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Review of  Metonymy and Pragmatic Inferencing

Reviewer: Geert Brône
Book Title: Metonymy and Pragmatic Inferencing
Book Author: Klaus-Uwe Panther Linda L. Thornburg
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Cognitive Science
Issue Number: 14.3105

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Date: Wed, 12 Nov 2003 15:17:30 +0100
From: Geert Br?ne
Subject: Metonymy and Pragmatic Inferencing

Panther, Klaus-Uwe and Linda L. Thornburg, eds. (2003) Metonymy and
Pragmatic Inferencing, John Benjamins Publishing Company, Pragmatics and
Beyond New Series 113.

Geert Br?ne, Department of Linguistics, University of Leuven (Belgium)


This volume presents a collection of ten papers, most of which were first
presented at a workshop on "Metonymy and Pragmatic Inferencing"
at the 7th International Pragmatics Conference in 2000. In the
introduction to the volume, the editors describe the general aim of the
collected papers as "contributions to pragmatics from a cognitive
linguistics perspective" (1). Indeed, given the radical redefinition
in cognitive linguistics of metaphor and metonymy from the traditional
view as figures of speech to a cognitive approach that treats them as
central cognitive construal mechanisms pervasive in language and thought,
a genuine pragmatic perspective emerges. More specifically in the case of
metonymy, the accepted view in cognitive linguistics that metonymy is a
reference-point phenomenon (Langacker 1993) in which one element of a
cognitive frame or ICM (Idealized Cognitive Models, Lakoff 1987) serves
as an access point to a different element in the same frame or to the
frame as a whole, implies a pragmatic force for metonymic reasoning. As
Gibbs (1999) argues, such a frame-based definition naturally leads to the
hypothesis that metonymic reasoning or reference-point reasoning is the
driving force behind conversational implicature. Where exactly this
interaction between pragmatic inferencing and the metonymic processing of
language (Gibbs 1999: 69) is to be situated, is the central question of
the volume.

In the introduction to the book by the editors, Klaus-Uwe Panther and
Linda L. Thornburg, present a state of affairs in the cognitively
oriented research on metonymy, with specific focus on the interaction
with pragmatic inference. The central notions that are clustered in this
overview are the conceptual nature of metonymy, the kind of relation that
is exploited in metonymy (contingency relation), the strength of that
relation, the connection between different types of metonymy
(referential, predicational, illocutionary), and the main research
question of the volume: the relation between metonymy and pragmatic
inferencing in implicatures and explicatures.

SECTION I: The place of metonymy in cognition and pragmatics

The volume is divided into four major sections, each focussing on a
different aspect of the interaction between metonymy and pragmatic
inferencing. Section I opens with a paper on "Cognitive operations
and pragmatic implication" by FRANCISCO JOSE RUIZ DE MENDOZA IBA?EZ
and LORENA P?REZ HERN?NDEZ. The authors provide a detailed theoretical
account, in which the role of metaphor and metonymy as cognitive
operations in pragmatic implication is explored. More specifically, they
argue that metaphoric and metonymic mappings need to be included as
mechanisms in the derivation of what is called 'explicature' in Relevance
Theory (in contrast to implicature). Explicatures are derived when an
incomplete logical form, an assumption schema, is developed into a
full proposition (the explicated meaning) through a number of cognitive
processes, including disambiguation, saturation, loosening, but also,
according to Ruiz de Mendoza and P?rez Hern?ndez, metaphor and metonymy.
In the case of metaphor, the authors argue that the number of potential
explicatures correlates with the complexity of the metaphorical mapping
structure, ranging from one-correspondence to many-correspondence
metaphors (Ruiz de Mendoza 1998), and that the principle of relevance
guides the inferential process towards the contextually most relevant
explicature. Metonymy, on the other hand, per definition revolves around
a one-correspondence mapping between a domain and a subdomain based on
salience differences (Croft & Cruse, in press), yielding only one
potential explicature. Rather than arguing for a strict division between
both mechanisms, the authors illustrate that there is a metaphor-metonymy
continuum, which is "crucial to determining the communicative
effects of the explicatures derived by means of metaphoric and metonymic
mappings" (35). In the last part of the paper, more complex patterns
are analyzed, including double metonymic mappings and cases of the
interaction between metaphor and metonymy in generating

