denmark

Within Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT) the metaphoric use of “stain” has traditionally been accounted for in terms of the conceptual metaphors GOOD IS CLEAN, BAD IS DIRTY as part of a larger framework on embodied moral reasoning (Johnson 1994, Lakoff and Johnson 1999, Gibbs 2017). This conceptualization involves the claim that we understand and experience unmoral or socially unacceptable behaviors in terms of (interaction with) dirty or filthy objects. However, based on discourse data from psychotherapy I claim that this traditional account only addresses one dimension of stains, that is, their tendency to be perceived as dirt, and thereby misses their status as traces (or signs). In the analyses of psychotherapy data, it is demonstrated that the source domain of the stain metaphor also entails a metonymic dimension based on a relation of contiguity between the stain and the actions leading to the stain. Within this EFFECT FOR CAUSE metonymy (Radden and Kövecses 1999, Littlemore 2015) “stain” can be seen as an effect of the actions that has caused it. Thus, the use of this metaphor points to a conceptualization involving a causal correspondence between 1) our experience of physical contact with filthy objects or entities leading to stains and spots constituting the structure of the source domain; 2) social experiences in which problematic actions or unmoral behavior may lead to an impaired social reputation constituting the structure of the target domain. This also means that 3) the temporal dimensions of stains are mapped onto the severity of an impaired social reputation. A stain is like a mark, it does not go away. This aspect of permanency contributes to the highly negative connotation of “stain” in the sense that the difficulties in removing stains and spots in the physical realm are akin to the challenge of repairing a damaged social reputation – and the other way round as well, the irreversibility of certain actions as similar to unremovable stains.

Thus, the inherent metonymic (or indexical) structure in the source domain of the stain metaphor affords an easy and direct understanding of connections between actions/incidents in the past and their present consequences. In a single expression the metaphor constrains our attention by offering a simple causality in relation to the social effects of past actions.



Gibbs, R. W. (2017). Metaphor Wars. Cambridge University Press.

Johnson, M. (1994). Moral Imagination: Implications of Cognitive Science for Ethics: University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1999). Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. Basic Books.

Littlemore, J. (2015). Metonymy: Hidden Shortcuts in Language, Thought and Communication. Cambridge University Press.

Radden, G. and Kövesces, Z. (1999). Towards a Theory of Metonymy. In K.-U. Panther and G. Radden (eds.) Metonymy in Language and Thought, John Benjamins, 17-59


Plastic hearts: The emotional impact of multimodal metaphor about the ocean plastic crisis and perceptions of how to address it

Niamh Anna O’Dowd, University of Oslo

A recent corpus study shows that multimodal metaphtonymy is a frequent pattern of conceptual interaction found in non-commercial environmental awareness campaigns and primarily serves to highlight the negative effects of issues such as climate change and plastic pollution (Hidalgo-Downing & O’Dowd, 2021). In the data, the authors found that visual and multimodal metonymies depicting threatening entities (e.g. weapons, traps) and dangerous events (e.g. nuclear explosions, natural disasters) provide conceptual access to broader metaphorical messages which compare, for example, plastic pollution to a trap, or climate change to war. These metaphtonymies effectively encapsulate the rhetorical messages underpinning the campaigns by evoking complex arguments in concise and relatable ways for the audience. In research on metaphorical framing effects, studies have traditionally focused on linguistic metaphors in verbal contexts and excluded multimodal contexts (Flusberg et al., 2017; Steen et al., 2014; Thibodeau & Boroditsky, 2011, 2013). Although some recent framing studies have integrated a multimodal element (Flusberg et al., 2020; Hart, 2018), none have investigated the framing effects of metaphor in contexts which exploit language-image relations in creative ways, or which involve creative patterns of conceptual interaction such as metaphtonymy. Similarly, recent research on multimodal advertising and audience responses tends to concentrate on commercial advertising, which generally highlights the positive values of products and evokes pleasant emotions in the audience (Pérez Sobrino et al., 2021; Pérez-Sobrino & Littlemore, 2020). By contrast, this paper asks what role does multimodal metaphtonymy play in the activation of negative emotions towards the issue of plastic pollution in non-commercial ads? How are these emotions characterised? How do they compare between two different multimodal contexts frequently found in the genre, namely a) PLASTIC POLLUTION IS WAR ON NATURE and b) plastic as having conflated with nature? And do these figurative operations also engender a framing effect, as seen in previous studies on linguistic metaphor? The study design follows (Hendricks et al., 2018) and consists of a two-part experimental survey. The first section quantitatively tests for metaphor framing effects; the second consists of free-text response questions designed to gather qualitative data of emotional responses. The study aims to contribute to understanding how individuals emotionally engage with the plastic crisis and to probe the relationship between conceptual construal, reasoning, and emotional response for multimodal, environmental crisis discourse.



Flusberg, S. J., Lauria, M., Balko, S., & Thibodeau, P. H. (2020). Effects of Communication Modality and Speaker Identity on Metaphor Framing. Metaphor and Symbol, 35(2), 136–152.

Flusberg, S. J., Matlock, T., & Thibodeau, P. H. (2017). Metaphors for the War (or Race) against Climate Change. Environmental Communication, 11(6), 769–783.

Hart, C. (2018). ‘Riots engulfed the city’: An experimental study investigating the legitimating effects of fire metaphors in discourses of disorder. Discourse & Society, 29(3), 279–298.

Hendricks, R. K., Demjén, Z., Semino, E., & Boroditsky, L. (2018). Emotional Implications of Metaphor: Consequences of Metaphor Framing for Mindset about Cancer. Metaphor and Symbol, 33(4), 267–279.

Hidalgo-Downing, L., & O’Dowd, N. A. (2021). Code red for humanity: Multimodal metaphtonymy in non-commercial advertisements on environmental awareness and activism [Manuscript Submitted for Publication]. Departamento de Filología Inglesa, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.

Pérez Sobrino, P., Littlemore, J., & Ford, S. (2021). Unpacking Creativity: The Power of Figurative Communication in Advertising (1st ed.). Cambridge University Press.

Pérez-Sobrino, P., & Littlemore, J. (2020). Chapter 6. What makes an advert go viral?: The role of figurative operations in the success of Internet videos. In L. Hidalgo-Downing & B. Kraljevic Mujic (Eds.), Figurative Thought and Language (Vol. 7, pp. 119–152). John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Steen, G. J., Reijnierse, W. G., & Burgers, C. (2014). When Do Natural Language Metaphors Influence Reasoning? A Follow-Up Study to Thibodeau and Boroditsky (2013). PLoS ONE, 9(12), e113536.

