Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

The Expression of the Location Event-Structure Metaphor in American Sign Language

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

The Expression of the Location Event-Structure Metaphor in American Sign Language

Article excerpt

Conceptual metaphor theory (CMT) was first proposed thirty-five years ago to explain the pervasiveness of metaphor in human thought, action, and language (Lakoff and Johnson [1980] 2003). This theory helps explain how the expression of metaphor in our lives is strikingly systematic. It is an explanation of how metaphor constitutes, constrains, and lends coherence to our thinking and discourse. It explicates how metaphoric exchanges support intersubjective understanding in human communication. In the decades since CMT was first proposed, the theory has been elaborated, refined, and strengthened. It remains a viable and productive perspective that has endured considerable scrutiny (Fauconnier and Lakoff 2013; Gibbs 2011, 2013; Kövecses 2011; Ruiz de Mendoza Ibáñez and Pérez Hernández 2011; Steen 2011).

Proponents of CMT view metaphors as conceptual, unidirectional mappings that associate two distinct conceptual domains. They originate from concepts that arise from more perceptible, bodily experiences. These source conceptual domains are mapped to target domains that are based on our experiences with (usually) less perceptible, less relatable realities. A well-known example is the association that we make between the space/motion conceptual domain and our conceptualization of time, represented in the following formulation: Time Is Space/Motion. A linguistic expression of this conceptual association in English is "we are coming up on the deadline." This metaphoric mapping is also expressed in the form of co-speech gestures and in graphical calendars and timelines (Núñez 2010; Cienki and Müller 2010). These nonlinguistic expressions provide converging evidence of the conceptual nature of metaphor.

Because the source domain in conceptual metaphors is usually based on bodily experiences that most humans share, it was originally assumed that these would be nearly universal, exhibited throughout the worlds' languages. This assumption was borne out in follow-up, cross-linguistic metaphor studies, which encompassed spoken languages that are distant from English, including Chinese, Arabic, and Hungarian (Kövecses 2010; Aldokhayel 20o8;Yu 1998). Many of these metaphors are also exhibited in signed languages (Taub 2001; Wilcox 2000).

An early strand of research in the CMT literature focused on finding evidence of universality in conceptual metaphors (although variation has always been acknowledged). Recent additions to this strand have shifted the focus to an elaboration of why both universality and variation exist in metaphoric expression (Kövecses 2005). Universality and variation are exhibited within and between cultures and are subject to change over time. A growing number of scholars are examining the dynamic nature of (mainly linguistic) metaphor in discourse events and genres (Cameron and Maslen 2010b; Gibbs and Cameron 2008). We are seeing more investigations of the potential effect of the body, cognition, modality, environment, social communities, and other contextual factors on the development and expression of metaphors (Kövecses 2015). We are also seeing the emergence of applied studies that look at metaphoric variation in translation and cross-cultural communication through the lens of CMT and other compatible theories from cognitive linguistics (Musolff, MacArthur, and Pagani 2014; Rojo and Ibarretxe-Antuñano 2013).

The present study is part of a larger, exploratory research project that examines the role of conceptual metaphor in the (re)construal of meaning in the work of bilingual and bimodal translators. The initial research focus is on a type of metaphor described in the CMT literature as event-structure metaphors (Lakoff 1993; Lakoff and Johnson 1999). The question that I address here is whether event-structure metaphors (ESMs) are exhibited in signed languages; in particular, I draw examples from American Sign Language (ASL). Because of space limitations, I look only at what is claimed to be the most prominent metaphor system within ESMs-the location branch-which I describe in more detail in the text. …

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