A Model of Language Development Based on Self-Organisation of Gestalts and Metaphor
David Rail, MD; FRACP
Campbelltown, Sydney, Australia 2560.
Modeling language development has recently seen a shift towards studies of the interdependence of language and perceptual reality. Cognitive linguistics has revived the Gestalt approach where things and relations constitute wholes: relations emerge with the objects through a process of segmentation and transformation. According to this view the continuous and dynamic form of the external, phenomenal world motivates sentential semantic structures as an expression of the unity between perception and language. These structures also represent the progressive self-organisation of image schemata where meaning emerges through metaphor. Metaphor involves double scope blending where structures emerge from the interaction between incongruent conceptual frames. That process is recursive leading to creative structures. Although language development is based on gestalt metaphor self-organisation no model has concentrated on this fundamental approach. To produce such a model we conceive metaphor in its rhetorical structural form, as coordination of the master tropes, or a tropology. We rationalize the role of the tropology and show how it functions recursively throughout the forebrain. To understand the recursive form of the tropology we show how it functions in a gestalt manner and that perception is a tropological process. The latter stems from perception and the tropology becoming self similar (isomorphic) as the language system self organises in ontogeny. To corroborate the isomorphism we show that the Gestalt principles and the master tropes are homologous. This finding enables us to determine the structure of perception. We indicate how semantic sentential structures are generated from self-organisation of the tropology. With self-organisation tropological function incorporates spatiotemporal scaling (fractal time). We indicate other important aspects of the model, in particular metalinguistic development.
Keywords: Brain function; cognitive linguistics; concept formation; double scope blending; emergence; fractal time; gestalts; gestalt principles; image schemata; irony; language development; master tropes; metaphor; metastability; microgenesis; morphogenesis; perception; self organisation; semiotics; topology.
Modeling language development has recently seen a shift towards studies of the interdependence of language and perceptual reality. Cognitive linguistics proposes that language is a cognitive phenomenon where conceptual structures stem from perception and embodiment (Hampe, 2005; Lakoff & Johnson, 1980; Taylor, 1989; Skoldberg, 2002). Language is imaginatively embodied where metaphor is central to the origins of meaning (Danesi, 2004). Modeling the development of language has focused on meaning rather than syntax. This leads to the important question: how are events in the physical world transformed into semantic notions? This question confronts the aporia or discrepancy between the analog world we live in and the discrete or digital nature of language in terms of categories and symbols. To overcome this difficulty Thom proposed that we need to preserve ‘a priori forms of space and time’ by generating dynamic structures or morphologies (Thom, 1972, 1990).
These structures are dynamic, morphological and gestalt based. In this approach early morphodynamic models from René Thom have received wide support, both from cognitive linguists such as Talmy (2000) and Langacker (1987; 1990), and from psychology through the study of metaphor by Lakoff and Johnson (1980) and Lakoff (1993). Morphodynamic theories have proposed that there are syntactico-semantic infrastructures of a topological and dynamic nature, which form universals (see Manjali, 1997 (a) and (b)). These underlie a morphological emergent level of reality where "surface structures" (gestalts) emerge from physical "deep structures".
Petitot calls the extraction of semantic structures or invariants in spatiotemporal transformations the morphogenesis of meaning (Petitot, 1995 and 2003). Based on this work cognitive linguistics has revived the Gestalt approach calling into question the traditional roles assigned to perception as a faculty only dealing with relations between objects. In the Gestalt or mereological conception things and relations constitute wholes: relations are not given for granted but emerge together with the objects through a process of segmentation and transformation (Doursat & Petitot, 2005 (a) and (b)).
Two major examples of the morphogenesis of meaning are found in our development of spatial (prepositions) and spatio–temporal meaning (verbs). Understanding prepositions, e.g. ‘in’, ‘above’, ‘across’ amounts to the brain forming morphodynamic transforms, where transforms create a morphology that evolves temporally (Doursat & Petitot, 2005 (a) and (b)). Transformation routines perform a drastic, yet targeted simplification of the geometric data relating the relevant items in perception. By erasing details they create virtual structures or singularities that govern the development of geometric relationships between the interacting morphologies. For example, what characterises the semantic development of the concept of ‘in’ is invariance across all the perceived instances. The relationships that emerge with the transformations represent structural invariance across an infinite range of real world instances or topologies. What remains invariant is the Gestalt, the preservation of similar structural relationships that have developed dynamically.
