Language, Text, and Knowledge: Mental Models of Expert Communication

Language, Text, and Knowledge: Mental Models of Expert Communication

Language, Text, and Knowledge: Mental Models of Expert Communication

Language, Text, and Knowledge: Mental Models of Expert Communication

Excerpt

This book is an attempt to cast light on the interplay of language and knowledge in texts which are used in expert communication. It combines ideas and approaches from scientific disciplines which share an interest in explaining how language is used in real situations, and does so from the perspective of people actually using language.

The three domains included in the title - language, knowledge and text - have been studied with success in different disciplines: linguistics, the other cognitive sciences, and text linguistics. There have also been attempts to integrate these areas in work in experimental psycholinguistics. However, linking the three domains together to explore a fourth area - expert communication - adds a specific and relatively uncharted dimension: that of specialised knowledge and differences in knowledge, as reflected in the distinction between experts and laymen.

This new dimension at the same time is an earmark of the field of Language for Specific Purposes (LSP), or Fachsprache. With this volume, we aim to examine and explore various aspects of LSP in light of progress made in the areas of language, knowledge and text. To do this, we have chosen an overarching theoretical approach: that of mental models. A mental model, borrowing Philip Johnson-Laird’s early formulation (1983: 397), is a theoretical construct which represents “objects, states of affairs, sequences, the way the world is…,” and whose function is to “enable individuals to make inferences and predictions to understand phenomena…” such as texts and actions in general.

The authors who contributed to this book are working on the general problem of determining how linguistic and cognitive structures are related, and how these structures are reflected in texts which treat specialised domains of knowledge, both when texts are aimed at experts and at non-experts. They are interested in asking not only how readers draw upon background knowledge, but also exploit other kinds of knowledge when reading and interpreting expert texts. And this is where the concept of mental models comes in.

Two important notions above are structure and how structures are related. It has been shown in several areas of linguistics that language has structure which contributes to meaning. Work in semantics has shown that lexical meaning is structured and that lexical items enter into predictable relations with each other. Work in syntax has shown that phrases, clauses and sentences have internal structure which also mark regular meaning relations. And work in pragmatics has shown that utterances have structures which are related to and reveal intentions, illocutions and the like in a principled way.

But in much of theoretical linguistics, structure seems to stop at the sentence boundary. Only sentences and units within sentences there are often considered to . . .

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