Cognitive stylistics in the classroom.
Cognitive stylistics has recently emerged as a topic of much interest in university education in both literature and linguistics departments. (1) Its popularity is primarily built on the success that literary stylistics has enjoyed over the past thirty years, especially in Europe, and on the relatively recent emergence of cognitive linguistics as a highly persuasive approach to the study of grammar and metaphor. There has, however, been little interest in studying teaching methodology in the cognitive stylistics classroom. This article will therefore seek to start to address this omission.
In the recent past there have been some excellent pedagogical articles written on the teaching of literary stylistics in the university classroom (see, for example, Short; Simpson; Verdonk). These articles have all sought to record the pedagogical state of literary stylistics at a particular moment in time. This article will seek to add to the periodical recording of such moments. In particular, it will attempt to present an overview, albeit limited, of some teaching practices in this current transitional period in stylistics, from primarily textual stylistic analysis to principally cognitive stylistic ones. The very fact that stylistics finds itself at the confluence of text, context, and cognition arguably makes this an even more interesting moment to check on teaching practices and student requirements. Essentially therefore, this article will seek to consider what students may need to know from the domain of mainstream literary stylistics in order to be able to fully and fruitfully access a cognitive approach to stylistic study. Hence, the central question that will be posed here is whether or not a prior grounding in mainstream literary stylistics is desirable for undergraduate students who might wish to take a course in cognitive stylistics. It might well be the case that students can take courses in cognitive stylistics without any prior knowledge of the workings of language and style in literature, without this having a marked effect on their capacity to learn in a cognitive environment. This is what this article will hope to go some way towards discovering. In short therefore, this response-based study will consider how cognitive stylistics is currently being taught in just one tertiary educational environment, namely, in the English department at the Free University, Amsterdam. In doing so, it will aim to highlight some of the pedagogical shortcomings and suggest some possible solutions in order to assist undergraduate learning in the cognitive stylistic classroom.
2. Methodology: Some Preliminaries
As has been suggested, one of the major concerns in my own stylistics teaching at the dawn of the cognitive age of critical literary practice is to discover whether or not it is advisable to allow undergraduate students to take advanced courses in cognitive stylistics before they have taken a regular literary stylistics course. In short, I am interested in finding out whether students require a more textual approach to stylistics before they move on into a more cognitive stylistic domain. This then is the main question that the testing in this article will set out to determine, as none of the twelve students in my cognitive stylistics course had previously been involved in any kind of regular literary stylistics program. Prior to setting up the test, I was inclined to make the tentative prognosis that students would indeed benefit from such a preparatory textual approach to stylistics. As such, I predicted that the majority of the students might very well struggle to link those very cognitive concepts that they were in the process of learning back to linguistic form and function for the practicalities of stylistic analysis.
There are obvious pedagogical reasons for wishing to know whether or not it is beneficial to find out if undergraduate students might benefit from an essentially linguistic/textual approach to stylistics, before they are confronted with a far more abstract, and arguably far more abstruse, cognitive one. Although far from being a perfect match, the old adage pertaining to the advantages of one first learning to walk, before one learns to run, is apt here as an anecdotal point of departure.
2.1. A Potential Problem
Literary stylistics is essentially a category of literary criticism, even though it is just as often taught and studied by linguists as it is by literary scholars. It can be observed how other forms of literary criticism, especially postmodernism, have been essentially far more research-led in undergraduate teaching than they have been pedagogy-led. In other words, lately it has all too often appeared to have been far more important to teach undergraduate students cutting-edge research without first teaching them the underlying basics upon which that research is grounded. One example can be seen in the undergraduate teaching of postmodern literary theory at some higher educational institutions, where undergraduate students are all too often obliged to study certain deconstructive readings of both classical and nonclassical literary texts through postmodern philosophical or psychoanalytic lenses without ever having actually read the original text in a previous course.
The question is whether we, as teachers, want our undergraduate students to posses the jargon and the knowledge or just the jargon. Far too often, students appear to be extremely eloquent in dealing with cutting-edge critical, literary concepts but, when pressed, appear to lack a fundamental depth to their literary critical knowledge. For example, a student might know Hamlet through some famous psychoanalytic or postmodern reading of the play, but he or she might never have actually been obliged to read or see the play previously as part of a mainstream Renaissance drama course. This, of course, can in no way be labelled an "error," since didactic choices are almost always ideologically tinted in tertiary education. However, the pedagogical responsibility of such decisions can indeed be questioned. It is clear that the vast majority of the people instructing such cutting-edge courses do themselves posses a solid grounding in the basics of the field they are teaching. Why then, we might ask, should instructors appear to disenfranchise their students by not preparing them properly for their intellectual life in the same thorough fashion as the instructors were prepared by their lecturers?