For verbs (Thom, 1972 and 1990) geometrico-topological analysis associates combinatorial invariants with spatio-temporal process in the physical world. This primordial schematism governs the linguistic organisation of our Gestaltic vision of the world, where these invariants form the basis for verbal process. Actantial graphs encompass Tesniere’s concepts of ‘little dramas’ (Manjali, 1997 (a) and (b)) where the verb organises or structures sentential meaning, binding objects and situations to form dynamic gestalts. These gestalts are organic and binding principles of brain organisation.
Based on these ideas understanding language development centers on how topological and dynamic information (morphodynamics) provided by perception can be iconically encoded in image schemata and processed by the semantics of natural language (Nuessel, 1996; Petitot, 1995, 2003). Schemata capture the structural contours of sensorimotor experience integrating information from multiple modalities (Grady, 2005; Hampe, 2005; Rohrer, 2005). Image schemata organise knowledge and reasoning about the world. They function somewhat like the abstract structure of an image, and thereby connect up a vast range of different experiences that manifest this same recurring structure (Johnson, 1987). By repeatedly activating a set of properties in a particular way individuals form top-down frames for organising different aspects of perception via metaphor. Metaphor preserves the topological contours of perceptual experience (Invariance principle) (Lakoff, 1993), where perception is structured by the Gestalt principles: emergence, reification, invariance and multistability (Lehar, 2003).
Image schemata are condensed redescriptions of perceptual experience for the purpose of mapping spatial structure on to conceptual structure. Therefore modeling language development in terms of image schemata function must respect the view that has emerged in cognitive linguistics that the continuous and dynamic form of the external, phenomenal world motivates sentential semantic structures (Manjali, 1997 (a) and (b)). The continuous plane of content has its source in perception, as it is through perception that the human organism establishes contact with the world. The elements of the perceptually rooted linguistic schemas produce a 'dynamic gestalt' by means of which semantic comprehension of sentences can take place.
Modeling language development
Based on the above we propose that modeling language development can be based on the idea that the continuous and dynamic form of the external, phenomenal world motivates dynamic Gestalts. These sentential semantic structures are an expression of the unity between perception and language. These structures are a product of the self-organisation of image schemata in ontogeny, where gestalts acquire meaning via metaphor.
Metaphor needs to be considered in terms of the many space conceptual integration model that is based on double-scope blending (Fauconnier & Turner, 1998, 2003, 2008). Blending is dynamic where we construct meaning by actively reinterpreting the unknown (percepts, ideas) in terms of the known or idealised concepts. It involves the complex interaction between the contingencies of the source (unknown) considered in terms of the preconceived ideals of the known (target). The dynamics give rise to emergent properties representing reality from a certain perspective. Double-scope blending creates vast conceptual networks with elaborate relations running across the network—relations of time, space, cause-effect, representation, analogy and disanalogy, change, identity, uniqueness, and so on. Despite the vast scales involved nonetheless concepts are anchored in scenes that are at human scale. Integration networks consisting of conventional parts, conventionally structured parts, and novel mappings and compressions represent reality from a certain perspective.
Blending is recursive: packed, human-scale blends become inputs to new networks (Fauconnier & Turner, 1998, 2003, 2008). Emergent structures can be incorporated into more complex ones. Human scale blends contained in the network provide a platform, a scaffold, a cognitively congenial basis from which to reach out, manage, manipulate, transform, develop, and handle the network. Human thought anchoring vast network scales in “human scale” enables us to bring the distant past and future together in the here-and-now. The individual can become aware of identity and existence in subjective time that extends from the past through the present to the future. Blending involves a major personal and emotional input so that the semantic product is highly personal and unpredictable. It also accommodates the central role of the ego as being both the agent and also changed in the blending process. It countenances paradox and anomalies.
Despite the importance of self-organisation between gestalt and metaphor in language development no model has concentrated on this fundamental approach. We contend that such a model needs to incorporate a number of aspects or constraints on its form. These are as follows: rhetorical, where language stems from a continual questioning of the nature of perception and thought; microgenetic (Brown, 1988, 1998), where language is an actualisation (Aktualgenese) of a cognition over "layers" in mind and brain that retrace growth patterns in phyloontogeny. In this way of thinking, the momentary actualisation of the organism, its becoming, is the fundamental note from which the melody of development is composed; ontological, where the conceptual units underlying the dynamics can interpret reality; ontogenic, in that the units should recognise the maturational sequence that characterises ontogeny; structural, where the units self organise into a structure that transforms dynamic gestalt structures into sentential semantic structures; recursivity, where the same dynamic should be evident at all levels of the neuraxis, from perception to frontal planning; gestaltic, the dynamics should reflect the gestalt basis of language development; incorporate double scope blending concepts of emergence, metaphor as anchoring, spatiotemporal scaling, compression, completion, paradox resolution and ego formation; and finally self-organisation, which incorporates notions of metastability, metalinguistic development, fractal time and contextual dissociation.
