Barbara Dancygier


Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Multimodal similes: toward a cognitive understanding of similative meaning (2021)

The dissertation offers a novel theoretical framework for the investigation of similative meaning. Drawing upon cognitive linguistic tools and concepts, the project challenges the longstanding assumptions that simile is a subtype or literal counterpart to metaphor, and that simile is a figure of speech inescapably tied to its verbal form (i.e. X is like Y). To expose the unique conceptual qualities of simile and to more rigorously define the properties of similative meaning, I examine multimodal artifacts that prompt a similative construal without conforming to traditional similative constructions. The project starts with the observation that similes in spoken and written use tend not to rely on the predicative (be like) forms but on other forms, like the appositive. Moreover, similes in discourse are commonly used to elicit sensory perceptions and embodied experiences (i.e. X looks like Y; X feels like Y respectively). Taking these attributes of simile as the starting point of my assessment, I suggest that simile differs from metaphor not only in terms of form but also in terms of meaning. Expanding on recent cognitive linguistic re-evaluations of simile, I further demonstrate that simile has its own unique set of similative mappings that are distinct from metaphorical ones. I then propose that a more robust method for the evaluation of simile should shift focus away from examining exclusively verbal similes to inspecting similes in multimodal contexts. I draw upon cognitive and rhetorical theories of embodiment to develop a cline of similative expression that serves as a guiding framework for the subsequent analyses of multimodal similes. The chapters’ case studies, which look at late night talk show monologues, internet memes, as well as artwork from recent political protests, show how similative meaning underlies the emergence of multimodal artifacts by coopting evocative images alongside linguistic forms that go beyond the standard use of the preposition like. Ultimately, the project contributes to the fields of cognitive linguistics, multimodal discourse analysis and rhetorical criticism by demonstrating the various ways in which similative meaning can emerge to inform our collective conceptualization of values, entities and ideas.

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Telling animals: a histology of Dene textualized orature (2017)

The full abstract for this thesis is available in the body of the thesis, and will be available when the embargo expires.

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Cognitive ecology and visual poetry: toward a multimodal cognitive poetics (2015)

In this dissertation I offer a new approach to North American visual poetry. I develop an eco-cognitive analysis of visual poetic features and bring them into critical dialogue with other literary genres. I focus primarily on the Canadian tradition and reception of visual poetry, using it as a helpful microcosm for discussions of poetic influence and critical engagement, while also bringing it into dialogue with experimental and lyrical transnational Anglophone poetry and poetics.I propose an interdisciplinary methodology that addresses visual poetry as a hybrid of verbal, visual, and tactile modes of communication. I discuss visual poetry from the perspective of conceptual mechanisms that produce specific interpretive possibilities, thereby offering a more robust account of how visual poems specifically interact with the materiality of print culture.I begin by defining multimodal literature and visual poetry and outlining a multimodal approach to media that bridges traditional poetic and hermeneutic approaches. I propose a model of cognitive ecology as a framework that meets the needs of visual poetic criticism. In particular, I rely on research into perception, mental simulation, and conceptual integration to show how communicative modalities are transformed to yield synthetic multimodal understandings of hybrid texts. Furthermore, I consider common cognitive biases to expose the underlying fallacious assumptions in several poetic, critical, and popular approaches to visual poetry in Canada and abroad. I then show how my eco-cognitive framework offers a more productive understanding of the interactions between modalities. I offer critical tools which view the poems as multimodal anchors for conceptualization, thereby distinguishing between multimodal textuality and the readerly experience of it. Finally, I develop a theory of cognitive improvisation which addresses how even illegible or abstract cues in visual poetry can prompt meaningful interpretations. I argue that all experiences of texts involve some level of cognitive improvisation, but that visual poetry foregrounds this aspect of everyday creativity. Finally, I show how this multimodal cognitive poetics extends naturally to other forms of multimodal literature, especially comics and graphic novels.

