Academic journal article The Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education

A Human Relationship Is a Plant – a Cross-Cultural Analysis of the Metaphor in English and Polish

Academic journal article The Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education

A Human Relationship Is a Plant – a Cross-Cultural Analysis of the Metaphor in English and Polish

Article excerpt

1Basic Theoretical Premises

Metaphor first merited scholarly consideration in 4th century BC by Aristotle in his so-called "classic view". The scholar claims that:

Metaphor consists in giving the thing a name that belongs to something else; the transference being either from genus to species, or from species to genus, or from species to species, on the grounds of analogy. That from genus to species is exemplified in "Here stands my ship"; for lying at anchor is the "standing" of a particular kind of thing. That from species to genus in "truly ten thousand good deeds has Ulysses wrought", where "ten thousand", which is a particular large number, is put in place for the generic "a large number". That from species to species in "drawing the life with the bronze", and "severing with the bronze"; where the poet uses 'draw' in the sense of 'sever' and 'sever' in that of 'draw', both words meaning to 'take away' something. (Aristotle 1984: 230)

Aristotle's understanding of a metaphor deprives it of the cognitive dimension as he claimed that it was solely a transference of meaning. His view underlined the importance of similarity for metaphor, yet the term transference implies no profound interest in the structure or underlying meaning of the words being subject to it.

Quite a different attitude to the metaphor is exemplified by Thomas Hobbes in The Leviathan (pt. 1, chap. 5):

The Light of humane minds is Perspicuous Words, but by exact definitions first snuffed, and purged from ambiguity; Reason is the pace; Encrease of Science, the way; and the Benefit of man-kind, the end. And on the contrary, Metaphors, and senseless and ambiguous words, are like ignes fatui; and reasoning upon them, is wandering amongst innumerable absurdities; and their end, contention, and sedition, or contempt. (Hobbes 1962: 29-30)

Hobbes reveals his negative attitude towards metaphor. He equals it with meaningless words, which introduce ambiguity. The comparison to 'ignes fatui' further points to the metaphor's elusiveness, which can only invoke negative emotions in the speaker frustrated at his inability to comprehend metaphorical utterances. The conclusion being that the metaphor is undesirable in everyday discourse.

A most distinguished alternative view to the above presented beliefs about the metaphor was expressed in 1873 by Friedrich Nietzsche in his work Truth and Falsity in an Ultramoral Sense. The metaphor is described in terms of a sensation connected with the nervous system:

A nerve stimulus, first transformed into a percept! First metaphor! The percept again copied into a sound! Second metaphor! And each time [this hypothetical person] leaps completely out of one sphere into the midst of an entirely different one. (...) When we talk about trees, snow, and flowers, we believe we know something about the things themselves, and yet we only possess metaphors of the things. (Nietzsche 1873: 634-639)

Nietzsche emphasises the speaker's boundless linguistic creativity, which is stimulated by adopting metaphor in discourse. This creativity irrespective of the seemingly trivial topic of conversation like flowers or trees cannot be thwarted. Conversely, it may obscure the true knowledge of entities.

Other more contemporary scholars (Ricoeur 1987, Searle 1979) regard metaphor in terms of what Alice Deignan (2005: 2) calls the "decorative approach", which states that it is a "device of the poetic imagination and the rhetorical flourish - a matter of extraordinary rather than ordinary". The consequence being that it is understood as a figure used for enriching the meaning of poetry and rhetoric not everyday discourse conducted between speakers of a given language in a given situational context and concerning a particular communicative purpose.

Metaphor came to be comprehended as a cognitive process with the development of the "Conceptual Metaphor Theory" presented by Lakoff and Johnson (1980a) in Metaphors We Live By. …

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