Metaphor as coordination of the master tropes
In order to incorporate all these constraints into our model we propose that we need
to consider metaphor in terms of its constituent structure, coordination of the master tropes (metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche and irony). To trope means to change meaning. Of what? Of words? Yes, but more specifically they are the source of changing what or how we mean. Each trope represents the stages consciousness must pass on the way to abstract thought (D'Angelo, 1987). Metaphor presents perceptual equivalence, representing an intuitive grasp of the whole, a primordial functional unity of sensory, affective, imagistic and linguistic elements. Metonymy differentiates into parts, transductively leading over the mind from one thing to another. Synecdoche is an inductive movement where a part is put for the whole, and vice versa. Irony is a self-conscious process that interprets the whole process.
The coordinated function of the four tropes as a system is considered essential for our conceptual adaptation. From the 17th Century when Vico (Danesi, 2003; Vico, 1944) first recognised the master tropes until the early 1980’s the tropology was championed as a primitive semiotic unit (Burke, 1969; D’Angelo, 1992; Kellner, 1981; Oswick et al, 2004). Since then the tropology has been relatively neglected as interest has focused on metaphor and conceptual blending theory (Fauconnier & Turner, 1998, 2003, 2008; Lakoff, 1987; Lakoff, (1993); Lakoff & Johnson, 1980; Taylor, 1989).
We propose that a tropological approach offers fresh insights into language development. We will now rationalize use of the tropology in terms of the constraints we iterated above.
Considering the rhetorical constraint, metaphor is a cybernetic, homeostatic process that continually questions the nature of perceived events and simultaneously our attempt to represent these events through language. Metaphor formation involves a top-down approach organising perception, synthesising information into a suitably conceptualisable form. The tropology constitutes the rhetorical basis for concept formation.
Concerning the next three constraints, microgenetic, ontological and ontogenic we note that the master tropes were originally considered to be merely figures of speech, but we now realise that their function is more fundamental (Burke, 1969; D’Angelo, 1987 and 1992; Kellner, 1981; Oswick et al, 2004). The development of language stems from images and tropes. The tropes represent the capacity of man for direct sensation and imaginative perception (D'Angelo, 1987; Danesi, 2004). They underlie creative process based on the use of analogical reasoning. They are considered the basis for much of our understanding in everyday life (Culler, 1981). Tropes constitute a system by which the mind comes to grasp the world conceptually in language. They reflect our fundamentally relational understanding of reality, a reality framed within systems of analogy (Chandler, 2002). Analogy is a reflection of our sensitivity to ontological form, which is rooted in the perception of patterned resonance in the world (Zwicky, 2003). Tropes shape thought so enabling our minds to echo our world.
Tropes are ontological concepts essential for our interpretation of reality. They symbolise relationships within phenomena, where each trope represents a specific strategy for presenting the perceived experience (White, 1985). They are models of the different directions thought might take to offer meaning to areas of experience not cognitively secured. Functioning together the tropological approach reflects ontogeny. The order of the master tropes is not ad hoc but reflects cognitive and semantic development (Kellner, 1981; D’Angelo, 1992). The order is strictly and logically entailed. The tropology represents a form of knowing, of grasping a concept. The tropology accords, whether loosely or strictly, with many theoretical systems of knowing or coming to be known, as in Vico, Kant, Hegel, Marx and Goethe (Kellner, 1981; also see Burke, 1969). The tropology also represents the stages of cognitive development which encompass both the phylogeny and ontogeny of cognitive systems (D’Angelo, 1992; Kellner, 1981; Werner, 1944; Piaget, 1969; Vygotsky, 1962). Foucoult (1970) and Vico (1944) have shown that the logic of the tropology (poetic logic) underlies the general stages of development of Western thought.
