Metaphor and Conceptual Metaphor Theory
metaphors are prevalent in communication and we do not just use them in language; we
actually perceive and act in accordance with the metaphors.
There are two main roles for the conceptual domains posited in conceptual metaphors:
Source domain: the conceptual domain from which we draw metaphorical expressions (e.g.,
love is a journey).
Target domain: the conceptual domain that we try to understand (e.g., love is a journey).
A mapping is the systematic set of correspondences that exist between constituent elements of
the source and the target domain. Many elements of target concepts come from source
domains and are not preexisting. To know a conceptual metaphor is to know the set of
mappings that applies to a given source-target pairing. The same idea of mapping between
source and target is used to describe analogical reasoning and inferences.
A primary tenet of this theory is that metaphors are matter of thought and not merely of
language: hence, the term conceptual metaphor. The metaphor may seem to consist of words
or other linguistic expressions that come from the terminology of the more concrete conceptual
domain, but conceptual metaphors underlie a system of related metaphorical expressions that
appear on the linguistic surface. Similarly, the mappings of a conceptual metaphor are
themselves motivated by image schemas which are pre-linguistic schemas concerning space,
time, moving, controlling, and other core elements of embodied human experience.
Conceptual metaphors typically employ a more abstract concept as target and a more concrete
or physical concept as their source. For instance, metaphors such as 'the days [the more
abstract or target concept] ahead' or 'giving my time' rely on more concrete concepts, thus
expressing time as a path into physical space, or as a substance that can be handled and
offered as a gift. Different conceptual metaphors tend to be invoked when the speaker is trying
to make a case for a certain point of view or course of action. For instance, one might
associate "the days ahead" with leadership, whereas the phrase "giving my time" carries
stronger connotations of bargaining. Selection of such metaphors tends to be directed by a
subconscious or implicit habit in the mind of the person employing them.
The principle of unidirectionality states that the metaphorical process typically goes from the
more concrete to the more abstract, and not the other way around. Accordingly, abstract
concepts are understood in terms of prototype concrete processes. The term "concrete," in this
theory, has been further specified by Lakoff and Johnson as more closely related to the
developmental, physical neural, and interactive body (embodied philosophy, embodied realism,
Although Lakoff (1987) and Johnson (1987) developed the basic idea here in different ways
(see also Lakoff and Johnson 1999, Johnson 2007), the general flavor of the view they share
can be conveyed by considering a well-known example they discuss: that of love as a kind of
journey. Those in a romantic relationship are often said to head off together, travel the same
path, take wrong turns, retrace their steps, check their bearings, and pack their bags. For
Lakoff and Johnson, this non-literal language is not merely peripheral expression useful for
adding bells and whistles to the bustle of communication, but reflects something deep about
how love is conceptualized. Importantly, the central organizing metaphor—love is a journey—
involves a mapping from one domain (journeys) to another (love), where the source domain is
informed by our bodily physicality and the embodied experience that we have as creatures who
move through the world to achieve purposes and goals.
As previously mentioned, one type of cross-cultural variation occurs when languages
differ with respect to the particular source that is conventionally mapped onto a common
target domain. In other words, a given conceptual metaphor may be common in one culture
but uncommon in another. Not all conceptual metaphors seem susceptible to this type of
variation, though. Following Grady(1997, 1999), we suggest dividing the set of conceptual
metaphors that have so far been identified by cognitive semanticists into two broad categories:
primary and complex metaphors. Many primary metaphors map image-schemas onto abstract
experience (e.g., Lakoff, 1990). Examples of image-schemas are UP-DOWN, IN-OUT, and
so on. These “bare” image-schemas are used to lend structure to abstract domains through
general conceptual metaphors like the following: “MORE IS UP; LESS IS DOWN” (e.g., “An IQ
of over 150,” “An income below the average”), and “THE BODY IS A CONTAINER FOR THE
EMOTIONS” (e.g., “She was filled with hatred,” “Don’t keep all that anger inside you”). These
metaphors are motivated by correlations in the domain of general physical experience. For
example, if you add objects to a pile, the pile will grow (hence MORE IS UP”). Because this
kind of general physical experience is universal, we would expect to find similar image-
schema-based conceptual metaphors in communities around the world. Other primary
metaphors, whose experiential grounding also seems universal, include cases like “STRONG
DESIRE IS HUNGER”(e.g., “We are hungry for a victory;” Grady, 1999, p. 85).
