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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton August 25, 2020

Exploring the interplay of language and body in South African youth: A portrait-corpus study

Arne Peters ORCID logo and Susan Coetzee-Van Rooy ORCID logo
From the journal Cognitive Linguistics


Elicitation materials like language portraits are useful to investigate people’s perceptions about the languages that they know. This study uses portraits to analyse the underlying conceptualisations people exhibit when reflecting on their language repertoires. Conceptualisations as manifestations of cultural cognition are the purview of cognitive sociolinguistics. The present study advances portrait methodology as it analyses data from structured language portraits of 105 South African youth as a linguistic corpus from both qualitative and quantitative perspectives. The approach enables the uncovering of (a) prominent underlying conceptualisations of African language(s) and the body, and (b) the differences and similarities of these conceptualisations vis-à-vis previous cognitive (socio)linguistic studies of embodied language experiences. In our analysis, African home languages emerged both as ‘languages of the heart’ linked to cultural identity and as ‘languages of the head’ linked to cognitive strength and control. Moreover, the notion of ‘degrees of proficiency’ or ‘magnitude’ of language knowledge emerged more prominently than in previous studies of embodied language experience.

Corresponding author: Arne Peters, Department for English and American Studies, University of Potsdam, Am Neuen Palais 10, 14469Potsdam, Germany, E-mail:

Funding source: Universität Potsdam

Award Identifier / Grant number: KoUP-Partner-2017/2018/2020

Funding source: North-West University

Award Identifier / Grant number: UCDP-2018/2019


This project has NWU ethics clearance (NWU–00031–07–A1). North-West University (NWU) provided UCDP funding to the NWU researcher in 2018/2019. The University of Potsdam (UP) provided KoUP-Partner funding to the UP researcher in 2017/2018 and 2020. The NWU researcher wants to thank her husband and children for supporting her when she working away from home to complete this research project.


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Published Online: 2020-08-25
Published in Print: 2020-11-26

© 2020 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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