The next constraint is structural. We have previously raised the question underlying the cognitive linguistic approach to language formation: how is the physical world transformed into semantic notions? The answer was a structuralist approach, where structures are dynamic, morphological and gestalt based. The major tropes provide a dynamic, structural basis for concept formation.
The next section will develop the recursive form of the tropology that is also central to the microgenic approach (Brown, 1988) where language formation consists of a cascade of whole/part shifts over evolutionary growth planes in the brain leading from a core in upper brainstem through limbic formations to the neocortical rim. Then in the following two sections we indicate the gestalt form of the tropology that is the foundation of the model. We show first how the tropology functions in a gestalt manner and then how perception functions tropologically. We propose that the latter is based on self-organisation in ontogeny where perception and the tropology become self similar (isomorphic). To corroborate the isomorphism we demonstrate homologies between the Gestalt principles and the master tropes. These findings reveal our recursive model of language development as inherently tropological and gestaltic. In the next stage we discuss metalinguistic development as the tropology self organises in ontogeny to function in fractal time. The synchronic form of the tropology ‘collapses’ past present and future into one expression. These findings reflect on the nature of double scope blending in terms outlined above.
The extension of the tropology through the forebrain
The recursive pattern of the tropology is expressed in different ways through various levels of the forebrain. We will first briefly outline the extent in neurological terms (Brown, 1988) and then develop the tropological core. In neurological terms language can be conceived as levels in a "vertical" structure, not as centers in a two-dimensional network. These levels constitute a stratified system of phyletic growth planes. Language maps onto this structure. Language is the outcome of a multitiered system distributed over levels in the evolution of brain and behavior. The structure as a whole develops out of medial and paraventricular formations through several growth planes of limbic and paralimbic (transitional) cortex to a stage of generalized ("association," "integration") cortex.
Perceptual semantic transformation originates from linking polymodal sensorimotor circuits. At the most primitive level of language perceptual data is organised by the Gestalt principles. These dynamics involve the coordination of the sensorimotor activity with the right temporoparietal lobes. These early stages of language formulation integrate incoming topological information as Gestaltic primitives, e.g. as preverbal and ‘prepositional’ structures. They define the morphemes, the most primitive semantic units. The right and left temporoparietal regions combine to reinterpret the morphemes and formulate speech production. Finally at the highest level of integration frontal lobe planning continually modulates the lower levels.
In tropological terms language development stems from the slow maturation and eventually full coordination of the tropes. The tropes mature in the fixed order: metaphor; metonymy; synecdoche and finally, irony. The expression of the tropology differs from perception through to frontal planning (also see Kellner, 1981 for the following). Metalinguistic function ensues when ironic self-awareness develops leading to narrativity and the development of fluent speech.
As the tropes gradually mature in function they unfold upon themselves. In their most primitive form, perception is interpreted in terms of a simple double binary system of categories, defining same - other (metaphor / metonymy) and part – whole (synecdoche). This matrix forms bisociations that are the most thorough way of encompassing the diversity among the things that make up reality (States, 1998).
With the development of ironic awareness the tropology becomes complete and functions in a cyclical manner. Maturation beyond the categorical level leads to projection upon a syntagmatic axis that represents self-explanation through speech. This is the second level of tropological explication, leading the tropes conceptually through the stages of linguistic cooperation above the morpheme. The lexical process of creating whole-whole correspondences to the concepts and words that are thus joined is a metaphoric transfer. The reductive categorisation of these words governed by grammatical rules of combination creates cause-effect entailments, which is metonymic. Synecdochal organisation at this level refers to the organic status of sentences, where the rules of syntax are the cohesive force. Finally, irony provides meaning from above the level of the sentence.
The highest level of tropological expansion is the level of thought and language planning in the frontal regions. The intentional state establishes an obligatory, recurrent and unidirectional configuration on the percept / thought interpretation process. Intentionality involves the selection of broad semantic units from the meaning potential, the equivalent of the paradigmatic or metaphoric axis of language. These selections invoke specific structural relationships depending on the contextual demands needed for expression. The necessary entailments broadly select for the specificities of syntactic structure that will be realised in syntagms. These expressions underlie metonymy at this level. Synecdoche concerns the formulation of symbolic relationships needed to match the coevolving paradigmatic / syntagmatic aspect of expression. Symbols are selected relative to idealised relations and contexts in ‘worlds’ of the same type, or possibly any imaginable type.
