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Interview with Cristóbal Pagán

The researcher of the ICS has been distinguished in the first call of the BBVA Foundation Grants for Researchers, Innovators and Cultural Creators.

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PHOTO: Carlota Cortés
04/11/14 12:11 BBVA Foundation/ICS

Cristóbal Pagán, researcher of the project 'Public discourse' of the Institute for Culture and Society (ICS), has been distinguished in the first call of the BBVA Foundation Grants to Researchers, Innovators and Cultural Creators. His application has been one of the 56 selected among the 1,664 received.

Cristóbal Pagán Cánovas (Seville, 1975) is graduate in Philosophy y Letras by the University of Murcia and has a Master's Degree in Arts of Classics by the University College of London. He focuses his field of work on cognitive linguistics, cognitive poetics, the analysis of speech, the Philology crack, comparative literature and cognitive science.

Pagán has spent time at research in Germany, UK, USA and Greece. After finishing his doctorate in June 2009, he spent six weeks as a visiting researcher at the department of Linguistics at the University of California-Berkeley, where he attended the summer courses of the Linguistic Society of America and developed the methodological aspects of his research.

During his last year of doctorate he was granted a scholarship Marie Curie (International Outgoing Fellowship), with a assessment of 98%, to develop a project extending his research to the comparison with other literatures, as well as to the development of the theoretical framework started with his thesis .

What is your area of expertise at research?

work I focus on the relationship between patterns and creativity in the use of language, especially on how the human imagination, through different times and cultures, uses simple experiences, such as the throwing of an object, to structure much more complex concepts, such as falling in love (for example in the arrows of love). To do so, I compare the expression of some of these concepts, especially emotions and time, across different poetic traditions, which offer us the most creative cases and expose how far the imagination can manipulate these simple experiences, mixing them with others and creating new meanings. I also compare the poetic speech with everyday language, to identify the processes that are common and those that are specifically aesthetic.

How does project , which has received financial aid from the BBVA Foundation, fit into this line of work ?

My project will study the expression of emotions throughout the twenty-eight centuries of Greek language poetry available to us. For this I will use the theory on concept integration of Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner and the research on spatial schemata in cognitive development , mainly carried out by Jean Mandler. The aim is to identify which mixtures of concepts, such as arrows and love, follow universal patterns of human cognition, and which aspects of poetic expression of feelings are linked to cultural and communicative context. This project serves as the basis for a larger study of the expression of emotions by comparing poetry and everyday language in Greek, Latin, and the major European languages.

What led you to focus on this line?

I was interested in understanding verbal creativity, that is, how language is used to produce new meanings and to express complex concepts that are difficult to structure: emotions, the passage of time, abstract ideas, and so on. I had studied ancient and modern literatures, especially Greek. I wanted to take advantage of this philological training to gather numerous data on poetic language, which would provide clues on how imagination and the main processes of meaning construction work. I am also a writer and I am passionate about the creative process. I also believe that this research is fundamental to understanding the human mind, which is essentially imaginative.

What have been the main influences on the way you conceive your work?
First of all, my philological training in classical and modern languages, which taught me to work with multiple texts, to study each of them in detail within its culture, and at the same time to learn through them about the human in general. Later, Cognitive Science, and especially Cognitive Linguistics, opened new horizons for me and gave me access to new methods to understand the processes of meaning, allowing me to connect my work with the interdisciplinary research on the human mind, undoubtedly the greatest scientific challenge imaginable.

How do you perceive the current status of your research field in Spain?

There is a very active cognitive linguistics community in Spain with great interest in the interdisciplinary work . There is also a magnificent research tradition in classical Philology and in numerous modern languages, thanks especially to the great modernization effort of the last two or three generations. However, in any field of research, the investment, both public and private, does not correspond at all with Spain's place in the world nor with its current economic capacity. This status is even more serious in Humanities, despite the transcendence of its scientific challenge : to understand the human being and give us the keys to understand and improve our societies. In this panorama of very few opportunities, especially in the early years of research degree program , the support of the BBVA Foundation is of enormous value. Many more initiatives like this one would be needed to bring us closer to the countries around us.

What does this financial aid bring to you in the development of your career?

It will allow me to be a researcher visitor to the University of Edinburgh's flagship project in Cognitive Science and Humanities : "A History of Distributed Cognition", and to collaborate closely with its researcher lead, Professor Douglas Cairns, who is also preparing a book on cognitive patterns in the expression of emotions in Ancient Greece. In addition to the advances of research and the connections with colleagues in different fields, the financial aid FBBVA is a great accolade for my research, which is unconventional and difficult to fit into a single discipline. The great competitiveness of the call and the prestige of the evaluators gives great value to the financial aid, both in Spain and in the international context.