To bring the discussion back to stylistics, I am concerned that by allowing undergraduate students to take courses in cognitive stylistics before they take ones in mainstream literary stylistics, we might be travelling down a similar road to the one previously taken by post-structuralists in their teaching. The result of this may be that we have students who will be able to converse fluently and intelligently about all kinds of cognitive constructs and top-down reading strategies within a stylistic framework, but, when pressed, will be unable to say what kind of effect certain deictic elements or aspects of free indirect discourse or certain noun-phrase patterning might be having on a text, as experienced by the reader. Even worse, they might not even be capable of pointing out how these essentially linguistic criteria function or what linguistic form they take in the text. In short, the dangers of allowing students to take courses in cognitive stylistics before they have taken one in mainstream literary stylistics may mean that they will be articulate in cognitive psychology but inept in functional linguistics. In light of the fact that stylistics is essentially grounded in the notion of style, and style in inextricably linked to language and form, one might ask whether, from a pedagogical perspective, such a development is desirable in language and literature departments.
2.2. The Method
The methodological approach I have adopted here to look at this question is essentially empirical. However, it does not consist of the kind of qualitative data normally associated with numerical and statistical empirical testing. Instead, it takes a far more qualitative, subjective approach that is based on a questionnaire, the type of which also seeks to also take into account the inherently subjective nature of human experience. Ali data presented here are thus based on this end-of-semester questionnaire. Ali responses were anonymous and were completed while the instructor was in a different location. There were twelve students in the course, although only ten of the twelve actually took part in this end-of-semester course evaluation, which took place in the very last week of the term.
It should be pointed out that although all the students were proficient English speakers and some were studying English as their major at the Free University Amsterdam, it was not their mother tongue. As such, several irregularities appear in a number of their open responses. These have been transcribed as they originally appeared, as it was thought best not to interfere with the written data. Fortunately, those open responses that are ungrammatical are often still comprehensible. Where the actual meaning of the response is unclear, because of either grammatical clumsiness of native speaker interference, an attempt has been made by me, as a fluent speaker of the Dutch language, to recreate what I believed might have originally been meant. This added information appears and in square brackets. Original spelling errors have been retained throughout.
The questionnaire itself contained nine questions. Most of them involved circling categories or ticking yes/no boxes. However, some of the more significant questions were open-ended. It was from these questions that it was hoped that the most meaningful feedback would be obtained. The nine questions can be synopsized as follows:
1. How difficult did you find this course?
2. What might have caused this?
3. What was your overall view of the teaching methodology?
4. Which of the ten topics did you like best in the two books and why?
5. What was your general impression of the material in the two books?
6. Do you feel you have learned something from this course?
7. Do you feel you have been encouraged to develop your own opinion?
8. Please give a mark out of 10 for the course.
9. How do you think the course might be improved?
A direct positing of the central research question, "do you think you might have benefitted, had you taken an earlier course in mainstream stylistics prior to this cognitive one," was purposely avoided. This was done in order to attempt to obtain this information indirectly from a number of less overt questions (in particular questions 1, 2, and 9). It was thought that such indirect methods might reveal a more accurate picture than a single direct question would, where students may try to acquiesce to the wishes of their instructor, either consciously or subconsciously. (2)
The reason why this qualitative methodological approach was deemed more preferable at this initial stage of testing in the cognitive stylistics classroom was because it was thought that if it pointed towards potentially significant outcomes, then these could be followed up in a far more rigorous, quantitative manner. Using identical questionnaire forms, testing could then be conducted across different universities in different countries in a far more structured and statistical fashion in order to see (1.) whether certain hypotheses, supported by the qualitative data, still hold, and (2.) whether cultural constraints play a role in altering those initial data-influenced hypotheses.
3. Some Details about the Course and the Students
The course was taught in the spring semester of the 2002-2003 academic year as part of the undergraduate program in the language section of the English Department at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. The main linguistic approaches adopted within this department are primarily functional and discourse orientated: this is in spite of the fact that nonfunctional/noncognitive generative approaches to language learning are still predominant in the Netherlands) The course ran through the whole spring semester, lasting for fourteen weeks. This was split into two periods of seven weeks with a week's break in the middle of the semester. In the first half of the semester the group met twice a week for two sessions lasting two hours each (7 x 2 x 2). This meant that there were twenty-eight contact hours in this first half of the semester. In the second half of the semester the group met just once a week for one session lasting two hours (7 x 2). This amounted to fourteen contact hours in the second half of the semester. There were thus a total of forty-two contact hours (28 + 14) for the entire course. As has already been mentioned, there were twelve students in the course.
Despite the fact that this program in cognitive stylistics was being taught by the English department, the students were not all English majors--indeed only two were majoring solely in English language studies. Of the rest, four were majoring in both English language studies and communication and information studies (called CIW in Dutch), two were majoring solely in CIW, and four were majoring in Word and Image studies, as part of the General Cultural Studies program. There were thus no English literature majors taking this course, despite the fact that cognitive stylistics is first and foremost a mode of literary criticism, as has been previously stated.