The second category of metaphors, however, is more likely to be susceptible to culture-specific
influences. These are more complex conceptual metaphors that combine (or compound)
different primary metaphors. For example, “THEORIES ARE BUILDINGS” (e.g., “Without a
solid foundation, your theory will soon collapse”) combines the primary metaphors
“ORGANIZATION IS PHYSICAL STRUCTURE” and “PERSISTING IS REMAINING ERECT”
Complex metaphors result in “richer” imagery. For example, although “LIFE IS A JOURNEY”
(e.g., “We’ll have to get round many obstacles to get married,” “The quest for love and
happiness”) is clearly based on the MOTION image schema, it can be “enriched” by specifying
the kind of vehicles involved, such as trains (e.g., “It’s about time you got back onto the right
track”), ships (e.g., “She’s been drifting without a real purpose in life”), cars (e.g. “He’s in the
fast lane to success”), and so on. “ABSTRACT COMPETITION IS RACING” (e.g., “Running for
president,” “Staying ahead of our economic competitors”) also belongs here, because the
metaphor imposes a richer scenario on the “bare” MOTION schema. Other examples of
complex metaphors are those that map our knowledge of man-made things onto abstract
domains: “THE MIND IS A COMPUTER”(e.g., “This amnesic patient processes input, but
cannot retrieve the data afterwards”), COMPETITION IS WARFARE” (e.g., “To
conquer market share”), and so on.
Unlike the general physical experience that underlies primary metaphors, complex experiential
domains are more likely to be culture-dependent and thus to vary from place to place. As a
result, such a particular domain may not be (equally) available for metaphorical mapping in all
cultures. It follows that cross-cultural variation is more likely to occur when metaphors of the
second category (i.e., complex metaphors) are involved. For example, one would not expect
an isolated community in the Andes to generate an abundance of sailing metaphors like
English (e.g., “She sailed through her exams,” “The government is being blown off
course”). Metaphors in this category are also subject to change over time, as new man-made
things appear or go out of fashion (e.g., Leary, 1990; Miller, 1995).
“THE MIND IS A COMPUTER,”for instance, is obviously a comparatively young metaphor.
The hypothesis that complex metaphors are more likely to be culture-dependent than primary
ones has already been corroborated by case studies. For example, although the image-
schema-based metaphor “THE BODY IS A CONTAINER FOR THE EMOTIONS” (e.g., “Rage was
building up inside her”) appears to be universal, important differences do arise by virtue of the
culture-specific imagery that is often added to the general image-schema. Some cultures show
a preference for “locating” particular emotions in specific parts of the container-like body. In
Hungarian, for example, the emotion of anger is commonly “located” in the head, whereas in
Japanese, anger can rise from the stomach via the chest to the head (Kövecses, 1995).
Western cultures seem to take it for granted that most so-called higher emotions are a matter
of the heart (e.g., “I’ve got a heavy heart,” “She’s broken my heart”), but in Malay these
associations are commonly made with the liver (Charteris-Black, 2002).
The culture-specific nature of certain figurative expressions may (initially) be a stumbling
block for foreign language learners. Still, learners may be helped by the observation that
those figurative expressions belong to a larger set that can be motivated by a single
conceptual metaphor (albeit a “foreign” one). For example, although some learners may
initially be puzzled by the Malay use of “liver” in a figurative idiom, they subsequently may be
helped by the recognition of the general “LIVER”metaphor that is instantiated in a wide range
of Malay idioms.
