Chicken or Hen?: Domestic Fowl Metaphors Denoting Human Beings

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The native Anglo-Saxon vocabulary related to domestic animals denominations has been increased throughout the centuries and enriched with borrowings from different languages, like French, but also with loanwords from other languages. This work discusses some of the reasons that have traditionally been adduced to explain word loss and semantic change, and see how they can be applied to the field of generic denominations of fowl. It also investigates the various ways in which the introduction of new items has an influence on the recipient language and to what extent native words are affected. In the first section of the paper, we will basically deal with the straight meanings and the ways in which the field was stratified in the formative centuries, while in the second section we will discuss how some of these terms are applied to human beings in a figurative sense to denote a quality shared by humans and animals or rather a characteristic which does not seem to be present in the animal, but it is attributed to it, as there is a tendency to understand human behaviour in terms of human features. Thus, we attempt at providing a panoramic overview of the field concentrating on the most frequently used units and especially on those that underwent a metaphorization process.

1. Introduction: Objectives and methodology

According to cognitive linguistics "a metaphor is a mapping of the structure of a source model onto a target model" (Ungerer--Schmid 1996: 120), as the target domain is understood in terms of the source domain. In other words, metaphor is a fundamental element in our categorization of the world and our thinking process and a sign of creative thinking. Apart from acquiring knowledge about the surrounding world, metaphor is also essential to understand language development and structure.

From ancient times people have been compared to animals, thus PEOPLE ARE ANIMALS is a well-structured metaphor. Following this view, the present research has been focused on two main aspects: Firstly, we basically deal with the straight meanings and the ways in which the field of the domestic fowl animals was stratified in the formative centuries, while secondly we discuss how some of these terms are applied to human beings in a figurative sense to denote a quality shared by humans and animals or rather a characteristic which does not seem to be present in the animal, but it is attributed to it.

The analysis has been concentrated on domestic fowl animals, that is, those that are bred, reared, or kept to serve a useful end or object as distinct from purposes of beauty, display, show, etc., usually the ones reared as barn-door fowls. First of all, the species were structured hierarchically into hyperonyms and hyponyms with the help of the Modern English dictionaries mentioned below. Bearing such a wide area of meaning, the lexical field has been previously restricted mainly to nouns denoting (1) domestic name species (chicken/hen, goose, duck, turkey, pigeon/dove); (2) the adults, either male or female, (e.g. cock-hen, gander-goose, drake-duck, cock-turkey vs. hen-turkey, pigeon/dove) and (3) the offspring or the young one (chicken/chick, cockerel, pullet/pullen, gosling, duckling, squab). Thus, names implying breed, colour or other function not being the usual one at a yard have been disregarded. We have mainly taken into consideration the physical features which have to do with generic denominations for gender or age. However, on some particular occasions, it seems suitable to refer to specific characteristics regarding the aspects mentioned above to complete the information provided in a given respect.

For the Old English period, we have taken Roberts and Kay's A thesaurus of Old English as a starting point and for the Middle English period we have based our research on the data provided by the ongoing Historical thesaurus of English (1) from the University of Glasgow and the online version of the Middle English dictionary (hereafter, MED). …