All of the students were Dutch nationals except one who was Spanish (a native Catalan speaker): Ten students were female and two were male. The two male students were both Word and Image majors. Ali of the students were in their third or fourth undergraduate year, except the four Word and Image students, who were in their second year. Ali of the students were familiar with discourse and functional approaches to language. The English language students and the CIW students had primarily been exposed to the functional linguistic theories of Simon Dik, while the Word and Image students were primarily acquainted with the systemic-functional linguistic theories of Michael Halliday. This last group also had some knowledge of cognitive studies from a previous course that I had taught. (4) One student (the Spanish national) had also previously encountered Ronald Langacker's cognitive grammar at her previous university. However, as already stated, none of these students had in any way been previously exposed to stylistics.
The two books used in the course were Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction, by Peter Stockwell, and the companion volume Cognitive Poetics in Practice, edited by Joanna Gavins and Gerard Steen. Another book, Cognitive Stylistics: Language and Cognition in Text Analysis, edited by Elena Semino and Jonathan Culpeper, was considered but was not used for practical rather than pedagogical reasons. One such reason was that it was assumed that as complementary volumes, Stockwell's book and Gavins and Steen's book would offer the students a good view of the theoretical topics being discussed in the weekly sessions. This compatibility found form in the fact that there were essentially ten key corresponding cognitive stylistic topics in both these books. These topics were: (1.) figures and grounds, (2.) prototypes, (3.) cognitive deixis, (4.) cognitive grammar, (5.) scripts and schemas, (6.) mental spaces and discourse worlds, (7.) conceptual metaphor, (8.) the parabolic literary mind, (9.) text world theory, and (10.) narrative comprehension. (5)
The course itself was broadly taught in the following way. As has already been mentioned, in this first seven-week period there were two 2-hour sessions. In the second half of the semester there was just one 2-hour session. During the first half of each lesson there was an interactive lecture. This involved the instructor talking about the theoretical content of the chapter and giving the students lots of additional background information. The instructor also encouraged students to critically question a whole host of inputs. These included (1.) the course material, (2.) the topic of cognitive stylistics itself, (3.) each other's responses and comments, (4.) their own responses and comments, and (5.) the instructor's comments. As a result of this approach, a kind of workshop situation often developed in the classroom. This was especially the case towards the end of the semester, once students had started to feel at ease in the critical and self-critical pedagogical environment that has been created. At the beginning of the course, the instructor had to do the majority of the discussion work but, by the end of it, the students had taken responsibility for their own intuitions and questions. As a result, the instructor's role was gradually reduced to one of merely guiding the discussions and adjusting or correcting them where necessary. The sessions were thus essentially interactive in nature. Students were not purely "instructed," rather they were "activated." As such, they were allowed to function in manner that they felt was most appropriate from moment to moment as each lesson unfolded.
In the second hour of every session the students gave short presentations. This was done in groups that were made up of two students. There was usually time for three presentations per session. So although students did not give presentations on every single topic, they were presenting on roughly half of them (i.e., in every other session). These presentations sought to set out very briefly the main theoretical points of the previous week's cognitive stylistic theory and then conduct a short analysis, based on a text that had been selected by the students themselves without supervision. Handouts were made by the presenters and distributed to the whole class for critical introspection. After each group presentation, a short discussion was held among the other students, reflecting on the summary of the theory and the practical application of it in textual analysis. Critical feedback was then given, firstly by the rest of the group, and thereafter, by the instructor himself, whose comments were then also open to critical introspection by the whole class.
4. The Course Evaluation Data
As has been stated, every week a new concept was discussed in class. Subtracting the introductory lectures and the concluding lectures, which largely dealt with practical and structural matters, this left ten weeks from the original fourteen in which ten different topics in cognitive stylistics were dealt with in both theory and practice. The practice element involved looking at the analyses in the book and conducting new ones based on texts that were first selected by the instructor and thereafter by the students.
Attendance throughout the course was good. As a result, the students had a proficient working knowledge of all of the theoretical topics by the end of the semester, when the questionnaire was distributed and completed. The introductory chart below shows how many of the twelve students were present to deal with the material on a week-to-week basis. As can been seen, and as has previously been mentioned, in the all-important final session in week 14 only ten students out of the twelve attended and therefore only these ten completed the questionnaire. (6)
Attendance Absentees Topic 1: Figures and Grounds 12 -- Topic 2: Prototypes 11 (1) Topic 3: Cognitive Deixis 11 (1) Topic 4: Cognitive Grammar 10 (2) Topic 5: Scripts and Schemas 10 (2) Topic 6: Mental Spaces and Discourse Worlds 8 (4) Topic 7: Conceptual Metaphor 9 (3) Topic 8: The Parabolic Literary Mind (Turner) 12 -- Topic 9: Text World Theory (Werth) 11 (1) Topic 10: Narrative Comprehension (Emmott) 8 (4) Week 14: (final week): End-of-semester 10 (2) questionnaire
What follows below are the nine questions and all of the responses. An attempt has been made to reproduce them here as close to their original form as was possible.