Finally, the ironic stance overviews the planning processes. Irony represents a self-conscious process of interpretation of the process so that it foregrounds the inadequacy of words to things, of appearance to essence. Irony signals dissatisfaction with representation as such and motivates recourse to the tropological lexicon from which a new and more responsive formulation may be sought. Full tropological process leads to restructuring, an explication of the implicate order, momentary adaptation via a Darwinian based exploration of the fabric of embodiment.
Tropology function in gestalt terms
The gestalt function of the tropology is as follows. Metaphor is an emergent process where the individual creates a new perspective or meaning. To do that intentional needs highlight specific relationships within the emerging whole, the metaphoric representation of the real world or perceptual scene. Metonymy determines the contingent aspects of that specific intentional state. The representation of figural relationships emerges from the whole in context. Metonymy differentiates or reduces the overall situation in a figure ground manner (see Koch, 1999; Talmy, 1988), where contiguity is the salient relation that exists between the sub frame elements of a conceptual frame or between the frame as a whole and its elements. That is, the salient links between elements of a given frame – as constituting a prototypical conceptual gestalt – are contiguity relations. From a Gestalt perspective perceptual saliency of stimuli critically depends on the surrounding context. Metonymy preserves the perceived relationships in contextual form as a contingent structure.
Simultaneously, synecdoche compares and contrasts the developing contingencies with previously determined idealised structural relationships, representations of a general kind. For example, see Doursat & Petitot, 2005 (a) and (b) model and discussion of the development of simple spatial concepts such as ‘in’. In other words intelligence constructs a world first by turning outwards to objectise itself through metonymy only to turn inside, to come to know self in the image via synecdoche. Here the part-whole relationship is inverted; the part is broadly reinterpreted in terms of what remains invariant despite the contingencies of the real world. Synecdoche evolves to represent a higher level of interpretation, of the actual within the many possible worlds available to the imagination. Synecdoche recontextualises the specific within the personal.
The tropology reconciles or blends the contrasting ‘worlds’ so that the contingency of metonymy forms a best fit with the ideal or invariant one developed through synecdoche. With synecdoche the specificities of the moment may be placed in a broader context. Irony feeds back on both the actual and the ideal demands for expression. Irony questions the reality value of metonymy and of representation in general i.e. using words to express the essence of things. The metastable system continually cycles through the tropes as it adapts to the moment. With each turn of the cycle the emergent metaphoric level of resolution leads to a novel perspective. Metaphor represents the ‘now’ as an attempt to resolve the dynamics concerning: present contingencies (metonymy); past idealised contentions (synecdoche); and the future via irony.
The tropological function of perception
We have proposed that our language development model is based on the progressive self-organisation of the percept / metaphor interaction in ontogeny. Image schemata form top-down frames for organising perception via tropological function. We conclude that in ontogeny when the language system self-organises to criticality the function of both the tropology and perception becomes self similar, 1/f or isomorphic (Anderson & Mandell, (1996); Kello &.Van Orden (2009). We postulate that with self-organisation the perceptual system functions in a tropological manner where the components of the tropology and perception are homologous.
We now propose and substantiate these homologies between each major trope and Gestalt principal: emergence, reification, invariance and multistability (Lehar, 2003). Metaphor is the analog of emergence. The unifying function of metaphoric resemblance accounts for the emergence of new meaning in language. It involves an act of perceptual and semantic restructuring where a sense of imagination operates to draw meaning from the comparison made (Ricoeur, 1975; 1991). The process includes an iconic moment or image that acts as a gathering of emergent meanings that underlies our ability to see reality other than that received. This is rooted in the imagination to construct an image from many diverse semantic fields.
In Gestalt theory, emergence refers to the formation of the macro structure, the Gestalt or meaningful form. The whole is greater than the parts. Emergence is unpredictable as the total structure remains beyond the sum of the instances. The dynamic aspect of emergence is reflected in the fact that the final global state is not computed in a single pass, but continuously, like a relaxation to equilibrium in a dynamic system model.
Secondly, metonymy is analogous to reification. As indicated above metonymy is a figure–ground effect (see Koch, 1999; Talmy, 1988) where from a Gestalt perspective perceptual saliency of stimuli critically depends on the surrounding context. Metonymy conveys some incorporeal or intangible state in terms of the corporeal or tangible. It conserves perception of the worlds of objects, reflects their quiddity, their particular precisions (Hejinian, 1996). Metonymy underlies the gappy nature of thought, where ‘looking’ through the gaps between the disparate contiguous parts imagines meaning. The gaps (relationships) ‘point’ to a missing whole, a structure that unites the parts.