Thibodeau, P. H., & Boroditsky, L. (2011). Metaphors We Think With: The Role of Metaphor in Reasoning. PLoS ONE, 6(2), e16782.

Thibodeau, P. H., & Boroditsky, L. (2013). Natural Language Metaphors Covertly Influence Reasoning. PLoS ONE, 8(1), e52961.


The cognitive grounding of metaphorical amalgams and metaphor-like figures of speech in the EFFECT FOR CAUSE metonymy

Francisco José Ruiz de Mendoza Ibáñez, University of La Rioja

María Sandra Peña Cervel, University of La Rioja

The EFFECT FOR CAUSE metonymy has been observed to underlie some cases of hypallage or transferred epithet (Ruiz de Mendoza, 2020: 29). For example, a slow road is one whose conditions cause traffic to be slow (Koveces and Radden, 1998: 56). A special case of this metonymy is RESULT FOR ACTION (Panther and Thornburg, 2000), which motivates constructions requiring some implicit action (e.g., How to be rich in a week ‘How to act to become rich in a week’).

In this presentation we argue that EFFECT FOR CAUSE can also play a supportive role in other analytically more complex situations involving metaphorical amalgams and metaphor-like figurative language (e.g., synesthesia). For example, the metaphor Death is a thief, which personifies death, results from building LIFE IS A POSSESSION into (CAUSING) THE END OF A STATE IS (CAUSING) A LOSS. This amalgam is possible through the activity of the EFFECT FOR CAUSE metonymy, which allows us to see death as both an effect and an agentive cause (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Death is a thief

In another analytical situation, the expression My boss is a pig (‘oppressive’) results from combining the self-standing metaphors PEOPLE ARE PIGS and IMMORALITY IS FILTH (Ruiz de Mendoza and Galera 2014: 97). Filthiness and immorality can raise feelings of disgust in us; such feelings can stand for their underlying causes, enabling an analogical relationship whereby a pig’s filthiness can map onto a boss’s abusiveness. This time the metonymy acts on both the metaphoric source and target domains since the causes are in principle unrelated and can only be brought together through their shared effects (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2. My boss is a pig

This analytical pattern is quite close to the one found in synesthesia, where one sense is described in terms of another, as in dull color. Strik Lievers (2017) has argued that such examples are metaphorical. They are, since they involve mapping intensity between different sensory domains. However, there is nothing intrinsic to sound that allows us to map it onto color. The synesthesia is only possible thanks to its grounding in the EFFECT FOR CAUSE metonymy in a way similar to that of transferred epithets. Thus, the cross-sensory mapping is workable since the similarity of effects allows us to map the underlying causes: a dull color causes little impact in terms of brightness, just as a dull noise does in terms of loudness.

Fig. 3. Dull color

Other patterns are similarly examined. The analysis supports the contention that the EFFECT FOR CAUSE metonymy plays an important role in figurative language. This is possibly the result of cognitive saliency (cf. Langacker, 1993) since effects are usually easier to identify perceptually than their corresponding causes (Littlemore, 2015: 41). The resulting picture is one where this metonymy can not only motivate grammar but also act as a pre-requisite to build conceptually complex figurative expressions.



Kövecses, Z., & Radden, G. (1998). Metonymy: Developing a cognitive linguistic view. Cognitive Linguistics, 9(1), 37–77.

Langacker, R. W. (1993). Reference-point constructions. Cognitive Linguistics, 4(1), 1-38.

Littlemore, J. (2015). Metonymy. Hidden shortcuts in language, thought, and communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Panther, K., & Thornburg, L. (2000). The EFFECT FOR CAUSE metonymy in English grammar. In A. Barcelona (Ed.), Metaphor and metonymy at the crossroads (pp. 215-232). Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Ruiz de Mendoza, F. J. (2020). Understanding figures of speech: Dependency relations and organizational patterns. Language & Communication, 71, 16–38.

Ruiz de Mendoza, F. J., & Galera, A. (2014). Cognitive modeling. A linguistic perspective. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Strik Lievers, F. (2017). Figures and the senses. Towards a definition of synaesthesia. Review of Cognitive Linguistics, 15(1), 83–101.


Metaphor within metonymy

Helga Mannsåker, University of Bergen

In his 1990 article «Metaphtonymy» Louis Goossens described four types of interaction between metaphor and metonymy found in a corpus-based dictionary: 1) metaphor from metonymy, 2) metonymy within metaphor, 3) metaphor within metonymy, 4) demetonymisation in a metaphorical context. He found 1) to be frequent and 2) to be «quite current» in his material, while 3) was «extremely rare» and 4) possibly found in only one instance. Based on investigations of corpus data Deignan (2005) reports that Goossens’ category 1) is frequent, but 2) is rare. 3) and 4) are not discussed in Deignan (2005) at all.

I have however identified a type of linguistic expressions which I interpret as 3) metaphor within metonymy in medical nomenclature, i.e., in the names of diseases. Whereas anatomical terms are easily defined ostensively, diseases are not objects at which you can point, but abstract phenomena whose delineation are frequently debated and changed (Wulff 2003). Moreover, the conceptual domain of diseases could be said to consist of the following elements or aspects: CAUSE(S), ONSET, SYMPTOM(S), COURSE, OUTCOME, PATIENT.  Metonymy is often involved in the naming of diseases, enabling one salient and/or directly observable aspect of the disease to refer to the whole disease (or the patient, cf. Langacker’s (1999:199) example “The {vasectomy/herniated disk} in room 304 needs a sleeping pill. [one nurse to another in a hospital]”). This applies to somatic as well as psychiatric diseases, for example yellow fever, which is a viral disease that can cause fever and jaundice (yellow discolouring of the skin), diabetes mellitus (literally ‘excessive discharge of sweet urine’), which is a disease that causes frequent urination and high levels of sugar in the blood and urine, and multiple sclerosis, which is a disease that causes multiple sclerosis (scar tissue) in the central nervous system. Some of these PART FOR WHOLE-metonymies contain metaphors, for example compounds containing cancer ‘crab’, which is an image metaphor and delirium ‘deviate from the furrow’, which is a STATE IS LOCATION-metaphor. It could be that Goossens’ type 3) is not so “extremely rare” after all, at least not in terminologies.



