CONSTRUAL is one of the most important and comprehensive terms of  the cognitive grammar used to denote the general ability of a person to choose between alternative linguistic and non-linguistic means to describe a certain state of affairs.

According to R. Langaker’s, construal is a mental image created by the speaker (conceptualizer); it is the relation between the speaker and the situation that he/she  conceptualizes and describes [Langacker 1987, 2007; Taylor 1995]. During the construal the language user chooses an expression or a word that serves as a“package”  for the mental respresentation of an object.

The term “construal” highlights the speaker’s active role in organizing and structuring his ‘’own world’’ (cf. the constructivism theory by philosophers G. B. Vico, G. Berkley, U. Maturana, F. Varela). Through construal the speaker creates his personal version of an event. For example, when we choose active constructions we focus our attention on the agent: e.g. Max hid Angela’s keys. Passive constructions can be used to foreground the object of the action (the patient): e.g. Angela ’s keys were hidden. These constructions demonstrate the alternative ways of the construal of the situation.

In cognitive studies the mechanisms and the linguistic means of construal are analyzed in detail. For instance, with the help of the language means the speakers can describe objects and events with different degree of precision (ср. листья — листва). They can construe a static situation as a dynamic event (Дорогапетляла сквозь долину и затем взбиралась в гору), highlight different characteristics of an object (ср.Where is The Sunday Times? и Have you read The Sunday Times?); change the viewpoint (He will come to London vs. He will go to London); describe an object from one cognitive domain as belonging to another cognitive domain (conceptual metaphor).

The choice of the mechanisms and the means of construal depends on the intentions of the speaker, who directs the listener’s  attention to the characteristics of an object or event that are relevant in the context.

Further reading

Langacker R. Foundations of Cognitive Grammar. — Vol. I. — Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987.

Langacker R. Cognitive Grammar // The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics / Ed. D. Geeraerts, H. Cuyckens. — Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. — P. 421–462.

Talmy L. Towards a Cognitive Semantics. — Volume I, II. — Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001.

Taylor J. R.(ed.) Language and the Cognitive Construal of the World. — Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1995.

Olga Iriskhanova, Natalya Petrova

Translated by Katya Tytianko