Reification refers to the perceptual state where specific virtual structures or singularities emerge in context. The gestalt is created through a constructive or generative process so that the part reified is defined by its contingent context. With reification more explicit information develops than is immediately obvious or present in the specific scene. As with metonymy meaning arises by ‘looking’ through the gaps between the disparate contiguous parts.
Synecdoche is equivalent to invariance. Synecdoche creates an explicit hierarchy by situating one thing as part of another. It is holistic and imagistic, presupposing some constitutive quality that can unify its relation to the world and symbolise this unity. Synecdoche underlies the categorical tendency that is the psychological (but not strictly formal) sense of invariance.
Invariance is of great importance in Gestalt perception (Hochberg & McAllister, 1953; Hoffman, 1992). The preferred interpretation of a stimulus is the one with the simplest code. That is a code that enables a reconstruction of the stimulus using a minimum number of descriptive parameters. Such a code is obtained by capturing a maximum amount of regularity and yields a hierarchical organization of the stimulus in terms of wholes and parts. Simplicity is often based on symmetry criteria. The gestalt is of great importance for the semantic development of the concept. The gestalt, is what remains invariant across all percepts, the preservation of similar structural relationships that have developed dynamically.
Irony is analogous to multistability. Irony foregrounds the inadequacy of words to things, of appearance to essence. Irony underlines the discontinuity between what is said and what is meant, what is planned and what occurs. It takes the dialectic between external reality and language to a new level that is essential for resolution of the paradox.
Multistability indicates the tendency of ambiguous experiences to oscillate unstably between alternative interpretations. Interpretation of scenes can vary form moment to moment merely depending on what constitutes figure and context. Multistability underlies symmetry breaking and phase transformation in self-organisation. For example, with embedded figures metastability and phase transitions arise in the self-organising decisional process (Kelso and Tognoli, 2007). In general, symmetry breaking in cognition requires a creative answer to overcome the paradox.
Language development based on dynamics within the tropology
We have sought to establish the recursive nature of the tropology underlying language development through all levels of the forebrain. To do that we first showed that the tropology functions in a gestalt manner. Then we proposed that when the tropology and perception self-organise perception is governed by a tropological sequence: emergence, reification, invariance and multistability.
Based on these findings we will now look at the model from two perspectives. In general terms we see language development as a progressive increase in the ability to extract, consolidate and manipulate gestalts within the extended forebrain system. Gestalts are the invariant structures determined by realising the universality aspects of each specific percept; that is, despite the differences between the infinite number of scenes the child meets (see Doursat & Petitot, 2005(a); Breidbach, & Jost, 2006). The dialectical tension between the specific and universal governs the development. Gestalts are formed through reification and then given initial significance through invariance, where they are correlated with preconceived transformations of a similar type. In ontogeny gestalts become more and more integrated as they are consolidated within the micro (perceptual level) and macro (extending to the forebrain) systems. The tropology stabilises and reinterprets the Gestalt through the interaction between metonymy and synecdoche. The process becomes one of progressive embedding through transformations. Objects and situations embed in ‘verbs’ or morphogenic transformations. These are in turn further embedded through metonymy and synecdochal blending. From recursive tropological extension the gestalts become sentential semantic structures. They gain an increasing sense of meaning and permanence as they become consolidated (embedded) in the process. We see the primary function of the language system is to consolidate meaning potential through gestalt metaphor self organisation. The development and further use or the semantic sentential structures enables in to adapt from moment to moment. Within each moment as it updates it restructures self to best represent what we mean. This becomes and is the essence of Pragnanz, our meaning as self-realisation.
In more specific terms language development is based on the gradual development of the ability to recognise objects and realise their meaning through contextual relationships. In the earliest development of perception the child differentiates aspects of the whole, experiencing objects apart from self. The semantic task is to stabilise perception. That is performed by transforming percepts into gestalts of increasing stability by increasing the state space of synecdochal or invariant forms. Stability is also conferred by more widely distributing the gestalt, making it a function of widespread coordinated forebrain activity.
Language development is characterised by an increasing ability to manipulate gestalts by recontextualising them through tropal interaction. The gestalt is defined and structured by its context. Tropal dynamics modify gestalts so that the figure-ground relationship in perception becomes reinterpreted through the interaction or blending between metonymy and synecdoche and irony. In this blending manner the primitive perceptual syntagms become sentential semantic structures, the basic units of language.