SEANA COULSON and TODD OAKLEY explore the role of metonymy in conceptual
integration networks or 'conceptual blends', the theory of which has been
developed by Fauconnier & Turner (1998, 2002), Coulson (2000), among
others. Blends, according to this framework, are complex representations
involving structure from multiple domains (or 'mental spaces') connected
via different relations, including (among others) analogical,
metaphorical and metonymical mappings. In order to regulate the
interaction between different mental spaces and their inter- and
inner-space connections, blending theory postulates a number of
optimality principles that guide and constrain the integration process.
One of the central principles that is often satisfied through the use of
metonymic reasoning potential, is that of 'integration', which dictates
that representations in the blended space should be manipulable as a
single unit. Structure from different mental spaces can be compressed
into a single coherent, integrated representation in the blend partly
because "conventional metonymies help speakers to unpack mappings
from the compressed element in a blended space to its various
counterparts in other spaces in the network" (77). Through the
analysis of highly disparate integration networks, including a newspaper
headline, a metaphorical passage from Ernest Hemingway, the English idiom
'Blowing your own Horn' and a sculpture by Viktor Schreckengost,
the authors illustrate that metonymically structured blends often involve
a trade-off between different optimality principles. The analysis leads
the authors to the conclusion that metonymic connections in the blend
play a crucial role in providing access to the web of mental spaces that
are activated in the interpretation process.

In the last paper of the first section, ANTONIO BARCELONA explores the
metonymic basis of pragmatic inferencing through an analysis of jokes and
witty anecdotes. The central question that drives the study is how
complex inferential structures can be processed with apparent ease. A
locus that is particularly suited for this research question is humor,
one of the most elusive types of language use involving complex, often
ad-hoc inferences. Barcelona argues that it does not suffice to
merely uncover the inferences involved by means of the communicative
principles described in pragmatics (e.g. through the violation of the
Gricean maxims). Rather, the question needs to be pursued what guides and
motivates these inferences, so as to appear natural and effortless. A
detailed analysis of the material shows that pre-existing metonymic
connections provide essential clues for the hearer/reader towards the
most plausible inferential interpretation, and in consequence
"provide the very 'skeleton' of pragmatic inferencing" (97).
This conclusion is very much in line with the insights from the other two
papers discussed above. In contrast to Ruiz de Mendoza and P?rez
Hern?ndez, however, the cases discussed by Barcelona belong to the realm
of pragmatic implicature rather than explicature. By showing that
implicature derivation is guided/facilitated by metonymic connections as
well, this argument extends the view of metonymy and metaphor to a
broader status as "pragmatic implication-deriving

SECTION II: Metonymic inferencing and grammatical structure

In the first chapter of the section on metonymy in grammatical structure,
ANATOL STEFANOWITSCH provides a "construction-based approach to
indirect speech acts". More specifically, he treats conventionalized
indirect speech acts (ISAs) of the type in 'disguised' requests like
"Can you pass the salt?" as cases of constructions in the sense
of Goldberg's Construction Grammar (CG). By means of a number of formal
arguments, Stefanowitsch illustrates the (relatively) independent and
unpredictable status of conventionalized ISAs in comparison to the direct
speech acts they derive from, and to non-conventionalized ISAs with the
same illocutionary force. This leads him to the conclusion that they
qualify as constructions. However, CG does not treat the constructional
lexicon as an unstructured glossary, but rather as a network of
interrelated constructions, connected via so-called 'inheritance links'.
In order to cover the relationship between direct speech acts and their
conventionalized indirect counterparts, Stefanowitsch proposes to add to
the existing list of four types of inheritance links one additional type,
viz. the metonymy link. On the basis of Panther and Thornburg's theory of
speech act metonymies (see next paper to be discussed), it is argued that
the metonymic linking type "allows us to capture the (partial)
motivation behind ISA constructions, while at the same time acknowledging
their independent status" (108). The paper closes off with some
tentative neurolinguistic evidence (particularly the behavior of people
with right hemisphere damage confronted with (in)direct requests) in
support of the central claim of the study.