Question 1: Please circle the word that best describes how easy/difficult you found this course. Your choices are (i) easy (ii) relatively easy (iii) average (iv) difficult (v) very difficult
easy 0 relatively easy 0 average 3 difficult 7 very difficult 0
Question 2: In your view, what do you think the reason was for your decision in the previous question? Please circle any of the following five (i) the actual topic of cognitive stylistics/poetics (ii) the books (iii) the lecturer (iv) the time framework (iv) yourself (i.e., you did not put enough time into preparing, reading and analyzing). You may circle more than one category if you like.
the topic (cognitive stylistics/poetics) 4 the books 8 the teacher 1 the time framework 3 yourself 2
A space was also left open here for additional comments. Only four of the ten students decided to make use of this space. Their comments were as follows:
* It was just all good, well balanced
* The books were relatively difficult but the amount of time you put in makes a big difference
* It was not a particularly interesting topic and if that is the case, then it is very hard to really get into and understand the material
* One class per week (in the second half of the semester) is not enough to deal with the weekly topic
Question 3: What was your overall view of the teaching methodology?
very poor 0 poor 0 average 0 good 5 very good 5
Once again, a space was left open for additional comments. Six of the ten students decided to make use of this space. Their comments were as follows:
* It Was very clear what the classes would look like each week. The instructor is very enthusiastic about the topic
* The instructor supported the discussion and got us to develop our own thoughts. The structure of the lessons was also good
* The instructor has a positive attitude and doesn't put you under pressure
* The teacher proved to be an expert in his field and at times I could feel a gap between his knowledge and mine. At times, his mind seemed to "fly away" between all the cloudy notions, and the problem for me was that I could not follow. The stuff is pretty dense for a student (me) to grasp at once
* The instructor provided enough room for questions, and gave enough background knowledge to be able to embed the material in a historical context
* The instructor is a good teacher who knows how to explain difficult aspects. At times, parts of the books would become too vague or too difficult (loads of scientific detail) and extra explanations were definitely needed. Next to that, he had no problem with admitting every now and then that the writers and he himself were not wholly correct. That helps in giving the student more confidence about his own findings and makes the student more critical
Question 4: Which of the ten topics in cognitive stylistics/poetics did you like best in the two book? Final Gavins essay Stock- & Steen [Total] topic well figures and grounds 5 2  1 prototypes 2 1  0 cognitive deixis 1 1  4 cognitive grammar 1 2  0 scripts and schemas 5 3  1 mental spaces and discourse worlds 6 7  0 conceptual metaphor 5 1  0 the parabolic literary mind 1 3  0 text world theory 3 4  2 narrative comprehension 4 3  2 Total 33 27  10
Here, as in question 2, students could choose more than one topic. The table above shows these choices. It also shows which topic the student eventually choose to use as a theoretical framework to analyze a text for their final papers. The paper (3000-5000 words) was worth 50% of their final grade. The in-class presentations accounted for the rest of the grade.
Question 5: What was your general impression of the material in the two books?
All ten students responded to this open question to both books. This amounted to twenty responses in total. The ten responses to Stockwell' s Cognitive Poetics were:
* My impression was good in general. However, I have the feeling that I need more input in order to fully understand and follow the book
* The book was a rather good introduction although sometimes too elaborate and slightly difficult for beginners
* It was a good book, made me think about lots of things and made me look at literature in a different way
* OK, but often went too fast, or could have been more explicit. It really helped to read the companion chapter in the Gavins and Steen book
* Hard to say what I thought. The overall structure is clear but where it elaborates on the theories it seems unclear and leaves me with a lot of question marks [questions]. I would also have liked the book to have given me more meaning and guidance
* Quite ok
* A very good and well-structured book. The subjects treated are very interesting. Some of the theory is difficult at times and I thought the author mixes up some terms, but overall very good
* Good and well-structured way of introducing the student to difficult aspects of cognitive poetics. The author seems to know whom he writes for, and therefore does not make it too difficult. An interesting book!
* Good overview of the field
* Some chapters were more comprehensible than others. When it was difficult to understand it was almost always the case that some terms that were used throughout the chapter were not defined
The ten responses to Gavin and Steen's Cognitive Poetics in Practice were as follows:
* This was also a good book, and also made me think about lots of things and look at literature in a different way
* Could be better or improved if both books are to be complementary and if they are meant for cognitive stylistic lessons. It should not be forgotten that the student in question does not know anything about the subject
* Really helpful. I would not have understood as much if it wasn't for this book. Just reading two chapters on the same subject was helpful to understand the often difficult stuff. More material would be even better, but I don't know if I would have time to read it
* There were more chapters here than in the other book that lacked coherence. But as an extra book it was useful
* OK, but it could have been more structured and more applied to the other book, especially in the terminology of the theories discussed
* OK, but the different writers do not always go well together. It is nice to read different viewpoints but they didn't always make the corresponding Stockwell chapter clearer
* A good book that complements the Stockwell one. On the one hand it was interesting to see different writer's ideas and opinions, on the other hand it did make it into a book that didn't have a single structure to hang on to
* These chapters focussed more specifically on one subject in particular. The chapters didn't always complement the Stockwell chapters well.
