The Functioning of Knowledge as a Context

Essay, 2015
10 Pages



1. Introduction

2. Knowledge in Cognitive Linguistics

3. A Different Approach to Knowledge

4. How does the Universal Knowledge function as a Context?

5. How does the Individual Knowledge function as a Context?

6. Conclusion


1. Introduction

All the things and phenomena that the human can see all around himself are recorded by the human brain. And the human forgets some of them by the time, but also memorizes some of them unconsciously. Things we memorized become a kind of knowledge for us. On the other hand, there are common types of knowledge among the humans, for we live almost under the same circumstances. We can call it as the generalization of the knowledge. As the knowledge becomes popular and well-known among large groups of people, we can say that its reliability improves. In other words, as a proposition becomes to be known among large groups of people, it starts to effect the acceptability of that proposition, as true or false. There is also some sort of knowledge which is approved by science as true or false. Their trueness or falseness does not change from people to people and they are all the same wherever you go on earth. Such kind of knowledge is well-known by the people all over the world. However, there is also a type of knowledge that is only known by a person or a very little group of people, such as family members or friends. This type of knowledge is important for themselves, but we cannot say that it is general or well-known among the other people. At this point, and also according to Kolukisa (2011: 37), it is possible to make a distinction and create two subgroups of knowledge that we will call as Universal Knowledge and Individual Knowledge in this paper.

Besides, making such a distinction as seen above is not a new idea. Such kinds of subgroups and divisions about ‘meaning and knowledge’ are seen commonly in cognitive linguistics, what actually is very close but also different in some kinds of aspects of this paper. So, to be able to explain these differences and the approach of this paper, it is better to see first how the knowledge is regarded and handled in cognitive linguistics.

2. Knowledge in Cognitive Linguistics

In cognitive linguistics, ‘knowledge’, or let’s say ‘meaning of a word’, has two aspects. One is ‘dictionary knowledge’, concerning the real ‘meaning’ or ‘description’ of what that word means, and the other is ‘encyclopedic knowledge’ that is not included or explained in dictionaries. In Momiyama (2010: 94), “encyclopedic meaning” is defined as whole kinds of knowledge associated with a word that the word can bring into one’s mind. And, according to cognitive linguistics, word meaning cannot be understood independently without encyclopedic knowledge to which it is linked (Evans, 2006: 206). On the other hand, in some other works “dictionary knowledge” is also named as “definitional knowledge” (Marmaridou 2000: 45). Lakoff (1987: 172) says “definitional knowledge is knowledge of the essential properties of words, and encyclopedic knowledge is knowledge of the contingent properties of words”. So we can consider “dictionary knowledge” fundamentally as prior to “encyclopedic knowledge”, when we try to understand a context. However, it doesn’t mean that dictionary knowledge doesn’t get any effect or influence from encyclopedic knowledge when it is in use.

In Evans, there is a good explanation of these two views of knowledge through the example of the word ‘bachelor’, as seen below.

According to the dictionary view, the core meaning of a word is the information contained in the word’s definition (for example that bachelor means ‘unmarried adult male’), and this is the proper domain of lexical semantics. Encyclopaedic knowledge (for example, stereotypical connotations relating to bachelor pads, sexual conquests and dirty laundry) is considered non-linguistic knowledge. (Evans, 2006: 208)

So, when we think about the meaning of a word in cognitive linguistics, we should also consider the peripheral knowledge that the word itself connotes. Moreover, most of the cognitive linguists prefer not to make a clear distinction between the both meaning, they rather think the dictionary knowledge just as a part of encyclopedic knowledge.

Again, in Langacker (1987: 158-159), a discussion is seen about ‘encyclopedic semantics’ parallel to above mentioned topic.

One objection certain to be raised against encyclopedic semantics runs something like this: ‘Surely you can’t be claiming that everything I know about bananas is part of the meaning of banana, or that everything I know about cats is part of the meaning of cat. That would be absurd! For example, I know that my sister put sliced bananas on her cereal for breakfast this morning, but obviously this fact cannot be listed in the lexicon of English. The cultural association of cats with witchcraft and Halloween cannot be put on a par with a specification of their size and shape: the former is purely contingent, whereas the latter are essential properties that have to be adduced in any serious attempt to explain to someone what a cat is.’ These points are well taken, but they constitute a valid objection to the encyclopedic view only in its most naive and simplistic form… (Langacker, 1987: 158 – 159)

In Langacker, it seems as if there is also some doubt about how to handle the encyclopedic knowledge. But the main matter is that, as seen above, these two types of the knowledge partly have also been mentioned in Langacker.

3. A Different Approach to Knowledge

It can be said that the distinction of the knowledge handled in this paper is very close to cognitive linguistics, however our approach to knowledge is a little bit different. In cognitive linguistics, as we mentioned above, encyclopedic knowledge is referred for the description of the words, especially what a word reminds or connotes us relatedly. But on real world, it is thought that it works a little bit differently. In Lieberman (2003), there is a good example of it. Lieberman (2003: 126) gives the word ‘accident’ as an example, which might be assigned a 75% probability of being indicating a negative affect, as in “car accident” and “hurt by accident”. And he also gives some examples as follows “I avoided an accident”, “I met my girlfriend by accident”. The later one may not be the first connotation of what the word ‘accident’ directly reminds us, especially if it hasn’t been used in such a context. On the other hand, both meanings of ‘accident’ are included in the dictionary meaning. In cognitive linguistics, although it is thought that encyclopedic knowledge incorporates all related meanings of a word, it is not very easy to recall all the meanings that a word reminds us if we come across with that word outside the context. Maybe just the core meaning can be explained, or maybe one or two of the related meanings that might be closed to the speaker’s recent experiences. You may think that it is normal. But think that we have a knowledge called ‘encyclopedic’ including all the universes that a word can mean to us, but we cannot make an exact use of it without context, or let’s say, without the help of other words arranged or lined up in a context. Mostly if there is a knowledge about something, it is supposed that we should be able to make use of it without any other condition or without the help of anything. So, according to this paper, a revision is needed on the notion of ‘encyclopedic knowledge’, or let’s say just on the description of ‘knowledge’. Firstly to be able to make a distinction between the idea of cognitive linguistics and this paper, we will call it just as Knowledge, and describe the Knowledge as follows:

