Marija Brala Vukanović

Full Professor

Department of English Language and Literature

University of Rijeka

Email

My research explores various interfaces between world, language, and mind on to answer one key question, namely how the language(s) we speak shape(s) the ways we think.

In more specific terms, I am interested in the relationship between how we perceive the world vs. how we conceive it in order to speak about it. In other words: How do we conceptualize and categorize the world in order to ‘squeeze’ it into lexical items – or words - and grammatical patterns known as syntactic rules? Yes, language ‘squeezes’ reality (both real and imaginary) into categories that can either be labelled or be translated into grammatical categories and combinatorial properties and regularities. The search for the answers to these questions takes place within the theoretical framework and using methodology of cognitive semantics. This is a relatively new theoretical framework which appeared as a reaction to Chomskyan generative syntactic theories, which put grammar at centre stage, leaving meaning out of focus. Cognitive semantics, in turn, explores all linguistic phenomena through the prism of meaning and conceptualization – or, technically speaking, image schemata – as a fundamental procedural and structural property of the human mind.

I am particularly interested in the meaning or, rather, in the crosslinguistic universals - and possibly, semantic and cognitive primitives or primes - encoded by closed class words (prepositions, demonstratives, and articles). Why are things 'in English' but in Croatian they turn to 'on English'? Why are we 'on duty' but 'in despair'? What is the meaning of 'the'? And how do people whose native languages lack articles understand the meaning encoded by articles? Conversely, how do people whose native language has articles – and who have thus learned to attend to the world in terms of definiteness - learn to express themselves in an articleless language?

These focal research questions in my work are systematically tied to two wider but very concrete multidisciplinary questions: i) how space is encoded in language, and ii) the relationship between (pointing) gesture and language. It is – indeed - observing the human mind from the perspective of these questions that could, hopefully, shed light on the way(s) in which language impact(s) the way in which we think and ultimately who we are.

Since 2013

Full Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Rijeka, Croatia

2009 – 2013

Associate Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Rijeka, Croatia

2003 – 2009

Assistant Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Rijeka, Croatia

2000

PhD, Research Centre for English and Applied Linguistics, University of Cambridge, UK

1998

Visiting Scholar, Max Plank Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, Netherlands

1997

MPhil, Research Centre for English and Applied Linguistics, University of Cambridge, UK

1994

BA in Translation (English, Italian, Croatian), Faculty for Translation and Interpreters (SSLMIT), University of Trieste, Italy

I have supervised over 90 final theses and Masters theses, as well as 5 PhD theses at the University of Rijeka, University of Zagreb, and University of Trieste, Italy.

Some of my former students are nowadays my colleagues (University of Rijeka, University of Zagreb, Oxford University, University of Trieste). Other former students have careers within international organizations such as the UN, or the EU (as translators / interpreters).

  • Cambridge Board of Graduate Studies Award in Social Studies & Humanities

  • Darwin College Grant

  • British Federation of Women Graduates grant

  • RCEAL award