Metalinguistic development through self-organisation of the language system
The development of the language system is based on increasing coordination of patterns through all levels of the forebrain. The embodied, situated nature of cognition is founded on the ability of these patterns spanning multiple time scales to organize in space and time (Kello & Van Orden, 2009; Kelso & Tognoli, 2007). Systems self organise to metastability (Bressler & Kelso, 2001; Kelso, 2002) which produces a range of brain behaviours where numerous patterns of activity co-exist as latent potentials (Kello et al., 2008). Systems become more flexible and metastable as their capacity to concurrently hold many distinct latent patterns increases.
Fractal dynamics or 1/f scaling behaviour is pervasive throughout the nervous system. Fractal time means that the extended tropological processes become coordinated vertically (Anderson & Mandell, 1996). In systems at criticality behaviour becomes correlated across levels. In our model we propose that the three different temporal processes within the tropology become synchronous: irony relates to future time of planning; metonymy to the contingency of the present; synecdoche reflects the past, invariance gained through experience. Metaphor is emergent leading to the formation of new structural relations as each cycle of the tropology tries to resolve the particular intention. Thought and language stem from recurrent metaphoric anchoring of vast network scales in the “human scale”. This process brings the past and future together in the here-and-now (Fauconnier & Turner, 2008). The synchronic coordination of the tropology is the basis for language. Language is a diachronic transformation and via self-reference feeds back to the planning and perceptual centers.
As mentioned semantic growth is characterised by the increasing ‘ability’ to recontextualise. In the early stages of development the child is governed by ambience so figure-ground (context or structure) are inseparable. The child cannot dissociate the figure from its context and language remains literal (mimetic, gestural). However, through self-organisation and developing ironic awareness the tropology turns back on itself. Self-awareness leads to major changes in the dynamics of the gestalt / tropology relationship. The development of self-reference means that reference to self means self and other, or subject and object. Self now becomes the structure within which the gestaltic object coevolves through self-reference. However, the self / object relation where self is context and object is figure are of different logical types. Now the object is dissociated from the self; figure can also be separated from its ground. This leads to the increasing autonomy of language and the development of metalanguage.
The ability to dissociate figure from ground, or context, is essential for conceptual fluidity, metaphor and language development. The individual realises that figure and ground can be interchanged, or even changed completely. Recontextualisation occurs at will. The ability to realise figures in different contexts underlies the growth of imagination and meaning. All meaning refers back to self-interpretation so that eventually we can say and even become anything we wish.
Further semantic aspects of the model
We have proposed that self-organisation between gestalts and the tropology can serve as a basis to model semantic development. We conclude by further justifying the importance of a tropological approach. The first is what Piaget called significant implication (Scholnook & Cookson, 1994). Meaning is the understanding of how an action changes (transforms) the world. Significant implication constructs the action-result regularities that image schemata represent. In order to understand the logic of action, the child must first build contingencies based on the inference that certain actions rather than others produce specific results. The tropology is an analog of Piaget’s schemata depicting the general stages of cognitive development (D’Angelo, 1992). The tropology provides a basis for the logic inherent in action perception schemata. This same logic can now be seen to pervade the coordinated activity necessary for language development.
Second, we have seen that narrativity develops as the tropology matures to form recursive cyclical activity. Narrativity is of great psychological importance because it organises the structure of human experience. Narrativity typifies the child after 3 or 4 where they begin to remember their autobiographical experience (Young & Saver, 2001). Narrativity constructs our notion of reality and asserts that the experience of life takes on meaning through allegorical inflation.
Thirdly, tropological process leads to development of the sense of continuity of self. This process is characterised by transitions between stable and unstable phase synchronisation as seen in metastability. The tropes of transition and closure underlie the instability (see Grossman, 1998). Metaphor and synecdoche are the brakes of the tropological machine; metonymy and irony are its engines. Metaphor and synecdoche represent the identity of versions of self differing over time. Metaphor affirms the identity between things and their inner meaning. Synecdoche represents the sublation of difference in the perceived homogeneity of subject and object. Metonymy and irony on the other hand represent transitions in the search for identity. Metonymy denies identity. However, with irony there is a simultaneous negation and preservation of identity that advances the dialectic to a new phase. The tropology oscillates between cycles of tension and resolution, where the confrontation of the tropes informs the progress of internal narrative innovation that underlies identity as continuity within change.
