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Seminar: 3/3 - Melinda Chen

11:00 to 12:30 PM      at:  

Center for Culture, Brain and Development, UCLA,
Department of Gender and Women's Studies, UC, Berkeley
"Cognition and Language-Based (Human) Objectification."

In a social-cultural context like the United States, what might be the role of cognition in the manipulation of local hierarchical or power relations, including social marginalization, alienation, and objectification? Coming from the two vantage points of cognitive linguistics and critical gender and race studies, my research asked these questions: Is a concept like sociocultural alienation undefinable from the point of view of cognition, or might we look at some live instances of alienation, such as objectifying verbal insults (“blockhead”), that might not only bear cognitive explanation, but benefit from it? What might be the cognitive mechanisms complicit in both social marginalization and in the attempts to counteract that marginalization? And how to distinguish mundane, non-marginalizing kinds of objectification, such as parents' terms of endearment for children (“little pumpkin”), that are conventionalized? Using frameworks of Langacker’s Cognitive Grammar and Conceptual Integration/Mental Spaces, this talk presents a study of objectification from a precisely cognitive-linguistic perspective, based on a collection of data from multiple sources which relate to the linguistic politics of social marginality in late-20th century United States. I suggest that generalized cognitive structures may be integral to the expression or enactment of objectification, as well as efforts to combat or contest this objectification: the reclaiming of derogatory epithets. Cognitive studies and science have benefitted greatly from disciplinary intersections with fields ranging from neuroscience to linguistics. An intersection with cultural-critical studies can richly inform us about the relations between cognition, language, society and emotion. In my approach, theories of cognition and language are integrated with critical gender and race/ethnicity scholarship.