Also, now and then terminology got mixed up which made the whole less clear
* Mostly good chapters. Sometimes not too complementary to the chapters in Stockwell
* Some chapters really helped me to better understand the Stockwell chapter (like those by Semino and Gavins) and they added other information as well. Other chapters were too far removed from the theory in the Stockwell book (especially the chapter by Tsur)
Question 6: Do you feel you have learned something from this course? Yes 9 No 0 Yes & No 1 Question 7: Do you feel you have been encouraged to develop your own opinion? Yes 10 No 0 Yes & No 0 Question 8: Please give a total mark out of 10 for the course (taking into account the topic, the hooks, the teacher, the time-framework, etc..) Mark Number Total 8.5 (2x) = 17 8 (6x) = 48 7 (1x) = 7 6 (1x) = 6 Total 78 (7.8 out of 10.0-or 78% out of 100)
Question 9: How do you think the course might be improved?
Eight of the ten students responded to this open question by writing suggestions to improve the course. Their responses were as follows:
* The chapters were quite difficult so it would be better to have more classes to discuss them. It is better to talk to other people on this subject than to read it and not understand it
* If, in the Gavins and Steen book, the author introduces/applies theories of his or her own which differ from/is not mentioned in Stockwell, this should be pointed out in class. Otherwise, it can work confusing [confusingly]
* Perhaps some chapters from the Gavins & Steen book should compliment the Stockwell book a bit more (i.e., terminology, etc.)
* Some terminology from Stockwell clashed with the one from Gavins and Steen. Maybe something can be done about that
* Explain more what cognitive poetics/stylistics is and why this extra research is necessary
* Keep the interaction dimension
* Maybe some of the stuff could be applied to a film or something because that should be possible but I am not sure how to do it. It would be a nice change
* Could be better or improved if both books are to be complementary and if they are meant for cognitive stylistic lessons. It should not be forgotten that the student in question does not know anything about the subject (7)
In this section some of the relevant aspects of the data will be highlighted and contrasted. This will be done question by question. Tentative conclusions will also be drawn after each question. These will then be summarized at the end of this section.
The first question showed how easy or difficult the students found the course. None found the course "easy" or even "relatively easy," and an overwhelming majority (70%) labelled it "difficult." By and large, these were very capable students. In fact, some were very talented. Ali of them went on to pass the course, some with considerable ease, gaining grades of 85%, 90%, and even 95%, in one case. Why then, one might ask, did the vast majority of them experience the course as being "difficult" while none of them found it "relatively easy"? Since none of these students had ever taken an introductory course in (textual) literary stylistics, the answer might lie in a fundamental lack of a basic stylistic knowledge, which may have given them the feeling of being ill-prepared.
Question 2 attempted to pin this down by asking them what they felt the reasons might have been for this "feeling of difficulty." Students were allowed to choose any of the five potential problems (or even add a new category, which none did). The five were (1.) the actual topic of cognitive stylistics, (2.) the books, (3.) the lecturer (and more specifically his teaching methodology), (4.) the time framework (i.e., the forty-two contact hours that went into the fourteen weeks of teaching), and (5.) themselves (e.g., could they have spent more time and/or effort on preparing and executing the course?). Students were allowed to circle as many of these five categories as they thought necessary. There were eighteen marks allocated in total. Exactly one third (33.3%) were distributed among the last three categories (the teaching methodology, the time-framework, and the input from the students themselves). The first two categories, the topic of Cognitive stylistics and the two books chosen, gained two-thirds of the votes (66.6%). This suggests overwhelmingly that if there is a weakness in the course that is preventing the creation of an optimal learning environment, then it should be sought here. Interestingly, the students experienced the books as being twice as perplexing for learning as the topic of cognitive stylistics itself. This observation is not as clear-cut as it seems. As such, it will be addressed in much greater depth later in this section and in the conclusion to this essay.
Question 3 was an echo of the third part of question 2. It functioned as a check to see whether the students might feel intimidated to mark the teacher and his teaching methodology higher than it actually deserved, even though all responses were anonymous and were completed without the teacher present. Both section three of question 2 and question 3 appeared to agree that the instructor and his teaching methodology did not have an overriding negative effect on how the subject of cognitive stylistics was experienced. In fact, all six open responses seemed to suggest that the opposite might have been the case (see the course evaluation data section again for an overview of these responses).
Question 4 sought to discover which of the ten cognitive categories, and hence which chapters, might have been experienced as being most difficult. As in question 2, students could circle more than one category. Generally speaking, one can see from the total column that there seemed to be a slight overall preference for the chapters presented in the Stockwell book compared to those presented in the Gavins and Steen book (33 votes to 27), but this difference was minimal and can thus be deemed statistically uninteresting. Also, chapter for chapter, on a week-to-week basis, the Stockwell book came out slightly on top with 5 votes to 4 (there was also one draw--in the third session on cognitive deixis). The slight advantage enjoyed by the Stockwell book was perhaps to have been expected in a work written by a single author, as opposed to one containing chapters written by different academics.
