A Cognitive Semantic Analysis of Milton's 'Paradise Lost'

Abstract

Although the field of natural language processing has made considerable strides in the automated processing of standard language, the language of poetry still causes great difficulty. Normally, when we understand human language, we combine the meaning of individual words into larger units in a compositional manner. However, understanding a poem often involves an interpretive adjustment and different conceptualisation strategies of individual words.This paper aims at exploring the cognitive and semantic bases of Milton's masterpiece 'Paradise Lost' through a combination of theoretical work, corpus analysis, and experimental techniques. The paper hypothesizes that the so-called 'figures of speech' are not mere linguistic devices serving ornamental or literary purposes but correspond to mental 'figures' grounded in cognition. By locating the source of figurativeness in human cognitive make-up, recent research has decisively moved away from the idea that non-literal language constitutes a departure from a linguistic norm.A question that is not frequently addressed in the literature is the degree to which the operation of the 'poetics of mind' (Gibbs 1994) interacts with linguistic and non-linguistic knowledge, i.e. how it correlates with the semantics-pragmatics distinction. Perhaps among the most important conclusions is that the phenomena classified under each of the tropes do not necessarily constitute a natural class but form rather a continuum which cross-cuts the semantics-pragmatics borderline.