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The Northwest Territories reconstruction project : telling our stories (2009)

Early travellers and adventurers in the Northwest Territories in their struggle to deal with the harshness of the land and the strangeness of the inhabitants were often unable to give a verbal shape to the landscape and the people beyond that of the familiar images of their European background. North became synonymous with alien, hostile, cold, barren, and mysterious and its people were identified alternatively as abject, heathen, filthy and sometimes dangerous savages or as paragons of noble manhood who served as examples for future imperializing ventures.I examine two travel narratives of the Northwest Territories and argue that a discourse of North, that was constructed from an imperialist, Eurocentric perspective failed to take into account the stories, the history and the culture of the indigenous people who lived there. I question the means by which such received history and knowledge becomes validated and empowering, while at the same time, other uncredentialed knowledge and stories which lack authority are lost. Warburton Pike wrote The Barren Ground of Northern Canada in 1892 and Agnes Deans Cameron wrote The New North in 1910. These works and others, while contributing to early knowledge of the indigenous people, were instrumental inframing an imaginary north that assumed hegemonic status over the geographical and cultural north that already existed. I then examine the works of two recent indigenous writers, George Blondin and Robert Alexie, who write back to Eurocentric constructions of north to validate their own histories and reclaim their land, not just in the physical sense of land claims but in ways which will give credence to their stories and their culture. I consider the role of stories and their power to preserve or destroy and I concludewith the hope that I can undertake a future work to examine in more detail the wealth ofnarrative available about the Northwest Territories.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Finding comedy in errors: evaluating intentional ambiguity in children's puns (2021)

Why do we laugh (or groan) at puns? Humour serves as a fascinating topic of study within the field of cognitive linguistics due to the manipulation of form-meaning pairs that create tension and ambiguity. This project explores the dynamic between the social, pragmatic, phonological, syntactic and semantic components of puns to provide insight into these complexities and how they reflect on typical, rather than creative language. By focusing on puns from children’s riddle and joke books, the examples used offer especially contrived constructions to better convey the necessary ambiguity to a younger audience, clearly revealing important elements used in this type of wordplay. This project seeks to identify the minimal conditions necessary for a pun to be successful; that is, to force a phonological ambiguity that can be resolved through the semantic elements of the joke. In doing so, this type of wordplay draws attention to our ability to process and reconcile ambiguity with relative ease, even within novel and creative language use. The first chapter provides a brief overview of the relevant scholarship in humour studies, beginning with Raskin’s (1985) foundational Script-based Semantic Theory of Humour and including other texts integral to my research (e.g., Coulson 2001, Giora 2003, Partington 2009, Tobin 2018). In addition to providing a theoretical framework for approaching my examples, this chapter summarizes various definitions of puns and illuminates the lack of a unified definition within humour research. The second chapter explores the benefits of using wordplay to help develop complex language use in children by introducing them to polysemy and homophony in creative contexts, which encourage interaction with these concepts. The final chapter outlines three conditions required for puns to be successful: a context setting up multiple semantic frames, a phonologically ambiguous word or phrase that forces reinterpretation of the sentence, and the management and subversion of social and pragmatic expectations in the reader.

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Metaphor and memory: cognitive poetics and the legacy of Al Purdy (2020)