A variant of the first type of cross-cultural variation in conceptual metaphors occurs when
two languages display the same source-target mapping, but with markedly different
degrees of productivity or conventionality (e.g., Emanatian, 1995). For example, although
sport metaphors abound, cultures differ with respect to the kinds of sport that are especially
popular. Baseball, for instance, is evidently more popular in the United States than in Europe,
and consequently American English is likely to produce more baseball-based figurative
expressions (e.g., “I had a date with Helen last night, but I couldn’t even get to first base
with her,” “Three strikes and you’re out”). One of the ways in which this type of variation can
be detected is through comparative corpus-based quantitative research, that is, through
counting the frequency of occurrence of a metaphor and the diversity of its figurative
expressions (e.g., Boers & Demecheleer, 1997; Deignan, 1999).
Such subtle variations in the productivity of shared metaphors may seem trivial at first, but
there is some evidence to suggest that they do have an impact on learners’ comprehension of
L2 figurative idioms. For example, French-speaking learners of English seem to find it harder
to “guess” the meaning of English idioms derived from the domain of sailing than of (Boers &
Demecheleer, 2001). In addition, the high frequency and diversity of a particular metaphor
can sometimes be taken as a reflection of a country’s history (e.g., the comparatively high
number of sailing metaphors in British English) or even its national stereotypes (e.g., the
relatively high number of gardening metaphors in British English; Boers, 1999). In such cases,
awareness of metaphor might even serve as a window onto a community’s “culture.”
Although the connection between metaphor and culture is an intricate one (e.g., Kövecses,
1999; Palmer, 1996), variation in metaphor usage could also be studied with a view to finding
(indirect) evidence of linguistic relativity (e.g., Niemeier & Dirven, 2000), in the sense that a
community’s figurative language could be considered as a reflection of that community’s
conventional patterns of thought or world views (e.g., Lakoff, 1987, p. 295; Palmer, 1996, p.
222–245). A warning note about this approach is sounded in this issue by Deignan who
cautions us to interpret metaphor in language mostly as a diachronic reflection of culture
rather than a synchronic one.
In her article, Deignan uses corpus linguistics to compare the relative degrees of productivity
of a number of source domains of metaphor across various languages. Although her corpus
evidence suggests that there is variation in metaphor usage across the different languages,
she also cautions that this should not automatically be taken as evidence of present cultural
differences. A lot of figurative expressions may “merely” be reliquaries of a community’s past
Nevertheless, she supports the view that historical perspectives on figurative expressions as
well as other systematic analyses of figurative language are beneficial to the foreign language
learner. Even a partial and indirect culture-metaphor connection would support arguments to
include “cultural awareness” objectives in the foreign language curriculum (e.g., Byram,
1997; Byram, Nichols, & Stevens,2001; Kramsch, 1993).
Metaphor should be seen as a phenomenon with multiple functions at multiple levels
The basic assumption directing this paper could very well be summarized by the statement
found in Honeck, Voegtle, Dorfmueller & Hoffman (1980:148), “Metaphors are rarely
encountered outside of text or conversation”. In other words, what a human person interprets
is not a sentence or an utterance but rather, a text, i.e. piece of oral or written discourse.
Cognizing occurs essentially only by way of a textual encounter. Therefore, conceptualization
does not exist independently of the text. Conceptualizations are the result of the contact
between the mind or minds of individuals and the discourses or texts of communities or social
formations. Perhaps we could say that conceptualizations are the result of the contact
between the discourse(s) of one or more minds with the discourse(s) of one or more other
minds in specific cultural formations and more importantly perhaps, in spatially and temporally
bound communicative moments.
as far as equivalence or strong similarity is concerned, it is doubtful that this condition is
constant across all dimensions or all instances. Rather, we can hypothesize that the situation of
+1 anno fa
I contenuti di questa pagina costituiscono rielaborazioni personali del Publisher sensep di informazioni apprese con la frequenza delle lezioni di Lingua inglese e studio autonomo di eventuali libri di riferimento in preparazione dell'esame finale o della tesi. Non devono intendersi come materiale ufficiale dell'università Tor Vergata - Uniroma2 o del prof Ponterotto Diana.
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