Deignan, A. (2005). A corpus linguistic perspective on the relationship between metonymy and metaphor. Style, 39(1), 72-91,101,105. Retrieved from

Goossens, L. (1990). Metaphtonymy: the interaction of metaphor and metonymy in expressions for linguistic action. In Cognitive Linguistics (includes Cognitive Linguistic Bibliography) (Vol. 1, pp. 323).

Langacker, Ronald W. (1999): Grammar and conceptualization, Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Wulff, H. R. (2003). Lægevidenskabens sprog: fra Hippokrates til vor tid. København: Munksgaard.


From concrete to abstract and back again

Marlene Johansson Falck, Umeå University

Lacey Okonski, Umeå University

Cognitive linguists have long argued that our understanding of abstract concepts is grounded in metaphoric or metonymic mappings from more concrete or familiar domains of experience (Lakoff and Johnson 1980/2008, Lakoff and Johnson 1999). The relation between the abstract concepts of reality and insanity in sentence 1 is a case in point. It is understood as a line that blurs into another abstract concept, that is, into nothingness (i.e., into ‘the quality or state of being nothing’).

1. … the line between reality and insanity blurs into nothin,gness. (COCA, our emphasis)

Uses such as these are in line with understanding abstract concepts (a relation) as concrete ones (a line), MOTION as CHANGE, and abstract concepts (nothingness) as bounded entities that something can develop into.  In 2, however, nothingness is not used in reference to an abstract concept, but to a space that a flashlight drops into:

2. Her feet dangled in the air over the dark emptiness below, her flashlight dropping into nothingness. (COCA, our emphasis)

Sentences such as this one show that abstract concepts may also be used as sources in metaphorical or metonymic conceptualizations. Here the abstract concept of nothingness provides information on the quality of the space that the flashlight drops into. This use is structured in line with a PERCEIVED QUALITY OF SPACE FOR SPACE metonymy. But when are abstract concepts targets and when are they sources of conceptual mappings? And which mapping is used when?

This paper deals with a semantic analysis of the usage patterns of abstract nouns that collocate with the preposition into. It is based on data from the Corpus of Contemporary American English (Davies 2008) (COCA, Davies, 2008) and a previous study of the 100 most frequent nouns that collocate with into. The aim is to map out the metaphoric and metonymic mappings that structure into + abstract noun constructions and to gain a better understanding of the mappings structuring these uses. Results suggest that CONCRETE TO ABSTRACT mappings tend to be metaphoric and that ABSTRACT to CONCRETE mappings tend to be metonymic PROPERTY, STATE OR QUALITY FOR PLACE metonymies.



Davies, M. (2008). COCA. Corpus of Contemporary American English.

Lakoff, G. and M. Johnson (1980/2008). Metaphors we live by. Chicago, Univeristy of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, G. and M. Johnson (1999). Philosophy in the flesh: The embodied mind and its challenge to western thought, Basic books.

Workshop: Exploring normativity in language and linguistics: Updates and further developments

Aleksi Mäkilähde, University of Helsinki

Tapani Möttönen, University of Helsinki

Our theme session focuses on the philosophy and methodology of linguistics, taking as its inspiration and point of departure the recent collected volume Normativity in Language and Linguistics (Mäkilähde, Leppänen & Itkonen (eds.) 2019). The chapters in the volume set out to further our understanding of the nature of both language and linguistics, arguing in favour of what might be called the ‘conventionalist’ position in the philosophy of linguistics, namely that although language is a multifaceted phenomenon, having for example mental and physical aspects, its defining character is its social aspect. In other words, language is seen above all as a social institution, something shared by its speakers, intersubjective, and so forth. More specifically, the chapters focused on the role of norms and normativity in language and linguistics, covering both general ontological and epistemological issues – what kind of entities norms of language are and how they are known – as well as issues pertaining to specific sub-fields of linguistics or particular linguistic phenomena.

The papers in this theme session advance the discussion further by developing the themes covered in the chapters of the volume. Each talk is connected to one of the chapters, presenting an updated version of an earlier argument, focusing on and further developing one particular aspect of the earlier discussion, or overlapping in some other way with the earlier work. The individual papers cover issues relating to both the nature of norms themselves as well as the methodological implications of the normative nature of language, including for example the relationship between normativity and creativity, the relationship between normativity and vague language, and the methodological roles of intuition and observation. Our aim is to provide insights into the placement of language within the domains of culture, cognition and the physical world, thus furthering our understanding of what kind of an entity language is as well as what kind of a science linguistics is. Regardless of one’s disciplinary background or interest in the philosophy of linguistics, these are fundamental questions central to the work of every linguist.



Mäkilähde, Aleksi, Leppänen, Ville & Itkonen, Esa (eds.). 2019. Normativity in Language and Linguistics. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.


Norms and normativity: A brief introduction

Aleksi Mäkilähde, University of Helsinki

Esa Itkonen

The aim of our paper is to set the stage for the whole theme session by introducing the concepts of norm and normativity and discussing the roles they play in language and in linguistics (see Mäkilähde, Leppänen & Itkonen 2019). We begin with a characterisation of norms in general, followed by a discussion of various types of norms (cf. e.g. von Wright 1963; Brennan et al. 2013). We focus on two dimensions of normativity which are particularly relevant for linguistics, correctness and rationality, together with their corresponding norm types, norms of correctness and norms of rationality (or ‘rules’ and ‘rationality principles’). Norms such as these are not mental or physical but social entities (although their internalizations by language users are mental entities), and the language users’ knowledge of their content is ultimately based on intuition (and not on sense-perception). These basic facts have considerable methodological implications, which are discussed in detail in our paper. The two types of norms mentioned above play distinct roles in the various fields of linguistics (Itkonen 1978; 1983); these are illustrated at the end of our talk through an overview of the chapters in the volume Normativity in Language and Linguistics, thus providing additional background for the rest of the papers in the theme session.



Brennan, Geoffrey, Eriksson, Lina, Goodin, Robert E. & Southwood, Nicholas. 2013. Explaining Norms. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Itkonen, Esa. 1978. Grammatical Theory and Metascience: A Critical Investigation into the Methodological and Philosophical Foundations of ‘Autonomous’ Linguistics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Itkonen, Esa. 1983. Causality in Linguistic Theory: A Critical Investigation into the Philosophical and Methodological Foundations of ‘Non-autonomous’ Linguistics. London: Croom Helm.