The work of Canadian poet Al Purdy has often been dismissed because of its informal nature, while others see Purdy’s down-to-earth poetics as part of what draws readers to his writing. I use a cognitive poetic analysis of one of Purdy’s most anthologized poems, “Transient,” to contend that the late poet’s body of work merits and can withstand close investigation despite its colloquiality. I then extend cognitive poetic analysis of “Transient” onto poems and songs written in tribute to Purdy that adapt his original poem and conceptual metaphors in order to discuss his life in terms of a journey. In this section I look at works by Bruce Cockburn, Doug Paisley, Grace Vermeer, and Julie McNeill that portray Purdy as a positive influence on Canadian literature. I then examine criticism against Purdy written by River Halen Guri, Michael Lista, Shane Neilson, and Sadiqa de Meijer alongside a review of an anthology of Purdy tribute texts by Lori Fox. I argue in this section that texts written in tribute to Purdy ignore his negative influences on the Canadian literary community, such as the misogyny and racism that appears in much of his work. Finally, I discuss the ongoing work of the Al Purdy A-Frame Association, who have been connected in some way to the publication of all of the collections of Purdy tribute texts published in the past five years. I contend that while Purdy’s writing has been discounted far too often, accounts of his life and legacy that capture both his positive and negative effects on the Canadian literary community are lacking and necessary.

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Reframing depression as an embodied state of being in contemporary audiovisual narrative (2020)

While language so often serves to bridge the gap between individual subjectivities, it is a bridge that rests on the assumption that all humans principally experience their lives in the same way. When describing emotions, embodied metaphors are often used to relay, for example, an “elevated” mood or “feeling down”, mapping affective experiences to the physical positioning and movement of the body, the primary interface through which we experience the world. We understand the passing of time as analogous to movement through physical space, and assign physical qualities to feelings based on sensory information such as heat, colour, sound, pressure, pain, and so on. We recount “feeling blue”, “boiling with rage”, being “overwhelmed” and “sinking into despair”. When expressed in words, these metaphors rely on the semiotic nature of language to evoke relevant concepts in the minds of the listener or reader. In this way, we must all agree on the meanings of words, and must have a mutual understanding of how embodied sensations feel. I argue that in describing complex mental states, such as depression, natural language becomes an inadequate tool of communication, as it cannot help but evoke semantic frames that rely on human-scale concepts. I propose that audiovisual narratives, particularly those that diverge from traditional dramatic conventions, are more effective in depicting the lived experience of depression, as they are better able to represent a holistic flow of phenomenological experience and may utilise inputs from many different modes (sound, light, colour, written and verbal text) to produce gestalt impressions. Through these multimodal artefacts, depression may be reframed as an embodied experience of the world that is not simply analogous to intense sadness.

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Making sense of reality through fiction: Approaching memes through the intersecting lenses of cognitive linguistics and narratology (2017)

In this thesis project, I develop a new approach to examine how and why people use fictive narratives to cope with traumatic events. While this area of research has primarily been studied through the lenses of cognitive narratology and psychology, I adapt a cognitive linguistic methodology, centered on the theoretical framework of conceptual blending, frame metonymy, and viewpoint networks, to analyze multimodal online memes that blend popular fictive narratives with traumatic real-world events. This project differs from past analyses of memes by considering not just the visual and textual data of a meme, but also the contextual frames that shape the way we interact with memes in everyday online discourse—this includes the social media platforms memes they are shared through and the real-world events that prompt their creation. I focus my analysis on a set of multimodal memes created and shared in the twenty-four-hour period after the 2016 U.S. federal election that blend the shocking electoral victory of Donald Trump with images and dialogue taken from the popular The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. I argue that the creation and sharing of these memes across social media platforms in the immediate aftermath of what many considered a traumatic event provides evidence of how people use specific narratives that are salient to their culture, values, and identity to cope with trauma. These narratives inform future behaviour, provide causal and sequential logic, project closure onto an uncertain future, and connect individual experiences and viewpoints to like-minded collectives.

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Viewpoint, Blends, Narrative and Meaning Construction in Pocoyo (2016)

Using the tools of cognitive linguistics, I analyze the meaning construction process at work in the first two seasons of the children’s animated television show Pocoyo. The show communicates with viewers and clarifies the primary use of objects through application, and through interaction between the characters and the narrator. The tools of cognitive linguistics, including blending theory and viewpoint analysis, enable this study to explain the meaning construction process of Pocoyo and consequently how virtual experience fosters usage-based understanding. As the viewer is immersed in the narrative through narrative space interaction, viewpoint alignment and blending, the viewer associates on-screen concepts with their own personal embodied experience. From this perspective, the viewer learns concepts alongside Pocoyo.