Sixty topics (33 + 27) were thus chosen in total by the ten students. This is an average of six topics per student. In light of the fact that students were only obliged to choose one topic this is quite a considerable number. The fact thus that students chose six of the ten topics to highlight as "interesting" suggests that this was an enjoyable course to take and that the chapters, and by default the books, were experienced more positively than they were negatively. This is in contrast to some of their more overt comments on the books, offered in some of their open-ended responses although there were, of course, many positive responses here too.
There were also some odd anomalies that this questionnaire produced with regard to what students thought that their topic/chapter preferences were. Firstly, the cognitive theories that students professed to like best were "scripts and schemas" (8 votes), "figures and grounds," "text world theory" and "narrative comprehension" (all 7 votes) and "conceptual metaphor" (6 votes). However, by far the most popular with 13 votes was the category "mental spaces and discourse worlds." (8) However, these choices were not reflected in their selection of choice of theory for their final papers where "cognitive deixis" was chosen by 40% of the group as their preferred theoretical framework with which to analyze a text of their choice. (9) In the original question, cognitive deixis had received just two votes, making it the lowest and thus the least liked of all ten topics. "Mental spaces and discourse worlds," on the other hand, with its initial 13 votes was not chosen by a single student as a theoretical framework for their final papers. With no votes at all it was thus the joint lowest. (10)
Moreover, since most of the students should have been proficient in grammar because they were either language or communication majors, they nevertheless seemed to shy away completely from the more grammatical topics for their final papers. "Cognitive grammar," for example, was not chosen by a single student as a theoretical framework for their final paper. With the exception of cognitive deixis, most chose instead to opt for the more discourse-based approaches such as "text world theory" and "narrative comprehension" (2 each). This would perhaps seem logical for literary students, but the fact that there were no literature students in this course makes this somewhat unexpected. Perhaps then a lack of ability and lack of confidence to conduct simple stylistic analyses at phonological, morphological, lexical, and syntactic levels might have had some bearing on this decision to go for these two more discourse-based approaches. A preparatory course in basic literary stylistics to augment their existing knowledge of functional grammar might go some way towards giving these language and communication students the confidence they appear to need in order to attempt the more grammar-based cognitive stylistic analyses that were on offer. (11)
Question 5 sought to obtain direct responses to the contents of the books. Since there was a 100% reply to this section (i.e., a total of twenty written responses), this section cannot be treated as irrelevant. Again, as has been seen earlier, several responses, or parts of responses, seemed to suggest that both books, and by default the subject of cognitive stylistics itself, would have been more comprehensible, and hence more useful, in an analytic environment, had students been given prior access to additional knowledge in the field. Just some of the responses that typically reflected this were (1.) "I have the feeling that I need more input in order to fully understand and follow the book"; (2.) "The book was a rather good introduction although sometimes too elaborate and slightly difficult for beginners"; (3.) "OK, but often went too fast"; (4.) "The overall structure is clear but where it elaborates on the theories it seems unclear and leaves me with a lot of question marks [questions]"; (5.) "Some of the theory is difficult at times"; (6.) "More material would be even better." These requests for "more input" and "more material," as well as the observations that the subject presented in its current form is "difficult for beginners," that it "went too fast," that it "seems unclear," and that it is "difficult at times" all appear to point to the need for additional stylistic input prior to such cognitive courses.
Questions 6 and 7 sought to discover to what extent students thought that they had learned something meaningful from the course. The results were overwhelmingly positive: 95% claiming that they had learned something from the course and 100% claiming that they had been encouraged by the instructor to develop their own opinions on the subject. (12) This appears to clash somewhat with some of the data pointing to the aforementioned "difficulty" of the course. Question 8 sought to re-test the data from questions 6 and 7 by asking the students to give the whole course a grade out of ten. (13) They were encouraged to take into account all of the aforementioned criteria, especially the topic, the books, the teacher, and the time framework. The majority of the responses (60%) gave the course an 8.0, and 20% gave it an 8.5. The average of 7.8, however, was slightly less. This 78% average is not as high as the percentages suggested in questions 6 and 7. In light of the fact that question 8 offered the students far more choice and scope (i.e., it was not just a simple "yes/no" question), I am inclined to believe that this figure of 78% is by far the more accurate of the two. I am also minded to categorize this outcome as "satisfactory," albeit with "room for improvement."
The comments from question 9 might be seen as being of most importance, since the question addresses the central notion of how this course might be improved, without actually explicitly leading students towards the idea of a preparatory course in mainstream stylistics. These responses can be put into three groups concerning the course material, the teaching methods, and the general comments about the study of cognitive stylistics itself and how it might be improved. For the purposes of this particular article, the third of these appears to carry the most importance. Hence, the primary focus here will be on that.
With regard to the first category, one student noted that "some terminology from Stockwell clashed with the one from Gavins and Steen. Maybe something can be done about that." Even though this student, and perhaps others too, generally experienced this as being true, this was arguably not the case. I can only conclude here that a basic lack of knowledge at a general level of stylistics might have added to this seeming confusion regarding the terminology between the books, which, to my mind, was not present in the widespread manner in which some students appear to have experienced it.