"Metonymies as natural inference and activation schemas: The case of
dependent clauses as independent speech acts" analyzes the
exceptional status of independent speech acts that have the syntactic
form of dependent clauses, like in expressions of surprise "Why, if
it isn't Susan!" and indirect requests such as "If you will all
be quiet now". Focussing on independent if-clauses that lack the
expected explicit consequent clause, the authors pursue the question of
what motivates the particular pragmatic meaning this type of
constructions can conventionally get. By means of their own, previously
elaborated approach to speech acts as scenarios with metonymic structure
(Panther & Thornburg 1998), a classification of conventionalized
pragmatic functions of independent if-clauses -constructions in the sense
of Goldberg (1995)- is introduced. Basically, three such metonymically
motivated functions can be distinguished: first, the deontic use as
directives (requests as in "If you will all be quiet now"),
offers, suggestions and wishes; second, expressive use to communicate
surprise (as in "Why, if it isn't Susan!"), disapproval, etc.;
and third, an epistemic use for reasoning to an unknown conclusion (as in
counterfactual uses like "If Sonia and I hadn't made love...").
Much in the line of Stefanowitsch (previous paper), Panther and Thornburg
conclude that many of the 'independent dependent clauses' functioning as
speech acts have a degree of conventionalization (and independence) that
grants them the status of construction, without, however, losing their
metonymic motivation.

In the third paper of the section, "Metonymic pathways to
neuter-gender human nominals in German", KLAUS-MICHAEL K?pcke and
DAVID A. ZUBIN explore the systematic (and productive) character of the
use of neuter-gender classification for female human beings in German.
The study shows that the distribution of these human-reference nouns with
neut-gender is not random. Based on Lakoff's (1987) model of metonymic
ICMs, the authors argue that these neut-gender nominals trigger a
metonymically structured social stereotype. More specifically, nine types
of metonymic motivation, each evoking different perspectival metonymic
ICMs, are presented that can account for 80% of the collected data. Most
of these principles have a clear downgrading character, exploiting
negatively valued cultural stereotypes. In the last part, the authors
pursue the question to what extent this play on metonymic ICMs for
females is exploited for semantic-pragmatic purposes in discourse
processes, and more specifically in lexical choice and pronominal
anaphoric reference. Two highly disparate text types, an excerpt from a
short story by Karl Waggerl and some passages of journalistic writing,
are analyzed to illustrate the marked semantic status of the neut-gender

SECTION III: Metonymic inferencing and linguistic change

The two contributions in section III explore the role of metonymy from a
diachronic perspective. DEBRA ZIEGELER's paper "The development of
counterfactual implicatures in English. A case of metonymy or
M-inference?" deals with the cognitive mechanisms that build the
foundation of counterfactual implicatures in the use of modal expressions
expressing ability, like 'was/were able to', 'could', and 'had the
ability to'. According to Levinson (1995), a sentence like "John
could solve the problem" implicates the actuality of the complement
clause (John did solve the problem), whereas in the periphrastic
alternative "John had the ability to solve the problem",
non-factuality of the event is inferred (John did not solve the
problem). The counterfactual implicature in the latter example, in
Levinson's view, is guided by what he calls M-inferences, an inference
that accompanies the marked expression in contrastive sets of marked and
unmarked alternate expressions. Ziegeler counters that it is highly
unlikely that only the relative markedness of an expression leads to
contrasting implicatures, and gives several arguments that support that
claim. Rather, she argues that counterfactual implicatures developed
diachronically as the result of metonymic inferencing. In line with, and
in addition to Panther and Thornburg's scenario-approach to metonymy,
this counterfactual metonymy can be labelled POTENTIALITY FOR
NON-ACTUALITY. By means of a survey of diachronic texts, Ziegeler
empirically investigates what (con)textual factors contributed to the
development of the counterfactual metonymic implicature. It is concluded
that "counterfactual implicatures have developed from metonymic
extensions in past modal verbs, especially with perfect auxiliaries, e.g.
'could have + V-ed', in which the modal clause may stand alone for the
entire construction containing a modal clause and followed by an
adversative or contrastive clause" (199), and can hence be treated
as a part-for-whole metonymy.

