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Virtual reality in cognitive linguistics and the psychological environment in foreign policy analysis

The importance of the indirectness of linguistic expressions referring to actual persons, events and relationships has been stressed by researchers exploring language from the cognitive perspective. The distinction between the actual plane and the virtual plane, proposed in Langacker (1999), is one of the most lucid accounts of the phenomenon. In keeping with the interdisciplinary character of current research in cognitive linguistics, the proposed paper compares findings of cognitive linguistics with those put forth by international relations scholars.

Interestingly, also the discipline of international relations assumes a division similar to the one proposed in cognitive linguistics. It is common practice to draw a distinction between, for example, the operational environment and psychological environment, as elaborated, among others, in Farrands (1989). A careful analysis of the two distinctions, the one made in cognitive linguistics and the other made in some approaches to foreign policy, raises the question of whether the two disciplines make such conceptual distinctions only incidentally. In a discipline like international relations it is commonly assumed that indirectness is the norm owing to the fact that one refers to either intangible concepts (e.g. state, national interest, (in)security, etc.) or geographically distant events, places or individuals (e.g. the Balkans, Afghanistan, Pervez Musharraf, etc.). It is because in addressing such issues we almost never face the referents physically or do not have any kind of direct access to them.     

Being part of a larger project, the paper asks the following questions. Assuming that it is possible to distinguish between actual and virtual entities, which of the two types is predominant in the language used to address issues in international relations? What are the regular patterns of virtual entities and relations present in this specialist variety of language? Or, do the distinctions made in cognitive linguistics and international relations provide any insights into our understanding of cognition?

Keywords: actual plane, virtual plane, operational environment, psychological environment, indirectness, virtual reality, virtual entity, international relations

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