Additionally, there are two further comments in this section that take a similar perspective. These are (1.) "If, in the Gavins and Steen book, the author introduces/ applies theories of his or her own which differ from/is not mentioned in Stockwell, this should be pointed out in class. Otherwise, it can work confusingly"; and (2.) "Perhaps some chapters from the Gavins & Steen book should compliment the Stockwell book a bit more (i.e., terminology, etc.)." In my view, as an experienced stylistics lecturer, the books complemented each other very well, and I have heard stylistics colleagues throughout the academic world who have read the books support this view as well. Indeed, with the exception perhaps of one or two chapters, the material and the theories presented in both books were, to my mind, essentially both lucid and noncontradictory. Once again thus, I can only surmise that a lack of basic general stylistic knowledge might have played a significant role in this "confusion," experienced by some students, rather than any apparent incompatible terminological references in the two books, since, by and large, no such confusing inconsistencies existed. Indeed, when pressed during the lessons these so-called "confusing theories" and "terminological mismatches" often turned out to be relatively simple stylistic phenomena, like, for example, the notion of "deictic shifts" and "linguistic foregrounding," which are mainstream ideas in stylistics, but difficult to grasp if you have never encountered them before you do so in a primarily cognitive environment.
The comment, "explain more what cognitive poetics/stylistics is and why this extra research is necessary," shows to some extent just how lost some students actually were by the end of the course in a cognitive domain largely devoid of tangible stylistic-linguistic analyses. From the previous feedback on the teaching methodology, especially that set out in question 2, one might conclude that the methods that the instructor chose to apply could not have had too negative an effect on the way the course was experienced. This was also the case for the lack of negative feedback regarding the time spent on the course. Further, this is also seen by the way in which the course was generally evaluated at 78% out of 100. Arguably therefore, something is missing, and that something, as I have been continually suggesting throughout this article, might very well be a prior grounding in literary stylistics.
Something similar can also be said of the comment, "the chapters were quite difficult, so it would be better to have more classes to discuss them. It is better to talk to other people on this subject than to read it and not understand it." The "more classes" that this student is requesting probably does not mean more classes in cognitive stylistics, since this is already a fourteen-week course (i.e., a whole semester). Rather, it could point to some desire to know more about stylistics before starting this more advanced cognitive level of stylistic study. Such a preparatory course would, I believe, have gone a long way toward addressing the insecurities that this particular student had.
The most telling comment, however, as to why we, as stylistics teachers, should seriously contemplate why we should first consider guiding our students through the shallows of linguistic analysis in a separate course, before we oblige them to jump in at the deep end of cognitive studies is the comment that "students need more background if they are to understand the theories in these books." This student is, to my mind, wholly correct. It would seem completely inappropriate from a pedagogical perspective to continue to ignore such a genuine request: an appeal that I all too often heard voiced in the classroom throughout the fourteen-week period that I taught the course. And although I attempted to fill in as much of this missing elementary stylistic knowledge as I possibly could during the lessons--as verified by a number of appreciative student comments reproduced in this article--I still felt that I was trying to teach two courses at once. The upshot of this situation is that it cannot but impede the creation of an optimum environment in which to teach cognitive stylistics at an upper undergraduate level. The potential consequences of this state of affairs are obvious.
This pedagogical study has looked at the teaching of just one undergraduate course in cognitive stylistics to a specific group of twelve students. It has examined data in the form of written student responses from an end-of-semester questionnaire, which included closed questions, open-ended questions, and yes/no questions. It sought to interpret relevant parts of that data in order to gain insights and draw conclusions, the upshot of which has been to make suggestions in an attempt to improve future teaching strategies, so that an optimum learning environment for students might be created in the cognitive stylistic classroom.
In the introduction to the methodology section in this article I predicted that the majority of the students might very well struggle to link those very cognitive concepts that they were in the process of learning back to linguistic form and function for the practicalities of stylistic analysis. From the responses that have been given, it seems not unlikely that this was indeed the case. Based on the data, this study has thus concluded that a prior grounding in mainstream literary stylistics will in all likelihood be beneficial to undergraduate students taking courses in cognitive stylistics. In claiming this, I am in no way suggesting that similar preparatory courses in mainstream literary theory or philosophy or cognitive psychology would be any less suitable. As a stylistician, I can only speak from my own perspective, and to my mind such a foundation course in literary stylistics would appear to be advantageous for general learning purposes.
Although the evidence that has been put forward here is far from conclusive, I would conjecture that I might not be too wide of the mark here. From these tentative conclusions, I am also inclined to suggest that much larger comparative surveys should be conducted within far stricter quantitative, empirical frameworks in order to test these results. Moreover, a cross-cultural dimension should also be taken into consideration in such future testing. Arguing for a foundation course in literary stylistics may seem like a lot of extra preparatory teaching work, but if students are to get the full benefit of studying cognitive approaches to literature within either a stylistic, poetic, or rhetorical framework, then the onus is on us, as their teachers, to make sure that it is done in as solid and responsible a way as possible. A study of cognitive (top-down) reading processes is extremely important in any study of reading, including stylistics. However, bottom-up analytic processes must be of equal importance in the text-mind interface, certainly within an undergraduate teaching environment. This is why I believe students would benefit from a course in mainstream literary stylistics prior to taking a course in cognitive stylistics, even if that preparatory course has to be of a very short albeit intense nature.
