Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

Death Euphemism in English and Arabic: A Conceptual Metaphorization Approach

Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

Death Euphemism in English and Arabic: A Conceptual Metaphorization Approach

Article excerpt


This study investigates and compares the conceptualization of death euphemism in English and Arabic as embodied in various euphemistic metaphors using the Conceptual Metaphor Theory initiated by Lakoff and Johnson (1980, 2003). It has been found, based on 442 euphemistic expressions in both languages (192 from Arabic, and 250 from English) that both languages use 10 strikingly similar complex conceptual metaphors to mitigate the effect of death, emanating from blending primary metaphors with cultural assumptions. The two languages share the common human experience of avoiding mentioning death by means of using identical euphemistic conceptual metaphors; however, both languages differ as regards the emphasis, details and range of the complex metaphor. Evidence based on data analysis supports the view about the universality of euphemistic conceptual metaphors.

Keywords: Conceptual metaphor theory, Euphemism, Arabic, English

1. Introduction

There is always a feeling of discomfort at mentioning harmful and embarrassing words to which society is often sensitive (Crystal, 2003, p. 173); therefore, language has its own ways of avoiding such taboos. The process of substitution where the offensive or unacceptable words are substituted by more appropriate ones has come to be known as ?euphemism'. In its modern sense, euphemism refers to "the use of a mild or vague or periphrastic expression as a substitute for blunt precision or disagreeable use" (Fowler, 1957, quoted in Holder 1987, p. vii). In this vein, euphemisms can be seen as -roundabout, toning down expressions" (Algeo and Pyles, 2004, p. 235), a substitution process which causes replacements such as the following: casket (coffin), fall asleep (die), push up the daisies (be dead), the ultimate sacrifice (be killed), under the weather (ill), and many others.

Euphemism is considered a linguistically universal trait. Almost all languages have euphemistic expressions, particularly employed to avoid vulgarisms (Mashak, 2012, p. 202). However, it is a matter of convention which types of words and expressions should be avoided. According to Trudgill (1986, p. 30), English-speaking communities use strongest euphemism to avoid explicit mentioning of sex and excretion, while in Norway the mention of the devil represents the target of euphemism. Compared with Roman Catholic culture in which euphemism mostly relates to religion, euphemism in traditional Africa, according to Mbaya (2002, p. 224), relates to words for sex, parts of the body, death, marriage, kinship relations, certain birds' and animals' names.

Death and dying are among the most commonly referenced semantic fields in linguistic discussions of euphemism (Hughes, 2000, p. 43-43; Mey, 2001, p. 33-34). There are various reasons why people want to keep away from touching upon the topic of death, probably the most cited one is that of relevance to fear, a deeply seated human instinct; people are afraid for losing their loved ones and its consequences. They are afraid of what would happen after death, mysterious life and hidden destiny, evil spirits, which strikes fear into their hearts (Allan and Burridge, 2006, p. 222).

The most common human strategy to cope with this fear of death is by making no mention of it or replacing it by other expressions. Although some people do not openly express their fear of death, they try to protect themselves by making some gestures such as a finger-cross or a charm or wood knock (Allan and Burridge, 2006, p. 203), and may try to use euphemistic metaphorical expressions to hide the unpleasant things and to heal their wounds (Fan, 2006).

The Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT) as set forth by Lakoff and Johnson (1980; 2003) provides a very useful tool for analyzing such a linguistic phenomenon. The main point of the theory is that our conceptual system is based on a group of mental metaphorical images that determine our way of thinking and influence our experience of the world. …

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