Finally, in addition to our comments on irony we further highlight the important role of irony in modeling language development (Colbrook, 2003; White, 1985). Irony is essential for developing meaning; how knowledge or gnosis arises from language. Gnosis is not an algorithmic process but rather a pragmatic need to understand the world. This process is better understood as ‘diagnosis’, literally ‘knowing through’, a knowledge gained through ironic self-awareness, the self-reflective process of the tropology (Kellner, 1981). Here knowledge comes from non-understanding. That is, not by man extending his mind and taking the world in. Rather he makes things out of himself and becomes them by transforming himself into them.
We have developed a dynamic model of language development based on a unifying concept: tropes shape thought so enabling our minds to mould our world. In the language model the forebrain functions as a complex adaptive system subserved by the metastable tropology dynamically reconstructing self from moment to moment. This is a gestalt notion, where the tropes coordinate to generate semantic sentential structures that can serve as the primary currency of semantic exchange at all levels of the neuraxis. These enable us to conceive inputs or ideas in contextual terms and then recontextualise them so that we can ‘become’ them. In becoming we are restructured through self-explication and ultimately self-explanation.
The thesis provides a systematic link between gestalt and metaphor. We have asserted many reasons for the continuing relevance of the tropology in language development. In particular the model reflects the way in which four-dimensional space-time becomes internalised as fractal space-time. That transformation is the key to semantics. We see the tropology as central to that conversion because it functions in a gestalt manner and perception is tropological. We contend that these groundbreaking ideas are pivotal to understanding the unity of forebrain function.
The model has several other important aspects. It introduces a novel basis for studying language development in terms of seven self-organising parameters. Four of these relate to transformations in ontogeny between the gestalt principles and the tropes: reification and metonymy; invariance and synecdoche; multistability and irony; and emergence of perception and metaphor. The fifth axis concerns the relationship between local multistability and the global coordinative concept, metastability. The sixth axis is the development of metalinguistic capability through to self-organisation. Finally, we provide a fresh way to understand Pragnanz as the semantic goal of the tropological gestalt system. In ontogeny we come to perceive objects as a function of the extended tropology. As we perceive with intention we project downwards (from our ‘past’) so that objects are discovered anew. That fresh outlook stems from each language act where we reinvent objects through the emergent process based on the recursive process of blending, irony and metaphor. The object becomes meaningful as we relate to it by extending fractal time into reflexic fractal space-time. Gestalt production restructures self through Pragnanz.
The model enables us to consider the importance of time constraints in language development. Communication is governed by conflicting constraints. It must maximise meaning in minimal time. Gestalts, iconic or imagistic forms have rich relational semantics but they are ambiguous (Wilden, 1980). On the other hand, although discursive language has a powerful syntax that makes it unambiguous, it takes time. The model proposes that the optimal resolution of the conflict between these two forms of communication lead to development of a gestalt system that generates semantic structures with a sentential form. These semantic sentential structures are produced from and represent brain function at points of instability, at criticality and metastability, where brain adaptation is optimised. We propose that his type of max / min optimizing process leads to Zipf’s law where there is a 1/f relationship between word length and usage. It also helps to understand the importance of implication in metonymy and gestalt formation through synecdoche and metaphor.
Furthermore, the brain functions at metastability in order to compress its infinite options to completion (in a semantic sense) in the least time. This mechanism requires a strong constraining force, limiting language and maximising semantics. We propose that irony evolved to subserve that function. Irony resolves the conflict between the actual and the ideal frames. It also enables us to adopt a metalinguistic stance. Irony questioning both actualisation (metonymy) and representation (synecdoche). Irony may acts as an optimiser in the max / min dynamic mentioned above.
The model also provides fresh insights into microgenesis (Brown, 1988, 1998). We will detail the close relationship between the two models more comprehensively in a later paper. At this stage we note that microgenesis is couched in terms of neurological process and process metaphysics. It is concerned with the concept of time, change and the actualisation (becoming) over phases in the brain in the momentary development of a cognition. Becoming creates the novelty as well as the duration through which the entity momentarily exists. Each novel moment is a constituent of an imaginative series over which the entity endures. Our model is strongly based on the creation of time (time collapse, fractal time) and imagination. These issues will serve as a major link between the two theories.
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