A Corpus Linguistic Perspective on the Relationship between Metonymy and Metaphor

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

In the 2002 special issue of Style on metaphor, several writers discuss the importance of embodiment in metaphor. For instance, Raymond Gibbs and Nicole Wilson discuss a number of idioms involving lexis for parts of the human body, arguing that these are "not simply rhetorical devices but cognitively underlie and help structure our understandings" (528). Their examples include "turn a deaf ear" and "to go in one ear and out the other," two phrases used to talk about someone who does not attend to what others say to him or her. It will be shown in this paper that there is a strong argument for considering these expressions to be metonymic, at least in origin, rather than purely metaphorical, an argument that can be applied to many of the expressions quoted in the literature of Conceptual Metaphor Theory. Analysis of metaphors in naturally occurring language, by Alice Deignan ("Corpus-Based Research") and Jonathan Charteris-Black, among others, has shown that expressions such as those cited by Gibbs and Wilson are frequent, both as types and as tokens. To see them now as metonymous rather than metaphorical raises the question of whether metonymy should be regarded as a more central trope than metaphor. A less strong position is to argue that expressions of this kind have elements of both metonymy and metaphor, the view that will be put forward in this paper.

I begin by describing some central examples of metonymy, then use corpus data to discuss the apparent metonymic basis for many metaphors. I argue that there is a cline from metonymy through to metaphor, following Günter Radden (94). I also assert that some fixed points can be established on this cline and that these points are reflected in linguistic patterns. (The theoretical model outlined here is described in more detail in Deignan's Metaphor and Corpus Linguistics.) I identify three groups of figurative expressions resulting from mappings located at different points on this metonymy-metaphor cline, and I analyze concordance data for these expressions. I am particularly concerned with the relationships of synonymy, antonymy, and hyponymy between the source and target domain uses of each group, because, as I will show, these indicate the degree of coherence with which source-domain relationships are metaphorically mapped onto the target domain. The degree of metonymic basis of each mapping, I argue, has an effect on the lexical structure of the target domain, the structure having a greater degree of overall coherence where the mapping is metaphorical and being more fragmented where metonymy is partly involved.

Research in Conceptual Metaphor Theory has drawn extensively on language data, complementing psycholinguistic techniques for investigating the processing of literal and nonliteral language. However, much of the language data used has been elicited from informants and is therefore, to a corpus linguist, suspect. Corpus linguists have argued for several decades that there is a mismatch between the patterns found in elicited examples and those found in naturally occurring corpus citations. It seems that people are not good at producing naturalistic language data when asked to do so consciously (Sinclair, Corpus, Concordance, Collocation). This is one reason for using corpus data in the investigation of metaphor and metonymy where possible. Another reason is the richness of the data that are available through a large corpus and the ease with which they can be sorted and examined. The corpus used in the research described here is a 59 million word section of the Bank of English, owned by HarperCollins Publishers and held at the University of Birmingham, England. The texts in the corpus have been produced within the last fifteen years, are both written and spoken, and are mainly British English, with some U.S. and Australian English. All examples are taken from the corpus, unless otherwise stated.

2. Metonymy

Possibly the best known examples of metonymy are uses such as ham sandwich, in sentences like "The ham sandwich is sitting at table 20" (Nunberg 149). …