Mäkilähde, Aleksi, Leppänen, Ville & Itkonen, Esa. 2019. Norms and normativity in language and linguistics: Basic concepts and contextualisation. In Aleksi Mäkilähde, Ville Leppänen & Esa Itkonen (eds.), Normativity in Language and Linguistics, 1–28. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

von Wright, Georg Henrik. 1963. Norm and Action: A Logical Enquiry. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.


Language norms we live by

Jordan Zlatev, University of Lund

Johan Blomberg, University of Lund

Language norms are a particular kind of social norms, namely those that regulate human verbal communication. From a phenomenological perspective (Zlatev & Blomberg, 2019), language norms can be said to constitute an indispensable domain of the pan-human life world (i.e., everything that human beings experience), and as such a central object of study for general linguistics. Since languages and cultures obviously differ, language norms are also central for specific human home worlds, and thus key for the study of individual languages, as well as for anthropological and ethnographic studies of their respective cultures (e.g. Everett 2005).

Still, the phenomenon of language norms remains controversial, ranging from views that equate languages with their corresponding norms (Itkonen, 2008) to those that deny them completely, or recognize them only as more or less artificial “prescriptions” attempting to contain the fluidity of spontaneous languaging, or at most as second-order constructs made up by linguists (Cowley, 2009). We propose that this huge variety of views is due to (a) confusions about what the term “language norms” refers to and (b) the inherent difficulty of spelling out the nature of language norms in explicit, propositional terms (i.e. those of a natural or artificial language).

Starting from the latter, like much in human (bodily) experience, language norms cannot be fully represented by propositional structures, since they are lived or inhabited, rather than known in the manner of perceptual or abstract objects. In other words, the type of intentionality through which they are made manifest is operative, rather than perceptual, reflective, or some even higher, semiotically mediated form of intentionality (Merleau-Ponty 1962; Zlatev, 2018). In this respect (though not in others) language norms are like bodily habits, with their visceral normativity (e.g., how “right” it feels to sit or move in one way, as opposed to another). This implies that language norms cannot be known through intuition, which (on any definition) requires a clear, transparent relation between the mind and its object (Sokolowski 2000). What the most basic kind of language intuitions, the categorial kind, do have access to are the breaches of norms, as abundantly illustrated by all “ungrammatical”, “inappropriate” or “unacceptable” utterances that are used in the literature in order to individuate one type of language norm or another: phonological, semantic, grammatical, pragmatic, sociolinguistic etc.

We illustrate with examples and conclude optimistically that if our argument is to be accepted, then language norms would become a less mysterious and less controversial phenomenon and object of study for linguistics.


Good vagueness, bad vagueness: Linguistic normativity meets talk-in-interaction

Tapani Möttönen, University of Helsinki

Jordan Zlatev, University of Lund

As established by proponents of linguistic normativity (Coseriu 1985; Itkonen 1978), language norms are not restricted to those of well-formedness but also to language use, including both expression and meaning, thus interpenetrating practically all aspects of language. For example, Coseriu describes how language use (i.e. energeia) gives rise to, and builds on, norms on three different levels: universal (common to all languages), historical (specific to a particular language), and individual or situated (specific to certain situations, genres or contexts). Building on this, but taking a more phenomenological perspective on normativity, the Motivation & Sedimentation Model (MSM, Zlatev & Blomberg 2019; Devylder & Zlatev 2020) explains how the norms that pertain to these different levels stem from different facets of human pre-verbal experience and language use. Through the process of sedimentation norms are established as resources that in turn motivate future instances of use. MSM consequently predicts that linguistic norms exhibit substantial amount of dynamism and variation, being overridable by the inherent creativity of actual language use.

In this talk, we apply MSM to an aspect of language use where dynamism and variation are particularly present: vague language. This notion covers types of linguistic expressions which imply that there is more meaning intended than what explicitly mentioned (e.g. extenders such as and so forth). As a prominent feature of talk-in-interaction, vague language also covers general non-precision, e.g. lexical choice, ellipsis and elliptical combination of constructions, which emphasize the interlocutors’ ability to rely on the context and non-linguistic communication. By analysing examples from Finnish institutional talk-in-interaction, we show that vague language in this sense involves normativity on the situated level of communication. On the one hand, vague language may allow the establishment of sufficiently shared meanings in the interaction (cf. Linell & Lindström 2016). Due to the fact that language norms never determine but only constrain and motivate language use, interlocutors may interpret expressions in principle in multiple ways as long as the interpretations result in efforts that are constructive for the overall task at hand. Hence, this is a case of “good vagueness”. On the other hand, the interlocutors may entertain or develop, through the ongoing discussion, insufficiently shared meanings, which in turn may result in misunderstandings or overt disagreements of how certain expressions should be used: e.g. “military operation” vs. “war” or even “massacre”. This is a case of “bad vagueness”. We illustrate examples of each from a corpus of video recorded planning meetings by a service design team in a multinational consulting company.



Coseriu, Eugenio. 1985. Linguistic competence: What is it really? The Modern Language Review 80(4): xxv–xxxv.

Itkonen, Esa. 1978. Grammatical Theory and Metascience. A Critical Investigation into the Methodological and Philosophical Foundations of ‘Autonomous’ Linguistics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Linell, Per & Lindström, Jan. 2016. Partial intersubjectivity and sufficient understandings for current practical purposes: On a specialized practice in Swedish conversation. Nordic Journal of Linguistics 39(2), 113–133.

Zlatev, Jordan & Blomberg, Johan. 2019. Norms of language: What kinds and where from? Insights from phenomenology. In Aleksi Mäkilähde, Ville Leppänen & Esa Itkonen (eds.), Normativity in Language and Linguistics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 69–101.

Zlatev, Jordan & Devylder, Simon. 2020. Cutting and breaking metaphors of the self and the Motivation & Sedimentation Model. In Annalisa Baicchi (ed.), Figurative Meaning Construction in Thought and Language. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 254–281.


Why normativity of language does not rule out creativity

Mikko Laasanen

According to Voloshinov (1986 [1973]: 53–54), the Saussurean linguistic theory views languages as readymade normative systems that the individual must accept and acquire in their entirety. As a result, communication turns into reproduction of the system, correctness becomes the main linguistic criteria and any kind of meaningful language creativity on the speaker’s part becomes impossible.

