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Thoughts on Art and categorization from a cognitive linguist.
By Eve Sweetser
About the author:

Eve Sweetser was brought up in Minneapolis by teacher parents and now teaches Linguistics, Cognitive Science and Celtic Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, where she's Director of the undergrad Cognitive Science Program.

"What I love most in teaching," she says, "is seeing students step outside disciplinary boxes and make new connections that their seniors (including yours truly) have been too rigid to make. And what I love most about Berkeley is that it's one of the world's true Borderlands, intellectually, culturally, ethnically, and artistically.

"As a scholar, my world revolves around the ways in which language and thought and culture are interwoven. This isn't just about literary language: in fact, I live in a world where metaphor is finally recognized (it's always been there) as a major building block of scientific thought and everyday cognition, not of literary language alone. But great literature is one of the most marvelous products of human cognition — and is also (forgive me) a rich, neglected data source for cognitive science. So whether or not all of my less interstitial colleagues understand, my work on metaphors in early Welsh poetry is part of my cognitive science work. I make students in my metaphor class read The Phantom Tollbooth, or Marge Piercy, or Micheal O'Siadhail — terra incognita to the more computational CogSci majors. (OK, why not analyze stuff I love? Plus, it's a real kick to watch a smart macho computer nerd suddenly catch on to an Emily Dickinson poem for the first time.)

"I'd like to bring the literary and the cognitive-scientific worlds closer — to my mind, they need each other deeply. As with most dialogues across boundaries, the view from the other side can be a huge revelation about one's own side. And that's before we consider the possibilities of actually breaking down fences."

Eve Sweetser can be reached at

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