- Knowledge is a sort of commonsense1 that the human beings pile up in their minds by re-creating and re-arranging the results of what they have gained through their learning, experience, perception and cognition.

On the other hand, if a knowledge is happened to get shared by large communities of people, it becomes much solid, understandable and stable. This also increases the reliability of that knowledge. Thus it begins to be regarded as true or false among the people. In other words, as the amount of people who share a knowledge grows larger, it begins to effect the reliability of that knowledge. For example, in Turkey and also in some other cultures, people believe that if you eat yogurt with fish, it is believed that it may cause food poisoning. So you will probably receive a warning from Turkish people around you, if you just try to eat your fish with yogurt in Turkey. Because it is true in the common-sense –or let’s say in the ‘knowledge’, of the Turkish people that eating your fish with yoghurt will cause a food poisoning. However, in some cultures, such a belief is regarded completely groundless or false. Moreover, if the scale of the commonality of a knowledge grows larger then it begins to have some universalities. For example, when someone says “I saw UFO last night” I guess nobody may exactly say “Yes, it is true” or “No, it isn’t”, because there are both the people who believe that the UFOs are real, and who do not. Besides, there are also some knowledge that everyone will regard exactly as true or false, for they have some solid groundings. Here, we can think that there should be a grading about the reliability of knowledge, because it may change according to number of people who believe it. It may also be a knowledge for the people who believe it; or it may not be a knowledge or a ‘common-sense’ for the ones who do not. So, it is not very easy to establish a graduation or level in knowledge, however it is thought that there might be a possibility of making a distinction. By thinking the majority and the minority of the people, we divide the knowledge here into two subgroups as follows:

a) Universal Knowledge: When a knowledge is well-known by a large group of people, it is called in this paper as “Universal Knowledge”. The trueness or falseness of Universal Knowledge is the same wherever you go on earth and it does not change according to the people’s understanding. For example, “the sun rises from the east”, “winter is cold and summer is hot”, “water freezes at 0 Celsius at sea level”, etc. Such kinds of knowledge are the same whether in America or in Japan, or anywhere else on earth.
b) Individual Knowledge: On the contrary to Universal Knowledge, “Individual Knowledge” is the knowledge only a person or a very small group of people can know, experience or understand. For example, “my brother snores when he is sleeping”, “there is a hen in our garden”, etc. Such kinds of knowledge vary from person to person and has no commonality.

After dividing the knowledge into two subgroups, now we will see how knowledge effects sentences. In cognitive linguistics, encyclopedic knowledge is thought as a reference database of what the words may bring to one’s mind. However, in this paper we do think the knowledge itself as a database that works as a reference only when a word has come to have an association with other words. In other words, we use the knowledge in our minds as a reference, when we try to connect a word to another. So we can briefly say that the knowledge handled in this paper, has an influence on the connection of the words in our minds. And it also functions while choosing the meaning areas of a polysemous word to be able to connect it to other words. Thereby it is normal to think that this processes effects the context of the sentence. For example, when somebody says just the word ‘bachelor’ it neither connotes any other concepts nor makes a clear sense of meaning in our minds, since it is not used in a sentence, discourse or under a speech situation. However, when we say for example ‘he is a bachelor and technically he is not married’ than we can now talk about what the word bachelor connotes or reminds us in a larger aspect of meaning besides written in dictionaries, after making an exact designation on the dictionary meaning. Because as long as a determination is not made on a polysemic concept, the universe that the concept will remind us is indefinite. Here it is thought almost the same about the polysemous words as explained in Kolukisa (2015: 153). In Kolukisa (2015: 153) it is explained that there are lots of meaning areas in a polysemous word that can be selected, and the selection of the appropriate meaning area is determined according to the context. So knowledge begins to work right at this process and helps to choose the meaning area of a polysemous word. Therefore in this paper, it is thought that “Knowledge2 ” is somewhat effects and touches the connections of the words, as illustrated below.


1 This term is adapted from the notion that is explained in Leiberman (2003: 127).

2 Also ‘encyclopedic knowledge’ seen in cognitive linguistics.

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The Functioning of Knowledge as a Context
Japanese Language & Literature Course
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The base of this study is the presentations at the conferences of “ADES I – 1. Uluslararası Asya Dilleri ve Edebiyatları Sempozyumu – May. 2011, Kayseri/Turkey” and “International Scientific Conference of Osh State University – Oct. 2012, Osh/Kyrgyzstan”. However, the further developments have been prepared during Hakuho Foundation 9th Japanese Research Fellowship Program, in Tokyo.
functioning, knowledge, context
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Ali Aycan Kolukisa (Author), 2015, The Functioning of Knowledge as a Context, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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