There are several errors in Voloshinov’s reasoning. First speakers do not acquire systems; this mistake is a result of a failure to separate langue at the ontological and at the methodological level (Laasanen 2019: 165–168). Second speakers do not acquire anything in their entirety but in degrees (Andringa & Dąbrowska 2019). Third communication reproduces but also ultimately changes the system. Fourth correctness is essential to successful communication, but it is balanced by rationality. And finally normativity of language does not preclude creativity. This becomes clear when we acknowledge that creativity does not refer to Chomskyan “completely novel sentences” (see e.g. Chomsky 1968: 10), but to the potentiality of the language “system” manifested in analogical reasoning.



Andringa, Sible & Dąbrowska 2019: Individual differences in first and second language ultimate attainment and their causes. – Language Learning 69:1, pp. 5–12.

Chomsky, Noam: 1968: Language and Mind. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.

Laasanen, Mikko 2019: Language as a system of norms and the Voloshinovian critique of abstract objectivism. – A. Mäkilähde et al. (eds.): Normativity in Language and Linguistics, pp. 151–181. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Voloshinov, V. N. 1986 [1973]: Marxism and the Philosophy of Linguistics. Translated by Ladislav Matejka & I. R. Titunik. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


The pervasiveness of normativity in language use: A focus on code-switching

Aleksi Mäkilähde, University of Helsinki

In this paper, I set out to illustrate the pervasiveness of normativity in language use, using the phenomenon of code-switching (CS) as an example. The talk draws from two previous studies in which I have discussed certain methodological aspects of different types of CS research. In Mäkilähde (2019b), I focused on grammatical research on CS, taking as my starting point the lack of consensus over central methodological questions in this field (see e.g. Poplack 2015). My goal was to establish common ground for researchers by analysing the nature of CS in terms of the concepts of norm and normativity and discussing a number of methodological implications of this analysis. In particular, I argued in favour of a synthesis between the use of intuition and observation (cf. Itkonen 2005) on the one hand, and between the roles of correctness and rationality on the other, illustrating these by way of the analogy between languages and games.

In another study, Mäkilähde (2019a), I focused on the pragmatic explanation of CS behaviour, developing a suitable approach for this purpose and presenting a metatheoretical analysis of my approach. In this case, too, normativity played an integral role in the framework, mainly through the dimension of rationality and the related notion of rational explanation. Throughout my analyses, there were, however, a number of additional instances where the notions of norm and normativity played an integral role: in discussing the distinction between CS and borrowing, in interpreting Gumperz’s (1982) concepts of situational and metaphorical CS, in characterising the nature of politeness, and in employing several different types of norms as explanatory principles for linguistic behaviour. My aim in this paper is, consequently, to demonstrate both how normativity pervades linguistic behaviour and how the relevant concepts mentioned here can be fruitfully applied as analytic tools. Although I focus on CS, the general argument applies to a wide variety of linguistic behaviour.



Gumperz, John J. 1982. Discourse Strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Itkonen, Esa. 2005. Concerning the synthesis between intuition-based study of norms and observation-based study of corpora. SKY Journal of Linguistics 18: 357–377.

Mäkilähde, Aleksi. 2019a. The Philological-Pragmatic Approach: A Study of Language Choice and Code-Switching in Early Modern English School Performances. Turku: University of Turku.

Mäkilähde, Aleksi. 2019b. Norms of correctness and rationality in research on code-switching. In Aleksi Mäkilähde, Ville Leppänen & Esa Itkonen (eds.), Normativity in Language and Linguistics, 235–267. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Poplack, Shana. 2015. Code switching: Linguistic. In James D. Wright (editor-in-chief), International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 2nd edn. Vol. III, 918–925. Amsterdam: Elsevier.


When does description coincide with its subject matter?

Esa Itkonen

Confusing description with its subject matter is, in principle, one of the worst methodological sins (cf. Itkonen 2019a: 32-33). Still, there are situations, even very important ones, where this general norm has to be broken.

First, it is the axiom of hermeneutics that no adequate human-science description can be achieved unless, as a precondition, the distinction is temporarily obliterated between those who do the describing and those who are being described: “The interactional character of sociological [or linguistic] research brings out the general truth that one cannot understand someone else without the possibility of being understood by the latter in return” (Itkonen 1978: 27). “One can acquire the atheoretical knowledge of a community only by, in a sense, identifying oneself with its members” (op. cit., p. 204; more recently, Itkonen 2019b: 443-444, 457).

Second, the idea of universal Turing machine is literally, and not only metaphorically, based on erasing the distinction at issue. The T-machine, qua computer prototype, is an imaginary device defined by three distinct 2-place functions with the same pair of arguments; these are q-i (= an internal state of the machine) and s-j (= a symbol that the machine reads on a tape). Given these arguments, the ‘state transition function’ Q yields the value q-ij (i.e. the machine enters a new state); the ‘output function’ S yields the value s-ij (i.e. the machine prints a new symbol); the ‘movement function’ D yields the value d-ij (i.e. the machine moves either to the right or to the left, or stops). There is an indefinite number of possible T-machines, because every problem that has an algorithmic solution must have its own T-machine (or several equivalent machines) (cf. Itkonen 1983: 287-292, 1996: 58-60). But there is one machine that can do anything that all the others do. How is this possible? What is the trick of this ‘universal’ machine (= UT-machine)? The trick is to put all T-descriptions Q&S&D on a tape side by side with the T-subject matter s-j, thus effectively erasing the distinction between the two. Just as T-descriptions remain hidden in connection with T-machines, so the new (and much more complicated) UT-description remains hidden in connection with the UT-machine. It goes without saying that the UT-machine does, and must do, whatever T-machines do, because it incorporates their descriptions as its data. The details can be ignored in this context (cf. Minsky 1972: 137-143).

Once again, one cannot help marveling at the enormous power of analogy. Just look how it brings together the opposite poles of scientific thinking: the core of ‘soft’ hermeneutics, on the one hand, and the core of ‘hard’ computer science, on the other.



Itkonen, Esa. 1978. Grammatical theory and metascience. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Itkonen, Esa. 1983. Causality in linguistic theory. London: Croom Helm.

Itkonen, Esa. 1996. Is there a ‘computational paradigm’ within linguistics? SKY: The Linguistic Association of Finland, pp. 53-64.