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Multimodal Rhetorical Figures (2015)

Rhetoricians have, for millennia, catalogued a set of persuasive techniques called rhetorical figures, but so far, they have examined them almost exclusively in the verbal modalities – i.e. in the written and spoken word. This paper shows how, in embodied contexts, figures also draw from bodily modalities to enhance their argumentative effects. Focusing on political speeches, I show how hand gestures are systematically incorporated into antithesis, a figure wherein contrastive phrases are framed in parallel form: the stronger lead, the weaker follow. Cognitive approaches to gesture provide my analysis with the tools to use gesture as a window into the embodied foundations of figures and their persuasiveness. I show how various features of gesture, including hand dominance, distance, and shape, allow speakers to channel the uptake of figures in terms of viewpoint and metaphor. With evidence that gestures are produced and perceived implicitly, my study suggests that persuasive aims are implemented by the subconscious mechanisms of multimodal cognition. I further show how multimodality participates in other figures, even in multimodal environments outside of gesture and speech, with each environment giving rise to a novel set of rhetorical affordances. These findings provide the initial steps toward a broader theory of multimodal rhetoric that examines how figures and other forms of persuasion originate from the body and evolve through the cultural and technological engineering of multimodal experience.

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Fortune and her Wheel: A Cognitive Linguistic Approach (2013)

This thesis is a cognitive linguistic analysis of the concept of fortune and how it has changed over time. It examines the history of the word 'fortune' and what meanings it has had, the representation of Fortune as a human-like personality that interacts with humans, and the use of the ‘wheel of fortune’ symbol to represent unpredictable changes in life. All three of these elements are shown to be part of the same larger process of conceptual change. The pagan goddess Fortuna begins as a common blend that treats unpredictable events as the actions of a person-like entity. She gradually takes on more features and functions as her name is metonymically expanded to designate a variety of elements in the conceptual frame of RISK, e.g. positive and negative outcomes that result from Fortuna’s decisions are called ‘fortunes’. Fortune’s wheel is a structure that relies on very basic primary metaphors such as REPETITION IS CIRCULAR MOTION, which the Romans use to talk about repeated reversals of fortune. They also represent Fortuna standing on a wheel, using the BALANCE schema to show her instability. These image schematic structures are thought of in a much more cohesive way by medieval thinkers who used the image of a person attached to the outer rim of a wheel, riding it around in a circle and going up and down at the same time. For the first time, that person’s moving viewpoint is what makes the wheel significant. Over the course of later centuries the meanings of the word 'fortune' come to be used in increasingly separate contexts, and so do different images of Fortune (as controller turning the wheel, or nude figure balancing on top of a wheel, rolling around but ready to be caught). As probability and randomness become more popular concepts, the wheel is blended with the image of a wheel used for gambling, with a focus on where the wheel will stop. It leaves open the possibility that Fortune may be controlling the wheel, but the more salient meaning is that by interacting with the wheel, an individual can win a fortune.

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Animal-vocalist blends in rock music reviews: A comprehensive method (2010)

The present study describes music criticism of rock vocalists where their vocalizations are compared to those of animals in the form of the animal-vocalist blend. The animal-vocalist blend (using the framework developed by Fauconnier and Turner) is a representative example of the use of linguistic and cognitive resources in order to convey acoustic and affective information. These blends present an excellent case study in the variety and expressiveness that is present in the dense semantic field of the album review. The current project draws additional resources from linguistic motor theory, cognitive science, and affect psychology to offer a comprehensive model of this creative process. Findings reveal the highly motivated nature of the animal-vocalist blend, the underlying mechanisms or rhetorical common grounds on which speakers discuss responses to music, and the meaningfulness of human-animal interaction.

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