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Cognitive Stylistics in the Classroom

Author(s): Michael Burke


Source: Style, Vol. 38, No. 4, Current Trends in Stylistics (Winter 2004), pp. 491-509
Published by: Penn State University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/style.38.4.491
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Michael Burke
Roosevelt Academy

Cognitive Stylistics in the Classroom

1. Introduction
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.

Style: Volume 38, No. 4, Winter 2004 491


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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

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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. All data presented here are thus based on this end-ofsemester questionnaire. All 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,

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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:

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this is in spite of the fact that nonfunctional/noncognitive generative approaches


to language learning are still predominant in the Netherlands.3 The course ran
through the whole spring semester, lasting for fourteen weeks. This was split into
two periods of seven weeks with a weeks 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 fortytwo 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 majorsindeed 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. All of the students were in their third
or fourth undergraduate year, except the four Word and Image students, who were
in their second year. All 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 Langackers 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, Stockwells book
and Gavins and Steens 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,

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(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 others responses and comments, (4.) their
own responses and comments, and (5.) the instructors 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 instructors 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 weeks 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

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Cognitive Stylistics in the Classroom

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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

Topic 1: Figures and Grounds
Topic 2: Prototypes
Topic 3: Cognitive Deixis
Topic 4: Cognitive Grammar
Topic 5: Scripts and Schemas
Topic 6: Mental Spaces and Discourse Worlds
Topic 7: Conceptual Metaphor
Topic 8: The Parabolic Literary Mind (Turner)
Topic 9: Text World Theory (Werth)
Topic 10: Narrative Comprehension (Emmott)
Week 14 (final week): End-of-semester questionnaire

Attendance Absentees
12

11
(1)
11
(1)
10
(2)
10
(2)
8
(4)
9
(3)
12

11
(1)
8
(4)
10
(2)

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
relatively easy
average
difficult
very difficult

0
0
3
7
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)
the books

4
8

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the teacher
the time framework
yourself

1
3
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 doesnt 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

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more critical
Question 4: Which of the ten topics in cognitive stylistics/poetics did you
like best in the two books?

Gavins &
Final essay

Stockwell Steen [Total] topic
figures and grounds
5
2
[7]
1
prototypes
2
1 [3]
0
cognitive deixis
1
1
[2]
4
cognitive grammar
1
2
[3]
0
scripts and schemas
5
3
[8]
1
mental spaces and discourse worlds 6
7
[13]
0
conceptual metaphor
5
1
[6]
0
the parabolic literary mind
1
3
[4]
0
text world theory
3
4
[7]
2
narrative comprehension
4
3
[7]
2
Total
33
27 [60] 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 Stockwells 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

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Michael Burke

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 Steens 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 wasnt 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 dont 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 didnt 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 writers ideas and opinions, on the other hand
it did make it into a book that didnt have a single structure to hang on to
These chapters focussed more specifically on one subject in particular.
The chapters didnt 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
No
Yes & No

9
0
1

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Question 7: Do you feel you have been encouraged to develop your own
opinion?
Yes
No
Yes & No

10
0
0

Question 8: Please give a total mark out of 10 for the course (taking into account the topic, the books, the teacher, the time-framework, etc..)
Mark Number
8.5
(2x)
8
(6x)
7
(1x)
6
(1x)
Total

Total
= 17
= 48
= 7
= 6
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 subject7

5. Discussion
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.

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Michael Burke

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. All 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

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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 drawin 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 openended 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

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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.

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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

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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 lessonsas verified
by a number of appreciative student comments reproduced in this articleI 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.

6. Summary
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,

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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

Notes
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.
1

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.
2

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).

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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.

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.
5

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.

Again, this is something that should be looked at in more detail in subsequent studies.
11

The 95% in the first statistic here reflects the fact that one student was undecided and filled in yes & no.
12

13

They were told that they could grade it to one decimal point.

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.
14

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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