Itkonen, Esa. 2019a. Concerning the scope of normativity. A. Mäkilähde et al. (eds.): Normativity in language and linguistics, pp. 29-67. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Itkonen, Esa.  2019b. Hermeneutics and generative linguistics. A. Kertész et al. (eds.): Current approaches to syntax, pp. 441-467. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Minsky, Marvin. 1972. Computation. Finite and infinite machines. London: Prentice-Hall.


How do we know the meanings of adjectives: by (conceptual) intuition or by (contextual) observation? (And if by both, which one is primary?)

Anneli Pajunen, University of Tampere

Esa Itkonen

The distinction between categorematic and syncategorematic terms was already established in ancient Greek grammar. The former designate self-sufficient entities while the latter need other terms to constitute (or to be part of) meaningful units. Logical connectives (and, or, if ‒ then) are prototypical examples of syncategorematic terms, contrasted with sentences (or ‘propositions’) which they connect with one another. Today the contextualist view of meaning is upheld by the usage-based cognitive linguistics (and by the congenial type of corpus linguistics). This amounts, in effect, to generalizing the syncategorematic view to all lexical units.

In our talk, we shall raise the following question: To what extent have adjectives intrinsic meanings, and to what extent are their meanings determined by the words they qualify? Or, more briefly: To what extent are adjectives syncategorematic? Answering these questions will also, by implication, answer the question that figures in the title of our talk. Our data consists of 760 non-derived Finnish adjectives. It is analyzed by means of multiple methods, concentrating on such semantic domains as “physical dimension” and “physical property”.



Dixon, R.M.W. & A. Aikhenvald (eds.) 2004. Adjective classes. Oxford University Press.

Lancia, F. 2007. Word co-occurrence and similarity in meaning. Linguistics.

Pajunen, A, & E. Itkonen 2019. Intuition and beyond: A hierarchy of descriptive methods. In Mäkilähde, Leppänen & Itkonen, Normativity in Language and Linguistics. John Benjamins.


Why Etiological Analysis is Essential to Grammatical Theory

Michael B. Kac, Department of Philosophy and Program in Linguistics, University of Minnesota

What I have elsewhere (Kac 1987, 1992, 2019) called etiological analysis (‘e.a.’) is built into the concept of normativity insofar as contranormative behavior is always so in a specific way: one driver is ticketed for, e.g., exceeding the speed limit, another for being in the wrong lane; this player is called for holding, that one for unnecessary roughness; Alice reasons fallaciously by deriving P from {P ® Q, Q}, Bob by deriving –Q from {P ® Q, –P}. Indeed, it is precisely such behaviors as those named above which tell us that there are norms in the first place.

It follows that if the grammar of a language is a normative system and that grammatical analysis amounts to identifying the norms constitutive thereof, then e.a. is necessarily part of the package. To say this, moreover, seems uncontroversial insofar as we routinely make statements to the effect that, e.g., in *She are here the verb fails to agree with the Subject, in *Her are here the Subject is in the wrong case, and in *Her be here a main clause has failed to be supplied with a finite verb. My experience suggests, however, that this seemingly obvious idea is widely regarded as either (a) wrong, or (b) irrelevant to the central concerns of grammatical analysis. I will in this paper consider both of the foregoing views and their implications.



Kac, Michael B. 1987. The notion ‘rule of grammar’ reconsidered. In A. Manaster-Ramer, ed., Mathematics of Language. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 115-142

Kac, Michael B. 1992. Grammars and Grammaticality. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Kac, Michael B. 2019. A primer for linguistic normativists. In A. Mäkilähde, V. Leppänen and E. Itkonen, eds., Normativity in Language and Linguistics. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 103–124

Workshop: The role of social interaction in abstract concept formation and abstract words use

Joanna Rączaszek-Leonardi, University of Warsaw

Abstraction has been studied for years in the context of individual cognition: the individual mind’s capacity to classify, find new relations and generalize along new dimensions. However, the fact that the human environment from the earliest moments is a social environment, and that first experiences arise in our engagements with others, raise questions about what exactly is the reality that gives rise to conceptual knowledge, what are the „basic” perceptual data, and what are the processes that enable or facilitate emergence of concepts. It seems that knowledge about physical objects and the individual mental processes, which were for decades the primary target of research on concepts in cognitive psychology, are only part of the story.

Recent research points to the importance of social interaction in forming and stabilizing abstract concepts (Thompson et al., 2020; Borghi et al., 2018; Levinson & Enfield, 2020) and – in turn – the role of concepts in forming and guiding social interactions. However, a common language for talking about such relations between concepts and embodied interactions and an integrated methodology for research are still in the making. The session we propose aims at contributing to the development of such common ground by presenting theoretical work and empirical research on the role social factors in the emergence of abstract concepts. On the theoretical level, we ask very basic questions such as if abstract concepts have to be grounded at all and how much their use and understanding relies on language (Winter), how individual experiences can be shared and integrated in dialogues to form abstractions (Tylen), how attention to social relations and first person experience might question the concreteabstract division (Rączaszek-Leonardi and Zubek) and whether the phenomenon of abstractness is a purely semantic one or if it concerns the topology of relations as well (Jastrzębski).

The empirical work within the session shows that dialogical negotiations lead to more useful abstractions (Tylen), that dimensions of abstraction might be a useful way to think about individual creativity (Kuczma) and that understanding cultural forces shaping seemingly simple concepts, such as „gender” might lead to recognizing its highly constructed and abstract nature and at the same time point to the methods of studying how it is embodied and instilled in everyday interactions (Nagórska et al.).

The general hope for the session is to strike a debate on the uniformity of concepts on the one hand and the general principles that lead to their emergence on the other.



Thompson, B., Roberts, S.G., Lupyan, G. (2020) Cultural influences on word meaning revealed through large-scale semantic alignment. Nature Human Behaviour 4 (10), 1029-1038

Borghi, A. M., Barca, L., Binkofski, F., & Tummolini, L. (2018). Varieties of abstract concepts: development, use and representation in the brain.Phil.Trans.Royal Society B.