In the second paper of the section, SHIGEKO OKAMOTO explores the role of
"Metonymy and pragmatic inference in the functional reanalysis of
grammatical morphemes in Japanese". The specific topic of the paper
is the reanalysis of complementizers (COMPs) marking subordinate clauses
as sentence-final particles (SFPs) with a conventionalized modal meaning.
Okamoto focuses on one specific morpheme in Japanese that can be used
either as a complementizer or as a sentence-final particle, viz. 'koto'.
As a complementizer it marks a clause boundary and indicates an abstract
or indirectly perceived event/state. As SFP, it has primarily a modal
function, expressing either an exclamation or an order, in what is
labeled 'subordinate-clause-as-main-clause constructions' (SCMCCs). The
central question is how 'koto' has come to be used as a SFP, and what
motivates the development from a COMP to the SFP function. It is argued
that the reanalysis has developed from a metonymically motivated
conversational implicature (in Panther and Thornburg's frame-based
approach) to a conventional implicature, thus yielding the
grammaticalization effect. Possible motivations for the reanalysis are
situated in the social and rhetorical domain: the use of a subordinate
clause is argued "(1) to foreground the information in the
"original" complement as the most important part of the
message, [and] (2) to bring about certain expressiveness, that is, to
perform a given speech act with particular stylistic nuances"

SECTION IV: Metonymic inferencing across languages

The last two chapters of the volume provide a more typological
perspective to the study of metonymy, in that they focus on
cross-linguistic differences in the application and force of metonymic
principles. G?NTER RADDEN and KEN-ICHI SETO's paper on ?Metonymic
construals of shopping requests in HAVE- and BE-languages" starts
from the recent insight in cognitive linguistics that indirect speech
acts, and more specifically indirect requests, are structured
metonymically (Panther and Thornburg, 1998, this volume). The use of
indirect requests in different languages is investigated for one specific
setting, viz. requests in a shopping scenario. It is shown that different
languages have a different metonymic construal of indirect requests, in
that they refer to different subevents of the commercial transaction
scenario (availability, transfer, reception, resulting possession). This
distribution is argued to be related to the typological differences
between the languages. For example, there is a correlation between the
choice for a specific metonymic reference point in the transaction
scenario and the way a language construes possession. Two language groups
are distinguished on the basis of this distinct construal: HAVE- and
BE-languages. For instance, HAVE-languages tend to metonymically access
the availability aspect of the transaction scenario by referring to
possession, like in English 'Do you have 40-Watt light bulbs?'.
BE-languages, in contrast, typically have EXISTENCE rather than
possession as metonymic reference points to availability (e.g. Japanese,
Chinese, Korean, Finnish, Hungarian, etc.). Next to the different
distribution in the metonymic construal of the availability aspect of the
commercial transaction scenario, both groups also display a distinct
metonymic use of the other stages of the scenario (transfer, reception).
The differences in the request strategies are linked to different
cultural models of politeness (indirectness vs. deference) and a
different construal of events (action vs. process).

