Creativity is an important evolutionary adaptation that allows humans to think original thoughts, to find solutions to problems that have never been encountered before, and to fundamentally change the way we live. Recently, one important area of creativity, namely verbal creativity, has attracted considerable interest from constructionist approaches to language. The present issue builds on this emerging field of study and adds an interdisciplinary perspective to it by also presenting the view from cognitive literary studies as well as psychology. First, however, this introduction surveys the recent issues arising in constructionist studies of verbal creativity.
This response to the paper by Cristóbal Pagán Cánovas argues that wide-learning networks might actually be useful in the description and analysis of phonology and morphology, but it is less than clear that the same applies to syntax or text. Phenomena such as proverbs and oral poetic formulae are probably better understood in a traditional Construction Grammar framework with mid-level abstract units based on compositionality.
The chunking problem is central to linguistics, semiotics, and poetics: How do we learn to organize a language into patterns and to use those patterns creatively? Linguistics has mainly offered two answers, one based on rule inference through innate capacities for processing and the other based on usage and on outstanding capacities for memory and retrieval. Both views are based on induction and compositionality. The Parry–Lord theory of oral composition-in-performance has argued that oral singers produce complex poems out of rehearsed improvisation through the mastery of a system of formulas, chunks that integrate phrasal, metrical, and semantic structures. The framework of formulaic creativity proposed here argues that the cognitive study of oral poetics can provide crucial insights into the chunking problem. I show the major connections between Parry–Lord and usage-based cognitive linguistics, mainly Construction Grammar and Frame Semantics. However, these approaches still remain compositional and thus struggle to model creativity and learning in oral poetry and everyday speech. The alternative is to explore a model of formulaic creativity not based on compositional patterns, but on wide learning for connecting discriminative perceptual features directly to semantic contrasts within a complex dynamic system, without the intermediation of a set of discrete units.
The first principle of cognitive linguistics is to look for the origins of linguistic powers in robust mental operations not specific to language. For millennia, language science has assumed that human beings possess mental operations for unifying, combining, and merging patterns to create expressions, and that, conversely, they can analyze expressions they encounter to recognize patterns that were combined to produce them. The third section of this article reviews some of the literature concerned with these powers to combine patterns into expressions and to analyze expressions into patterns that were blended to create them. Any assumption about such a linguistic power takes out a loan on theory that must be cashed out with a non-language-specific explanation if the theory is to count as cognitive. One can stipulate to the existence of some unexplained power that is needed for linguistic performance, but that stipulation is insubstantial until it is grounded in a demonstrated non-language-specific operation. An assumption or stipulation about a linguistic power is cashed out when we locate and model the non-language-specific cognitive operations that make that linguistic power possible. The first section of this article presents the proposition that the non-language-specific mental operation that accounts for these linguistic powers is blending, otherwise known as conceptual integration. The second section provides a topical review of blending in specific communicative form-meaning pairs and their combination. Blending is the foundation of creativity in communication, or, more specifically, in the creation and combining of form-meaning pairs, also called “constructions.”