In conclusion, it is safe to say that cognitive approaches to stylistics are a real and ongoing aspect of our stylistics teaching. They add new cultural, cognitive, and neuroscientific insights into our ever-expanding exploration of the all-important readerly notion of context in stylistic analysis. As such, they are here to stay. But in order to offer undergraduate students accurate and optimum insights into the interface between the human mind and human language in stylistic scholarship, the persuasive properties of linguistic style should be explicitly taught, prior to any detailed cognitive stylistic analyses being attempted. A failure to do so would be detrimental to our students. (14)
Burke, Michael. "Beyond Pure Reason: The Influential Role of Emotion in Language and Cognition." The Belgian Journal of English Language and Literatures 1 (2003): 31-40.
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Gavins, Joanna, and Gerard Steen, eds. Cognitive Poetics in Practice. London: Routledge, 2003.
Halliday, Michael. An Introduction to Functional Grammar. London: Arnold, 1985.
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Semino, Elena, and Jonathan Culpeper, eds. Cognitive Stylistics: Language and Cognition in Text Analysis. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2002.
Short, Mick. "Stylistics and the Teaching of Literature: With an Example from James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." Language and Literature: An Introductory Reader in Stylistics. Ed. Ronald Carter. London: Routledge, 1982, 179-92.
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Stockwell, Peter. Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction. London: Routledge, 2002.
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Verdonk, Peter. "Language of Poetry: The Application of Literary Stylistic Theory in University Teaching." Reading, Analysing and Teaching Literature. Ed. Mick Short. London: Longman, 1989. 241-66.
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(1) For better or worse, the terms "cognitive stylistics" and "cognitive poetics" are often used interchangeably. In order to assist comprehension, throughout this article I will refer to the subject exclusively as "cognitive stylistics," even though when teaching I frequently used the term "cognitive poetics." This decision is thus based on considerations of clarity and practicality rather than on ones of ideology.
(2) As in all surveys, questions are always unavoidably loaded. It is for this reason that data obtained from such preset questionnaire-type experiments can never be deemed wholly objective. Notwithstanding, an attempt has been made here to make the questions as impartial as possible under the circumstances.
(3) Elsewhere I have argued why it is inappropriate to view generative approaches to language as "cognitive" approaches, despite the fact that such a label is commonly used these days in mainstream generativism (Burke).
(4) The course in question was taught in the Word and Image program. It involved the application of numerous cognitive frameworks to the reading and interpretation of advertisements in the print media. These cognitive frameworks included iconicity, metaphor, force dynamics, and image-schemas.
(5) There was in fact an eleventh topic in the books, which dealt with the extremely important notion of the role of emotion in cognition. However, it was left out of the evaluation because, owing to time constraints, it was not dealt with in a satisfactory manner during the course itself.
(6) The two who did not take part in the survey were both female students who were joint English and CIW majors.
(7) This particular response mirrored exactly the response that the same student gave for question 5.
(8) Taking both books into consideration, the maximum vote that a topic could have received was 20, depending on weekly attendance (the lowest, of course, was zero).
(9) The word "text" is being used in its most liberal of forms here to also include film and images in general. With regard to the actual material that was analyzed in the end-of-term essays, of the twelve students only five chose to analyze a literary text. Five others chose to analyze film, one chose to analyze song lyrics, and one chose to develop her own critical comparative model by contrasting subworlds (from text world theory), contextual frame shifts, and deictic shift theory.
(10) Perhaps the fact that only eight students (66.6%) were present in the week that this topic was taught (the joint lowest of the whole semester) might have had an effect here. These findings, though extraordinary and in need of more investigation will, however, not be dealt with further in this article.
(11) Again, this is something that should be looked at in more detail in subsequent studies.
(12) The 95% in the first statistic here reflects the fact that one student was undecided and filled in "yes & no."
(13) They were told that they could grade it to one decimal point.
(14) A shorter version of this essay was presented at the first theme-session on cognitive approaches to literature at the annual Poetics and Linguistics Association (PALA) conference held in Istanbul in June 2003. I am very grateful to the Faculteit der Letteren at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam for the funding I received in order to be able to attend the conference.
I would also like to extend my sincere thanks to the twelve students who took part in the course. Their patience and evaluative input were very much appreciated. They were Mawgosia Bos, Ineke Bruinsma, Patricia Cinos-Emperanza, Roel van Diepen, Illah Evenblij, Lysette van Geel, Mona Hegazy, Anna Kaal, Pieter van Koetsveld, Trijntje Pasma, Annette Rabbelier, and Tessa Stoke.
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|Date:||Dec 22, 2004|
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