Actual and non-actual motion: why experientialist semantics needs phenomenology (and vice versa)

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Experientialist semantics has contributed to a broader notion of linguistic meaning by emphasizing notions such as construal, perspective, metaphor and embodiment, but has suffered from an individualist concept of meaning and has conflated experiential motivations with conventional semantics. We argue that these problems can be redressed by methods and concepts from phenomenology, through a case study of sentences of non-actual motion such as The mountain range goes all the way from Mexico to Canada. Through a phenomenological re-analysis of proposals of Talmy, Langacker and Matlock, we show that non-actual motion is both experientially and linguistically non-unitary. At least three different features of human consciousness – enactive perception, visual scanning and imagination –constitute experiential motivations for non-actual motion sentences, and each of these could be related to phenomenological analyses of human intentionality. The second problem is addressed by proposing that the experiential motivations of non-actual motion sentences can be viewed as sedimented through “passive” processes of acquisition and social transmission, and that this implies an interactive loop between experience and language, yielding losses in terms of original experience, but gains in terms of communal signification. Something that is underestimated by phenomenology is that what is sedimented are not only intentional objects such as states of affairs, but aspects of how they are given, i.e. the original, temporal, bodily experiences themselves. Since cognitive semantics has emphasized such aspects of meaning, we suggest that phenomenology can itself benefit from experientialist semantics, especially when it turns its focus from pre-predicative to predicative, linguistic intentionality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)395-418
JournalPhenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics

Free keywords

  • cognitive semantics
  • fictive motion
  • grounding
  • language-consciousness interactionism
  • mental simulation
  • phenomenology
  • sedimentation
  • subjective motion


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