Cognitive poetics

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Cognitive poetics is a school of literary criticism that applies the principles of cognitive science, particularly cognitive psychology, to the interpretation of literary texts. It has ties to reader-response criticism, and is also closely related to stylistics, whose application to literary study has been most popular in continental Europe. Like the New Critics, cognitive poetics engages in close analysis of the text, but it recognizes that context has an important role to play in the creation of meaning.

Due to its focus on how readers process the language of texts, cognitive poetics represents simultaneously a turn back in time, to the ancient study of rhetoric;[1] but it also has a grounding in modern principles of cognitive linguistics.

Topics addressed by cognitive poetics include deixis; text world theory (the feeling of immersion within texts); schema, script, and their role in reading; attention; foregrounding; and genre.

One of the main focal points of cognitive literary analysis is conceptual metaphor, an idea pioneered and popularized by the works of Lakoff, as a tool for examining texts. Rather than regarding metaphors as ornamental figures of speech, cognitive poetics examines how the conceptual bases of such metaphors interact with the text as a whole.

Prominent figures in the field include Reuven Tsur, who is credited for originating the term,[2] Ronald Langacker, Mark Turner, Gerard Steen, Joanna Gavins and Peter Stockwell. Although Tsur's original, "precise and particular" sense of the term poetics was related to his theory of "poetry and perception", it has come to be "more broadly applied" to any "theory" or "system" of the workings (Greek poiesis) of literature of any genre.[1]

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  1. ^ a b "Cognitive poetics is still relatively new as a discipline, though it makes clear reconnections back to much older forms of analysis such as classical rhetoric." Stockwell (2002): p. 8.
  2. ^ "Reuven Tsur ... has run a cognitive poetics project since the early 1970s, long before the first publications in cognitive linguistics." Gerard Steen and Joanna Gavins, "Contextualising cognitive poetics", in Gavins and Steen (2003): p. 3.


  • Bachelard, Gaston (1960). La poétique de la rêverie. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
  • Brône, Geert and Jeroen Vandaele (2009). Cognitive Poetics. Goals, Gains and Gaps. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter
  • Gavins, Joanna and Gerard Steen (2003). Cognitive Poetics in Practice. London: Routledge.
  • Semino, Elena and Jonathan Culpeper (2002). Cognitive Stylistics: Language and Cognition in Text Analysis. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  • Stockwell, Peter (2002). Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction. London: Routledge.
  • Tsur, Reuven (2008). Toward a Theory of Cognitive Poetics, Second, expanded and updated edition. Brighton and Portland: Sussex Academic Press.