Levinson, S.C., & Enfield, N.J. (2020). Roots of human sociality: Culture, cognition and interaction. Routledge


Dialogue and abstraction

Kristian Tylén, Aarhus University

Abstraction is fundamental to human categorization, allowing our cognitive system to group varied experiences as tokens of the same abstract type. This makes our categories resilient to noise and enables us to respond cleverly to novel experiences in an uncertain or dynamically changing environment due to their higher order similarities or analogies (i.e. their family resemblances) to known entities (Medin, Wattenmaker, & Hampson, 1987). Abstraction processes are often portrayed as generalizations across accumulated experiences in the mind of an individual, allowing representations to transfer and apply more flexibly to new or changing contexts (Gentner, 1983; Gentner & Medina, 1998; Loewenstein et al., 1999; Perkins & Salomon, 1992). We suggest that a similar, but socially distributed cognitive process can unfold in contexts of dialogical social interaction (Fusaroli, Gangopadhyay, & Tylén, 2014; Schwartz, 1995; Tylén, Fusaroli, Smith, & Arnoldi, 2020). Here, abstract representations are the product of generalization across experiences of different individuals dialogically sharing their introspections, and emerge to accommodate the summed variance of individual perspectives. In other words, we argue that social interaction stimulates cognitive processes of abstraction at the level of the group. In the presentation, I will discuss finding from a series of experiments where individuals and groups solve complex rule-based categorization tasks. It is found that groups – through dialogical negotiation – are more likely to form abstract problem representations that facilitate task performance and transfer better to new task contexts.


Do abstract concepts have to be grounded in anything other than language?

Bodo Winter, University of Birmingham

Abstract concepts are generally seen as a challenge for embodied theories of language and cognition: given that concepts such as ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ seem to have very little concrete perceptual content, how could these concepts be understood using ‘embodied’ processes such as perceptual simulation? In response to this challenge, researchers have proposed that abstract concepts are grounded in multiple different representations, including simulated situational knowledge, interoception, affective representations, and more. In this talk I want to push back against the notion that abstract concepts have to be grounded. Instead, I want to propose that abstract concepts are perhaps a challenge that embodied theories can ignore, i.e., abstract concepts may simply be out of the purview of embodied theories. I will argue that the research agenda to seek for the grounding of abstract concepts is at least partially rooted in a widespread misunderstanding of Harnad’s symbol grounding problem, which is often misconstrued as saying that all concepts have to be grounded in perceptual processes, whereas in fact all the symbol grounding problem entails is that some concepts have to be grounded (Harnad, 1990). Abstract concepts may be amongst those many concepts (Vincent-Lamarre et al., 2016) that are not grounded in anything other than connections to other linguistically represented symbols. I will use empirical shortcomings of one specific proposal of the grounding of abstract concepts — the idea that abstract concepts are grounded in affective representations (Kousta et al., 2011; Vigliocco et al., 2014; Ponari et al., 2018) — as a testbed to explore the limitations of any one approach that seeks to ground abstract concepts in anything other than language. I will conclude by defending an ‘embodiment on demand’ view, where embodied effects such as perceptual simulations only play a strong role when the context is highly concrete, and in particular if speakers or signers use highly iconic words or signs to invite their interlocutors to simulate. Within this ‘embodiment on demand’ view, symbolic processing with linguistic representations takes center stage, and the ‘embodied’ process of perceptual simulation merely assumes a subsidiary role when speakers/signers refer to perceptual things and care about communicating perceptual detail in a vivid fashion.


Ecological and enactive take of concepts as built on relations in a social environment

Joanna Rączaszek-Leonardi, University of Warsaw

Julian Zubek, University of Warsaw

The dominance of the information processing paradigm in cognitive psychological research on concepts brought with it a heavy emphasis on „objectively available” (most often visual) information as entry „data” for knowledge structures. This has been strengthened by the cognitive science’s attempts to develop artificial systems, which can perform various classifications. Yet the recent ecological turn points to the fundamentally relational character of what is perceivable, that is, agent- and action-dependent properties. What is equally important, this relational nature brings forward the importance of the first-person experience, which accompanies any perception of what the environment affords. We would like to use these tenets, together with a constatation that our environments are predominantly social, especially in the early stages of development, to reflect on the concept of abstractness itself. In line with research on early objects perception (de Barbaro et al., 2013) and participatory object perception (di Paolo, 2016), we ask if perhaps what we conceive as simple, concrete objects, aren’t in fact more abstract than our first-person experiences in social situations: can, for example, a „bottle” be considered an abstract concept and „agency” a concrete one?


Modelling abstractness as a topological feature

Borys Jastrzębski, University of Warsaw

Abstractness and concreteness are usually conceptualised as purely semantic features of a concept. Although intuitive, this approach severely limits the analytical power of the above dimensions. Understood as primitives, they need to be measured experimentally for each new concept and pose a critical challenge to the assessment of word compounds or sentences where there are no ground rules for estimating combined abstractness. From the theoretical standpoint, abstractness as a semantic primitive threatens the compatibility of abstractness research with the dynamical systems view of linguistic meaning and interactions. Abstract vs. concrete concepts understood prima facie concern the ontology of the object they describe and thus evoke the mapping metaphor of reference rather than analysing the interplay of constraints that the concepts place on interactions. In this contribution, I will propose an exploratory relation-based approach to conceptualising the dimensions of abstractness and concreteness based on the previously developed framework of meaning as networks of constraints (Jastrzębski & Rączaszek-Leonardi 2022, manuscript). Rather than treating them as semantic primitives, I will offer a possible analysis of the positions the relevant concepts take in qualitative constraints networks. If consistent, it would suggest a topology-based account of abstract and concrete objects with the hope of addressing the theoretical and practical issues of a purely semantic view of abstractness.


Abstraction in divergent thinking

Urszula Kuczma, University of Warsaw

Kristian Tylén, Aarhus University

Joanna Rączaszek-Leonardi, University of Warsaw

Divergent thinking, a process of spontaneous generation of ideas based on exploration of possibilities, is believed to be based on the ability to create remote semantic associations (Wang et al. 2018). In a form of exploratory research we tested whether these associations might be tightly connected to the process of generalization, feature extraction and abstraction in general. The key aspects were distant associations, regarded as long semantic jumps between domains. With the hypothesis that there might be an underlying dimension for each pair of associated concepts along which these associations are aligned, we investigated these dimensions as forms of abstraction. The associative dimensions potentially linking concepts vary from context to context and are possibly not reducible to an exhaustive list. The associations were analyzed in the form of a qualitative experiment based on a verbal fluency task and interview with subjects. Subjects analyzed their own chain of thoughts commenting on what triggered their associations. The process revealed interesting insights into the mutli-dimensionality of the associations and the strategies to realize the task and also opened up a discussion about the place of abstraction within these dimensions. We would like to present the outcomes of this exploratory research and the functional aspect of abstraction in regard to divergent thinking.


