Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

On the Diversity of Linguistic Evidence for Conceptual Metaphor

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

On the Diversity of Linguistic Evidence for Conceptual Metaphor

Article excerpt


In this article my main concern is the linguistic evidence for the view that metaphor is conceptual in nature. Since the fact that there is a great diversity of linguistic evidence for patterns of metaphorical thought has been, by and large, not emphasized enough, I overview a variety of such evidence, which can be derived from the study of different aspects of meaning within a particular language, crosslinguistically, and at a metalinguistic level. However, in itself the variety of linguistic evidence, even though it speaks very strongly for the idea that metaphor is conceptual in nature, is not sufficient to justify it. Therefore, recognizing the fact that claims about our conceptual system which are based on linguistic analyses alone remain within the "language--thought language" circle, the article discusses also some kinds of nonlinguistic evidence for conceptual metaphors. Psycholinguistic research on metaphorical reasoning is presented as a major source of such nonlinguistic verifications. Drawing on Daniel Barenboim's BBC Reith lectures of 2006, it is also argued that convergent evidence from language and music may serve to break open the "language--thought language" circle.

"Metaphorical thinking being unavoidable, we might as well relax and enjoy it" (Langacker 2006: 108).

1. Introduction

It is now a common consensus view in cognitive linguistics that, as Lakoff--Johnson (1980: 6) put it, "[m]etaphors as linguistic expressions are possible precisely because there are metaphors in a person's conceptual system". (1) As a mode of thought, so the argument goes, metaphor guides not only our reasoning, but also our emotions, behaviour and actions. In fact, according to the standard theory, it is due to its conceptual nature that metaphor shows up so abundantly in everyday language as this is the medium via which we conventionally communicate to others about our emotions, thought, behaviour, and actions. (1) The idea that metaphor plays a fundamental role in shaping our conceptual system and in thought has been around in the philosophical and linguistic tradition of Europe much earlier;

Likewise, it is the standard view among cognitive linguists that enduring patterns of metaphorical thought, commonly referred to as conventional conceptual metaphors, are frequently motivated, or grounded, by image schemas (such as SOURCE--PATH--GOAL, UP/DOWN, FORCE), which are universal patterns of experience of the human body and its interaction with the world (Johnson 1987, 2005; Lakoff--Johnson 1999). The latter view--known as the thesis of embodiment of conceptual metaphor constitutes one of the cornerstones of the cognitive approach to metaphor. (2)

Although the embodied experience of the world and the self provides the main motivation for the metaphors "we live by", conceptual metaphors are, by no means, necessarily based on bodily experience. As has been extensively discussed in cognitive linguistic literature, culture is another major source of motivation for conventional metaphors a particular society "lives by". (3) In brief, conceptual metaphors are both universal and language-specific. This, it needs to be noted, should not be taken to imply that universal experience necessarily leads to universal metaphors, since embodied experience can be overridden by cultural factors and cognitive processes.

It is beyond doubt that the cognitive theory of metaphor has had a great impact not only on the study of meaning in language, but also of human behaviour, action, and of understanding, in particular. Yet, as Gibbs--Perlman (2006: 212) rightly note, "[d]espite the tremendous success, and increasing popularity of cognitive linguistic work on metaphor there are numerous criticisms of this research both within and outside linguistics". In this paper, however, the critical appraisal of the cognitive theory of metaphor will be taken up very briefly only (section 2. …

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