The last chapter of the volume, MARIO BRDAR and RITA BRDAR-SZAB?'s
contribution on "Metonymic Coding of Linguistic Action in English,
Croatian and Hungarian" deals with the English use of predicational
adjectives for reporting linguistic action (e.g. 'Arthur was brief about
his other teachers') and its counterparts in Croatian and Hungarian.
These constructions are argued to be based on a MANNER FOR (LINGUISTIC)
ACTION predicational metonymy, since they specify the manner in which an
action is conducted, but not the verbal action itself. In a
crosslinguistic comparison, it is revealed that Croatian and Hungarian
exhibit only some of the subtypes that are found in English, and impose
more specific constraints on the use of predicational metonymies than in
English. In the case of referential metonymies, these constraints do not
seem to hold. According to the authors, these crosslinguistic
regularities "seem to indicate that the distinction between
referential, predicational and illocutionary metonymies may be an
important parameter in establishing a typology of metonymies."
(251). What is more, a tentative conclusion is proposed that there may be
an implicational relationship between the use of referential and
predicational metonymies, meaning that a language that makes extensive
use of predicational metonymy will also have a wider use of referential
metonymy. Other languages will restrict the scope of metonymy primarily
to the referential use.


The volume presents an excellent overview of the current debate in the
new trend of Cognitive Pragmatics. Given the observation in cognitive
linguistics as well as recent pragmatic approaches that a distinction
between semantics and pragmatics is no longer tenable, the contributions
in the volume together provide a much-needed attempt to 'reconcile' both
research traditions. Despite the underlying assumption in recent
cognitive linguistic accounts that metonymy is a driving force in
inferencing, this interplay had not received sufficient scrutiny until
the publication of this volume. The most essential conclusion that can be
drawn from this endeavor is that a cognitive linguistic approach in terms
of metonymic reasoning does not necessarily preclude a pragmatic approach
in terms of conversational implicature. Rather, both approaches can be
combined to yield an encompassing, cognitive-functional approach.

Still, the volume does not present a closed chapter in the research on
metonymic reasoning. On the contrary, linking research on cognitive
mechanisms and pragmatic inferencing raises the question what guides and
constraints the choice for a specific metonymic construal. One possible
solution to this problem, proposed by a number of contributors to the
volume, is adding a relevance theoretic perspective to the account. This
remains an insufficiently addressed question that will have to be the
focus of future research. Also, there does not seem to be a
consensus among the authors on the exact role of metonymy in the
inferential process. Whereas some seem to suggest that all pragmatic
inferencing is metonymically driven, others reserve a more specific,
well-defined place for metonymy. In my opinion, there is still need for
further discussion on the exact scope of metonymy. Nevertheless, this
volume promises to be one of the pioneering works in the growing research
on the pragmatics-cognition interface.


Coulson, Seana (2000): Semantic Leaps. Frame-shifting and Conceptual
Blending in Meaning Construction. New York/Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2000.

Croft, William & Alan Cruse (in press): Cognitive Linguistics
[Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics]. Cambridge: Cambridge University

Fauconnier, Gilles & Mark Turner (1998): "Conceptual integration
networks". Cognitive Science 22:2, 283-304.

Fauconnier, Gilles & Mark Turner (2002): The Way We Think. Conceptual
Blending and the Mind's Hidden Complexities. New York: Basic

Gibbs, Raymond W., Jr. (1999): "Speaking and thinking with
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Language and Thought [Human Cognitive Processing 4], 61-76.
Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Goldberg, Adele (1995): Constructions: A Construction Grammar Approach to
Argument Structure [Cognitive Theory of Language and Culture].
Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, George (1987): Women, Fire and Dangerous Things. What Categories
Reveal about the Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Langacker, Ronald W. (1993): "Reference-point constructions".
Cognitive Linguistics, 4, 1-38.

Levinson, Stephen C. (1995): "Three levels of meaning". F.R.
Palmer (ed.), Grammar and meaning: Essays in honor of Sir John
Lyons", 90-115. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Panther, Klaus-Uwe & Linda L. Thornburg (1998): "A cognitive
approach to inferencing in conversation". Journal of Pragmatics, 30,

Ruiz de Mendoza, Francisco J. (1998). "On the nature of blending as
a cognitive phenomenon". Journal of Pragmatics, 30, 259-374.

Geert Brône is a PhD student in linguistics at the University of Leuven
(Belgium). He is currently preparing a dissertation on a cognitive
linguistic approach to humor interpretation (supervised by Kurt
Feyaerts). His main research interests are cognitive semantics, cognitive
stylistics, (linguistic) humor theories and German linguistics.