Embodying gender/sex in interaction dynamics: patterns of early speech and vocalization by mothers and infants

Ewa Nagórska, University of Warsaw

Claudia Mazzuca, Sapienza University of Rome

Joanna Rączaszek-Leonardi, University of Warsaw

Anne Fausto-Sterling, Brown University

During the last twenty years, the concepts of gender and sex have been thoroughly discussed, and the difficulty in separating these notions has been brought upon general attention (cf. Fausto-Sterling, 2019), resulting in increased popularity of the unifying term of “gender/sex” (van Anders and Dunn, 2009). The notion of “gender/sex” contains, amongst others, one’s identity or role, physicality & physiology. The multifacetedness of gender/sex is especially visible in early infancy and childhood (from birth to 36 months), when the child develops quickly in all areas (for detailed description, see Fausto-Sterling, 2021). During this period, the children are also experiencing first interactions with others, which shape the way they think about themselves and the world. In this preliminary study, we treat gender/sex as a concept arising due to a constellation of relations which are enacted with the child from the earliest moments of life. Sequences and timings of the vocal contributions have been also shown as dictated by values preserved in interaction, such as mutual interest and respect (Rączaszek-Leonardi & Nomikou, 2015). As shown by Nomikou et al. (2017), changing established dynamics of behaviours results in differences in the initiative/agency of the infant. We focus on how these relations concerning gender/sex are instilled in the vocal layer and speech in several aspects: semantics, relative timing and qualities of vocalizations, both by mother and the child. We will present results obtained by qualitative analyses of dyadic speech, as well as compare the dynamical profiles of interactions.


 Concepts in conversation: behaviour coordination and role of effector for different kinds of concepts

Jędrzej Miecznikowski, University of Warsaw

Valentina Rossi, Sapienza University of Rome

Anna Borghi, Department of Dynamic and Clinical Psychology, and Health Studies, Sapienza University of Rome / Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies, Italian Research Council

Chiara Fini, Sapienza University of Rome

Joanna Rączaszek-Leonardi, University of Warsaw

Julian Zubek, University of Warsaw

Humans have an ability to create and use abstract concepts unparalleled in the animal kingdom. While there is no direct opposition between abstract and concrete concepts, they vary along many dimensions: the first are typically less imageable, more detached from the five senses, more variable across contexts and participants and evoke more interoception (Villani et al., 2019). Crucial for us is the fact that they score higher in social metacognition, feeling that others can help us in understanding word meaning (Borghi et al., 2019).

Other authors have also proposed that the metacognitive awareness of the inadequacy of our knowledge might lead to relying more on other people (Shea, 2019).

A recent study supports this hypothesis, showing that participants’ movement is more synchronous with an experimenter when they have to guess the abstract, rather than the concrete concept to which an image refers (Fini et al., 2021).

Drawing from these works, we hypothesise that abstract concepts elicit cooperation. We devised an experimental task in which dyads were presented with concrete and abstract concepts belonging to different kinds, and were required to arrive at common definitions of abstract and concrete concepts through natural conversations. Additionally, we explore the notion that different clusters of abstract concepts (philosophical-spiritual, self-sociality, emotive, and physical-spatiotemporal-quantitative) may vary in eliciting cooperation.

Cooperation within the pair was operationalized by coordination on multiple timescales and measured using recurrence quantification analysis of the time series acquired through tracking the participants’ movements during their interaction. We expect that conversations concerning concrete and abstract concepts are characterised by different coordination patterns. We will present preliminary results of the experiments carried out in both Italy and Poland, and propose further steps for research on abstract concepts and prosocial behaviour.


Language and types of abstract concepts: A dual-task interference study

Johanne Nedergård, Department of Linguistics, Cognitive Science and Semiotics, Aarhus University

Marta Kapielska, Faculty of Psychology, Warsaw University

Anna Borghi, Department of Dynamic and Clinical Psychology, and Health Studies, Sapienza University of Rome / Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies, Italian Research Council

Many researchers have suggested that the processing of abstract concepts depends on language, with a recent study (Villani et al., 2019) arguing that some abstract concepts could be more reliant on language than others. In this preregistered study (, we tested the role of language in the processing of different categories of abstract concepts by having participants solve odd-one-out problems while engaging in either verbal or visuospatial secondary interference tasks. For each odd-one-out trial, participants saw three images depicting abstract or concrete concepts and were asked to select the one that did not depict the same concept as the other two. We conducted the study online. In the main part of the experiment, we asked participants to alternate between odd-one-out abstract concept trials and 1-back matching verbal or visuospatial interference trials. We also include a control condition with no interference. We predicted that abstract concept processing would be slower and less accurate in the verbal interference condition. In contrast to our predictions, processing of abstract concepts appeared faster and less accurate under both verbal and visuospatial interference compared to the control condition. Performance under verbal interference was also faster than under visuospatial interference – this was, however, not the case for processing of concrete concepts where visuospatial interference was associated with the fastest reaction times. We have two potential explanations for the unexpected results. First, it could be the case that verbal recoding (the path from image to verbal label) takes time and that verbal interference prevents participants from recoding across modalities. This would be consistent with faster but less accurate odd-one-out decisions under verbal interference. With concrete concepts, the images are more visually similar so verbal recoding may not be necessary. Consistently with this idea, reaction times were also faster the higher words scored in social metacognition, i.e. the more people evaluated they needed others to understand word meaning. Second, previous research using dual-task interference (see Nedergaard, Wallentin, & Lupyan, 2022, for a review) has found that a verbal secondary task interferes with behavioural inhibition, which may also have been the case in our experiment. This explanation fits less well with our findings regarding concrete concepts. We discuss what our results might mean with regard to the idea that language – both as it occurs internally and between people – plays an important role in the formation and negotiation of abstract concepts as well as the processing of them.



Nedergaard, J., Wallentin, M., & Lupyan, G. (2022). Verbal interference paradigms: A systematic review investigating the role of language in cognition.

Villani, C., Lugli, L., Liuzza, M. T., & Borghi, A. M. (2019). Varieties of abstract concepts and their multiple dimensions. Language and Cognition, 11(3), 403–430.